Match-making for good
Ana Brenescoto ’15, mentor center coordinator at On Common Ground in Attleboro, Mass., knows how to help a struggling person succeed: focus on their goals and cultivate their strengths.
“People in poverty are always dealing with what is happening now; they are worried about what they are going to eat tomorrow. In that mode, they never get to make plans for the future,” said Brenescoto, who matches adults experiencing poverty with volunteers.
For example, she often asks mentees where they imagine themselves in five years. One mentee dreamed of operating a food truck but was struggling to find reliable housing.
“We help bridge that gap between where they are now and where they want to be,” she said.
The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, Mass.) in May 2018 named her to its “20 Under “40” list of community rising stars who are doing great work. Read her interview here.
Brenescoto, who joined On Common Ground in May 2015, works with volunteers who mentor adults to improve professional and life skills, including interviewing techniques and budgeting.
Since she began with On Common Ground, the organization has increased the number of active matches from 17 to 37.
“It’s empowering to the individual looking for help, for the mentors offering the help and to the community when we can work on problems together,” she said.
As a Wheaton alum, Brenescoto, a sociology major, said she felt prepared for her role. She nurtured interests in public health, poverty and gender.
Her sophomore year she studied in Bhutan, where she worked in a shelter with women struggling to overcome drug abuse.
“It was life-changing. I experienced everything from sitting next to the king of Bhutan to chopping vegetables at a farm with a family,” she said.
Brenescoto designed her senior thesis around a summer internship in Cape Town, South Africa, where she, as a Davis International Fellow, worked with women who have HIV/AIDS. She taught them jewelry making (a passion of hers since age 12).
“These women’s main concern in life was not living with HIV, but dealing with basic needs,” she said.
She also worked with Professor of Sociology Hyun Kim, who helped her develop her independent study.
“Ana was absolutely fantastic because she was so motivated and passionate. She did a great job in identifying scholarly publications that she wanted to read and learn about,” Kim said. “Weekly, she read new material and discussed with me the theories, concepts, problems, interesting examples and public issues. Through this one-on-one, she became very knowledgeable on problems faced by the poor, especially about their health struggles.”
Kim, a board member at On Common Ground, said Brenescoto’s charisma and caring nature helped her land the job.
“Working with vulnerable people living on the margins takes patience, empathy, mentoring and resourcefulness. Ana is super in all these aspects,” Kim said.
Brenescoto said someday she would like to work at the legislative level to advocate for the disenfranchised.