Carolyn Jeppsen ’86 Promotes Innovation Through Altruism
She traded her work as a lawyer to start a nonprofit that helps neurodivergent young people find their way in the world
Carolyn Kuenne Jeppsen ’86 described the dramatic turn her life took when she ended a career as a civil litigator and started a nonprofit for neurodivergent young people as her “heart mission.”
It’s not a term you readily find in a Google search, in Merriam-Webster, or even on urbandictionary.com. But just like BroadFutures, the nonprofit that Jeppsen cofounded in 2013, the term she coined speaks of altruism and innovation.
BroadFutures finds and places neurodivergent young people in paid internships, and to make that work experience successful it also offers them training, mentoring, and holistic support, such as yoga and drama exercises. The nonprofit is based in Washington, D.C., but during the pandemic, the BroadFutures team increased the breadth of the neurodivergent young people it serves on a national scale.
Neurodiversity is the idea that people experience and respond to the world around them differently, though it is often used in regard to those with learning disabilities. The term embraces the idea that differences are not deficiencies, and incorporating new and varied perspectives into a business or organization benefits everyone.
Jeppsen said hiring people who think differently helps create a more diverse workplace, which more and more today is viewed as one that is positive, empowering, welcoming, and smart.
“When we have people in the same room who think differently, we have more innovative solutions,” said Jeppsen, chief executive officer of BroadFutures.
To serve young people who are neurodivergent persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or learning disabilities, Jeppsen and her two BroadFutures cofounders determined that a transitional experience between school and the workforce was needed, specifically paid internships coupled with training and assistance from mentors.
But a key element in the approach of BroadFutures is the coaching provided to the employers to help them engage in a productive and positive dialogue with the interns so that both parties thrive. It is a part of BroadFutures’ approach that sets it apart from organizations of its kind around the country.
With its team of supporting coaches, BroadFutures ultimately helps the young people it serves to develop transferable skills that benefit them in all walks of life.
“The most common word I hear is ‘confidence,’” said Monica Churm, a speech pathologist who has worked at BroadFutures since its inception.
“I see the interns the first couple of weeks before the internship begins, during the boot camp. What’s cool for me is I get to come back at the end of the internship or at the gala and hear what they’ve taken away from the program. Most often I hear they are more confident. We focus on how to be a successful person, not just a successful worker.”
Since programming at BroadFutures began eight years ago, 90 percent of the interns have gone on to future employment or higher education, and 100 percent of the employers—who now number around 60—reported that BroadFutures interns were well trained and prepared for the workforce.
Her motivation began at home
Jeppsen’s desire to create an innovative nonprofit that helps neurodivergent young people came from years spent as a champion for her own daughters. In 1998 Jeppsen gave birth to twins Mia and Isabelle, who were born prematurely. Mia was born deaf and with learning-related disabilities, and throughout her grade school and high school education, Jeppsen advocated for her daughter to make certain Mia had every opportunity to succeed. She even sat on the board of two of the educational institutions Mia attended.
“Young people are pretty well supported while they are in school. Once they leave school, their disabilities don’t go away, but the support does,” Jeppsen said. “I really wanted to focus on the transition-to-work experience. That’s where the idea came from. I call it my heart mission.”
Before starting BroadFutures, Jeppsen worked as a civil litigation attorney for two law firms in Washington, D.C., after graduating from George Washington University Law School. She grew up in Princeton, N.J., a talented athlete in a family of academics. She came to Colby to play ice hockey after being recruited. And while she didn’t stay with hockey, she thrived at Colby, where she double-majored in philosophy and French.
Looking back, Jeppsen said her education at Colby helped her to become an advocate for those with disabilities and a seeker of healthier solutions for all.
“I fell in love with philosophy at Colby. I always understood the benefits of an education and intellectual curiosity, but not until I took moral philosophy did I think of changing my major from history. That influenced my desire to go to law school, and then to run a nonprofit,” Jeppsen said. “The fundraising piece is just like philosophy. You have to explain your case and offer a conclusion and an impact to prove: Will it be good? I remember all of that from the course in logic at Colby.”
Her blueprint for helping neurodivergent young people gain confidence and workplace skills is similar to Colby’s DavisConnects approach in which students are supported in their pursuit of internships and research that offers real-world experience, regardless of their backgrounds.
Jeppsen applauds the forward-thinking initiative.
“I’m a big proponent of work-based learning and experiential learning, and I think colleges are going to do that more. And the colleges that do will be more competitive than colleges that don’t,” Jeppsen said. “You need that on your résumé, but more importantly, that is how we learn what we really want to do. I think it’s great that’s happening at Colby.”
BroadFutures has had a few students from Colby as interns, and Jeppsen said she hoped more interns will come from Colby in the future. She has begun working with the College to make that happen.
Today, BroadFutures has a full-time staff of six and serves 35 to 50 youth annually. Jeppsen’s goal is to grow it to three times that by 2025.
During the pandemic, the BroadFutures team pivoted with virtual programming in college- and career-readiness training and mentoring programs. As a result, they expanded BroadFutures’ reach. “I’m very ambitious about our goals,” Jeppsen said. “We want to be serving hundreds of young people a year and partnering constantly with some large employers.”
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