It has been a week since my mother, Teresa Hodge, and I journeyed to New York to officially become Echoing Green (EG) Fellows and this post is my reflection on our time there and what it all means.

First, it is important to note that we received our fellowship as Mission: Launch co-founders so that we can launch R3 Score in a nonprofit/for-profit hybrid model. In case this is the first time you are hearing about this, check out this post here. I explain what R3 Score is in detail.

Also if this is the first time you are hearing about Echoing Green you can visit their webpage here. They are literally the global leader, and have been since 1987, in identifying people with potentially game changing ideas and investing them. There are so many amazing Fellows out of the nearly 800 people who have joined this network but some of the most featured are First Lady Michelle Obama (1993), Van Jones (1994), Wendy Kopp (1991), Vikrum Akula (1998) and so many others. The phrase "it is an honor to even be nominated" applies in this case because just being selected to interview is an honor. This year 2,847 people poured themselves into their applications and 35 of us were picked. Super crazy.

The onboarding process into this fellowship begins with a 6-day orientation, known as New Fellows Retreat (NFR). NFR was jammed pack (easily 10 - 13 hour days depending on how social you wanted to be) with content focused on skills building, community building and personal reflection. Our days began in community and ended in community and in between we focused on ourselves, our ideas and our journey.

Oh, we also had some Olympic level team building that included egg tosses, paper airplane battles and so many other awesome games that sound corny but totally brought us together. Check out my "orange team" teammate Antoinette Carroll's of Creative Reaction Lab team spirit photo to see how serious it was!

I've intentionally joined peer network communities that could help me develop as a leader since 2010 and eight years later I can honestly say it really is the people that you remember most. Coming home I've gone through my notes, I've followed up with business cards and I've started my skills building work outlined by my portfolio manager but it is my cohort members, alumni, the staff and the chaplains that I most remember. It is important to note that each Fellow has a portfolio manager and chaplain, which is unique to Echoing Green. This means there are people who are committed to you, your idea and holding space for you to have "non-performative spaces" - places where you don't have to be seen as a leader but just a human being.

This level of thoughtfulness held so much honor and respect for another layer of the fellowship that I experienced. This is the first peer network fellowship community that I am joining with my mother. We've both joined communities where one of us was selected, nominated or pursued the opportunity. This is our first time applying and being selected together (here is Teresa's fellowship profile page and here is my fellowship profile page). Echoing Green made it clear from day one that while we are partners in the work we are viewed as individual Fellows. NFR allowed us to flow seamlessly between being a unit and being individuals. It was such an affirming experience and one that deeply honored how we even came to this work.

As a family we sat in Alderson Federal Prison Camp many days discussing ways to rebuild our family after my mother's incarceration. In so many ways Mission: Launch has been the realization of these dialogues for so long and now that we are including R3 Score in our work it feels like our careers, as individuals and a team, are taking a big deep breath. So becoming Echoing Green Fellows for our hybrid model is a true full circle moment personally and a major validator professionally. Since 2012 we have been entrepreneurial and innovative in our reentry work and yet we were reluctant to scale until we felt like we could truly affect change at the size of the need. In full transparency, we've applied to EG twice before but never advanced to the interview round. When asked about our evolution it felt good to honestly say: this is our best idea and if this isn't a good fit for Echoing Green we totally understand but this is what we are going to do because we deeply believe it can scale to reach millions of people. I am grateful that they agreed our hybrid model is really able to change the trajectory of millions of people and that they wanted to help us get there. Curious about the hybrid model? I won't take us too far off course so check out this blog post.

As our time together at NFR came to an end we packed up from the retreat venue and moved into New York City to attend Echoing Green's annual Big Bold Benefit, one part gala, one part fundraiser and one part incoming class reveal. By this point we are all feeling the love so walking into a beautiful venue to sit with nearly 400 guests and friends of Echoing Green felt like a graduation of sorts. Each of us was given an opportunity to pitch/present our work at a pre-event gathering with Board members, staff and other partners. I was also deeply honored to have been selected to present our work on the main stage event. You can check out my presentation in the video below.

I walked away feeling refreshed and actually ready to get back to work, so much so that I cancelled a vacation. I feel like I will take the time off later this Summer but for now I am ready to get to work. My mind is swimming with new ideas; my work is reenergized. This was partly seeded by the fact that we received some good news about the pilot we are building that should give some Maryland entrepreneurs with records access to banking products, specifically personal and/or business loans.

So we are back at work and more motivated than ever to chase our mission of accelerating self-sufficiency and improving social outcomes for individuals living with criminal records.

Have you seen our video explaining R3 Score? You can view it here.

We are excited for the LaunchPad + R3 Score pilot and could really use your support. If your community organization wants to partner with us in identifying area entrepreneurs, please join us. If you are interested in volunteering to support area entrepreneurs, please join us. If you know of financial institutions we should connect with, please join us. You can sign up here.

We can't wait to get to work providing small business support and access to critical capital. With your tax-deductible donation today we can begin to identify area entrepreneurs ready for our CDFI partners. All donations, even $10, will matter so please consider donating. You can donate here.