Lysandra Agosto says people make choices – some choices have a far greater impact than others. She is determined to make the right decisions for herself and her children, Jonalys, 11, and Julian, 7. As a member of City and State’s 40 under 40 for 2020 – a select group of NYC movers and shakers who are working hard to improve their communities – she clearly has made a few good choices along the way.
Lysandra has always had a place in her heart and a desire to help people and advocate on their behalf, including children and families in poverty, women who fall victim to domestic violence, the elderly, as well as individuals impacted by substance abuse, mental health, or disability. She was born in the late 80s and raised in the Bronx by her grandmother. While she grew up with limited resources, her grandma provided her with a childhood full of love, support, and encouragement.
Lysandra says she always had an innate intellectual curiosity – regularly questioning her own experiences and that of others. Why do some life experiences impact some and not others? Her curiosity led her to TCI College of Technology to earn her associate’s degree in Human Services.
While at TCI, she worked at Cardinal McCloskey Community Service, a nonprofit social services agency, as the office assistant for the preventive division. She was very interested in understanding the life experiences of families who found themselves at-risk of having their children displaced. What did they have in common? She got the opportunity to learn more about the families served when she was asked to transcribe meeting minutes for case conferences and track visits. She noted the family’s history and current situation, the hardships they experienced, and what the staff was doing to strengthen and keep the families together. This is where her eye for quality assurance developed.
Lysandra decided to pursue a business degree at MCNY Metropolitan College of New York to help further her understanding of the operational aspects of running a nonprofit. She was promoted to a quality assurance role where she was able to fully realize her passion. “Not only were we doing what we needed to do per our funders – meet with our families for visits, and implement strategies and supports to keep them together, but I also had to assess and measure the quality of the work that the staff was putting in.” Looking at these elements told a larger story about how much of an impact each intervention was making in the lives of families.
In 2015, she joined the Children’s Aid early childhood team and since has been able to further develop her data analysis and quality assurance skills. Her charge – to provide greater clarity about how each program element contribute to positive outcomes for the children and families served in early childhood programs. She provides trainings and support to staff on measuring and documenting data to identify trends and ultimately improve the quality and outcomes of the work.
“Lysandra is the glue that connects everybody and keeps everything on track,” said Moria Cappio, Children's Aid, vice president for early childhood programs. “She produces our monthly dashboard, which keeps 1,000 kids in compliance on hundreds of regulations from our funders.” According to Moria, the dashboards identify the areas that need support which informs how she directs the early childhood team’s efforts for the next month.
“I always wanted to help people,” said Lysandra. “I wanted to learn how I could better understand my experiences and the choices I made, or the choices others made that impacted me.” With this understanding, Lysandra thought she would be better able to make the right choices for her family.
“Growing up I didn’t understand why my mother didn’t raise me,” she said. “I think it was what she needed and she didn’t know better. People make choices.” The fact that her mother didn’t raise her is not a blemish on her life experience. “Everything that I am today is because of my grandma, my curiosity, my experiences, and my desire to do better,” Lysandra said. “She just, like, really emphasized the importance of going to school, learning, and making better decisions.”
Much like her grandmother, Lysandra feels strongly about ongoing education. By teaching families’ new skills and ensuring they pass those opportunities to their children, they can and will make better decisions. “We help them see that they are capable of doing great things and breaking the cycle of poverty.”