Becoming new Partnership Executive Director a true "joy" for Senkevitch
By Steve Dwyer
Calling it “an easy and natural fit,” Laura Senkevitch took over as Executive Director of the New York City Brownfield Partnership, effective May 1.
In succeeding retiring executive Susan Boyle, Senkevitch is armed with a laser-sharp focus that is sure to impact Partnership goals and objectives in 2023 and beyond. In taking over the post, Senkevitch relinquishes her board seat as Vice President to George Duke.
Senkevitch is also armed with a double-edged advantage of comprehensively grasping the dynamics underpinning NYC and state-wide brownfields since joining the Partnership more than a decade ago. In addition, she boasts a significant amount of experience within the not-for-profit sector, having held leadership roles in both fundraising and program development at organizations such as, currently, Human Rights First and the Fortune Society.
Holding a Master of Science degree from Pratt Institute in environmental systems management, Senkevitch brings 15 years of experience to the table anchored in donor cultivation, program development, strategic partnership management, and non-profit board governance.
She is eager to work in lock step with the Partnership leadership team of President Ezgi Karayel, Vice President Duke, Treasurer Michele Rogers and Secretary Mari Cate Conlon.
Stepping aside from the board post was not a relatively hard decision for Senkevitch because, over six-plus years as a board member, she believes she’s helped wring effective results from that seat. Walking into the new role actually serves as her “new destiny,” she says. “I love the Partnership, and I can’t wait to get started. I’ve been affiliated with the organization for more than a decade, and was eventually appointed a board member in 2016. The bottom line is that I know and understand the non-profit sector very well. This is a meaningful opportunity to me.”
Senkevitch spoke about several front- and back-burner priorities she’s most eager to tackle within the brownfield redevelopment realm as this new organizational chapter commences, including:
Legislation. Chiefly, the continued funding of the State’s Brownfield tax credit program and New York City’s Voluntary Cleanup Programs, to ensure that formerly contaminated properties are appropriately remediated for new uses and with the protection of human and environmental health the top priority. “We need to keep finger to the pulse on the continued future and evolution of these key and essential programs. One solution to this is for those with a stake in the VCP and state tax credit programs to understand what is at stake: we need to cut through the legalese and articulate the key benefits of these programs—doing so by providing both Partnership members and even those on the outside looking in—perhaps would-be Partnership members—with easy and digestible content about both programs so they can fully grasp the opportunities in front of them,” she says.
Diversity & Outreach. Laura is a big proponent for the concept of promoting and creating training opportunities to open doors to anyone eager to break into and thrive in this work, including the next generation of brownfield practitioners. How do we do it best? Provide the most effective tools so they can better thrive in the brownfield sector.” Speaking about “outreach,” Laura says that it’s incumbent upon the membership to leverage their skills and knowledge more holistically. “That means taking more leadership positions within the confines of the Partnership, but also externally as they engage with other professionals. They key is to not be ‘siloed.’”
More on Training/Development/Professional Recruitment. “I have a soft spot for professional development and training. I got my chops in this area in 2012, with the Fortune Society overseeing the green job initiatives—that’s where my affiliation with the Partnership commenced. I’m eager to see the Partnership endorse, even sponsor, the concept of professional training and development curriculums geared to formerly incarcerated individuals, for example, as well as individuals from all educational backgrounds. The Partnership has already made inroads in this area, but it would be great to elevate and amplify that advocacy.
I also see it vital to recruit more experts, across disciplines such as developers, engineers, policy advocates, architects, and more—bring them into the brownfield fold. They may not have an affinity for our industry, but that’s the point—bring them in through better outreach, via workshops, social events, events. Many don’t realize the opportunities they have within this context.”
On any conflicting feelings about relinquishing her board seat. “Not at all. Since we have a game plan for succession planning, I realized that being on the board was not a ‘forever thing,’ so I was mentally prepared to step away from the board. My tenure traces to 2016 when
I became secretary, and eventually VP in 2021. I had a sustained board tenure of about seven years, so I guess you could say that I was willingly kicked out.”
How BABAs can acknowledge not only winners but non-winning projects. “I think it’s important to celebrate the impact all these projects have on the community—they’re not isolated incidents by any stretch, but the end results of these projects is that they foster and facilitate public health, quality of neighborhoods, and more. I think it behooves us to show and demonstrate how all BABA-nominated projects fit into the bigger picture—more than winning an award or not. It’s about the long-term impacts they deliver.”
Environmental justice. Community input and overall public-private transparency—building bridges not walls—all are touchstones to practicing EJ. Laura says that preventing residential displacement and anything that begets gentrification is Job 1. “This goes back to the fact we need to look at the bigger picture—the so-called 30,000-foot view.”
Continued growth, evolution of Abbey Duncan Scholarship program (for undergrad and grad students in the NYC region). Student-recipients know how valuable the financial and network opportunities can be for them to pursue careers in environmental science, geology, engineering.
“It’s not about making the Scholarship program ‘better’ so much as continuing on the path of growth. It’s about giving back and promoting the next generation. If we could get more capitalization to support the program, I would love to see it—to increase the scholarship sum to scholarship recipients and expand opportunities for the student-recipients. It’s all part of seeing the bigger picture.”
Industry events both in-person and remotely. “I’m so happy for regular and ongoing in-person events—there’s so much attendees can get out of them. Experimentation had to be done, obviously, during the pandemic. We found that professional development training done remotely allowed more people to access events as they were easier to organize. In certain cases, remote webinars are the way to go. But with in-person events the most compelling benefit is being able to mingle with like-minded professionals—all things you can’t accomplish on a Zoom. In person, I can now introduce other people to one another, link one professional to another. It binds them.”
On taking the ED baton from Sue. “While I don’t think I’ll need ‘training wheels’ for this position, it will nevertheless be bittersweet…because Sue is not there, and it will be at first hard to adjust to that. I think about all the ‘wrangling’ Sue has done over the years. Let’s put it this way: I will be essentially missing her in the room.”
THE SENKEVITCH FILE: Prior to joining Human Rights First, Laura served as the Associate Vice President of Education and Employment Services at The Fortune Society, a human services and advocacy organization that holistically serves justice-involved individuals and their families, where she created, and raised funds for data-driven high-impact programming, including an EPA-funded course.
As a member of the New York City Brownfield Partnership for more than a decade, Laura has served on their board of directors since 2016. She has advised on annual awards ceremony, industry education programming, grant-giving initiatives, and scholarship fundraising activities. Laura holds a Master of Science degree in Urban Environmental Systems Management from Pratt Institute and a Bachelor degree in Environmental Studies from Pace University.
Posted May 1, 2023