This Spring, Children’s Aid Assistant Director of Public Policy Michelle Avila was honored as one of City & State’s Nonprofit 40 under 40. The annual list showcases some of the brightest stars in the nonprofit sector under the age of 40. Avila was chosen because of her strong record of advocacy for our children and families at the local, state, and federal levels of government.
“We do this work for the children and our communities, not for the awards,” Michelle said. “But it is humbling to be recognized.”
Michelle grew up in the Bronx and became aware of the challenges her community faced as a young adult. Feeling called to public service, she began her career as an intern for a member of the New York State Assembly at the age of 17.
She continued to work for the assembly member part-time throughout college. After graduating, she was hired on full-time and eventually rose to interim chief of staff.
Toward the end of her time in politics, she felt a pull to work in the nonprofit sector. “I wanted to transition to a role where I could see the work being done on the ground but still have a connection to government,” Michelle said. “I wanted to be involved with service delivery and still have a hand in developing and advocating for larger policies.”
She found a role in development with NYU Langone Health, focusing on principal gifts. “It was an exciting time,” she said. “We were able to raise some significant money, and we were able to build a new children’s hospital.”
After a few years, she transitioned to government relations, working with elected officials to advocate for NYU’s health services. At the time, a major focus was on making sure that underserved populations had available community access points for health care.
Her desire to improve conditions in high-need communities is what brought her to Children’s Aid in December 2019.
“I was really drawn to Children’s Aid’s mission,” Michelle said. “I appreciated the holistic approach to the needs of children and family, and I felt a connection to the neighborhoods where we work.”
At Children’s Aid, Michelle jumped right in to the important work of counting our communities for the 2020 census. Children’s Aid received awards from the Manhattan and Bronx Borough Presidents to do outreach in historically hard-to-count neighborhoods.
“Mobilizing during the beginning of the pandemic was really, really challenging,” she said. “But it was rewarding as well. We had our youth out on the streets talking to folks about why the census is so important. We were able to make sure that our communities were seen and counted.”
In the past year, Michelle and her team have helped secure new funding and grants for the agency, including $52.9 million from the city for our Goodhue Community Center on Staten Island. She has also coordinated countless visits to our sites for elected officials, so that they can better understand and support the work that we do.
For Michelle, the work at Children’s Aid is ultimately about serving her community.
“Many of our communities have suffered from historical disinvestment and too often life outcomes are tied to luck, scarce means, and limited opportunities,” Michelle said. “Nonprofits like Children’s Aid stand in the gaps and deliver the much-needed supports and services our communities deserve.
“People don’t choose to live in poverty or be under-resourced. Supporting service delivery directly is important because these communities simply don’t have enough. Government has a responsibility to fully invest in programs and services that strengthen our communities. The government should be doing a better job on many fronts, and that’s what we fight for at Children’s Aid every day.