After 16 years as executive director of Philadelphia Futures, Joan Mazzotti is stepping down. Under her leadership, the nonprofit’s staff has doubled, the budget has nearly tripled, and over 500 students have graduated from high school and continued on to college. Mazzotti plans to leave the position on Jan. 8 or after a successor has been found.
“After much consideration, I have concluded that Philadelphia Futures is approaching the point at which new leadership will have an important, positive impact,” said Mazzotti.
Mazzotti, a Long Island, New York native, graduated from Rider University, before earning her law degree at Villanova University. She worked 23 years as legal counsel for the food and support services division at Aramark. It was there she met her husband, attorney Michael Kelly. The two have one son. After working more than two decades with Aramark, Mazzotti received a phone call from a search firm concerning the executive director position with Philadelphia Futures. She considered it because Mazzotti said it was time for a change.
“I wanted to do something where I was living out my personal values everyday,” Mazzotti said.
Philadelphia Futures is a college access and success program known for its depth of programming, which Mazzotti describes as “robust, comprehensive, and long-term.” Mazzotti has worked throughout her time with the nonprofit to expand that programming further.
“Many things in life are unfair, but the inequality in public education in this country is unconscionable,” Mazzotti said.
In 2001, Philadelphia Futures made its first college partnership with Gettysburg College. The organization now has nine partner colleges, which have awarded students more than $31 million in institutional aid. This year, the partnership program is on track to report an 85 percent graduation rate, compared with the 11 percent reported nationally for low-income, first-generation students.
Philadelphia Futures places great emphasis on tracking data for its student programs, a view still rare to the nonprofit sector. In 2006, Mazzotti had this data analyzed by gender, confirming a growing concern that young men graduated from high school at a significantly lower rate than young women.
In response, the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) was born. For male students, this means additional programming, including service projects and further academic support. For the organization, YMI has created, according to Mazzotti, a “mindset...that we’re going to do whatever we can to promote the academic and personal success of the young men.”
The results have been staggering. Since 2006, the high school graduation rate of these young men has risen from 47 percent to 65 percent.
“One of the things I’m going to miss most is working with the Young Men’s Initiative,” Mazzotti said.
In 2011, Mazzotti oversaw another success—Philadelphia Future’s merger with White-Williams Scholars. Through this merger, Philadelphia Futures decreased its overhead while expanding the scope and reach of its programming.
“Together we are even stronger,” she said.
Mazzotti and her husband have both mentored and sponsored students through the program. One of her husband’s mentees, Ralph, has become, in her words, their “quasi-adopted son.” Ralph graduated from Haverford College in 2013 and is currently pursuing his MBA in hospitality in Paris, where the family will travel in June to celebrate his graduation.
“We have close relationships with the students we have mentored. I told them all, I’m leaving Philadelphia Futures not them, and I think we will be part of their lives forever,” Mazzotti said.
Mazzotti points to the yearly graduation celebration as proof that Philadelphia Futures students are part of the organization for life.
“We had five masters’ recipients in June 2016. And they come back. I mean, they’re part of the family.”
Mazzotti has always placed an emphasis on the effects education can have on families. She cannot count the number of conversations she has had with both parents and students about the power of a college degree.
“It’s those conversations that I think that I will take with me,” she said.
The organization’s board is currently in search of Mazzotti’s successor.
“I would want that person to find even more ways to ensure the academic and personal success of our students,” she said.
As for her own next steps, she and her husband want to expand their philanthropy, both through financial support and direct service.
“We want to support organizations that work to provide access for individuals living in poverty.”
Whatever the path the lies ahead, Mazzotti is sure to carry her work with Philadelphia Futures with her for the rest of her life.
“I think [education equity] will always be at the core of what I do because in many ways I believe that education is the great equalizer,” she said.
But Mazzotti said that she is also anticipating the free time her retirement will afford her.
“After 42 years of working everyday, I think I might be looking forward to sitting down and reading a book.”