Maria Eliades, former Director of Development and Communications, at her desk. Photo: Mahbub Khuda.
On October 25, CIANA said goodbye to Maria Eliades, our Director of Development and Communications. Having originally started out at CIANA as a volunteer in the spring of 2018, Maria has overseen all our programs, fostered relationships with clients and community leaders, and has been a mentor for our interns and volunteers.
She shares what she has learned at CIANA and how her experience here has shaped her as a person with Micah Dicker, our NYIC VISTA.
Micah Dicker: What has been your favorite part about working with CIANA?
Maria Eliades: The people. I’ve really been very lucky in everyone I’ve worked with here from the time I started off as a volunteer to coming on here full time, between the clients who are really lovely and who remind you every day of, oh yeah- this is why I’m doing this work; to all of my colleagues; to all of the interns I’ve been really fortunate to work with. The people have absolutely been my favorite part.
MD: How do you think you’ve grown or changed as a person throughout your time here?
ME: I think I’ve learned that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought I was. I have a really varied background, from working as a journalist to working in PR, to teaching, and I feel like this is the first role that has brought all of that together. It’s also shown me that I’m actually able to think of things in a sort of- I mean this isn’t a “business context,” but in a way in a business context: how do you think about ordinary strategy for an organization? How do you figure out how to get people to give money, and at the same time, how do you advocate for people so it’s really in a way stretched me in certain directions? It’s shown me that I can take on a lot at the same time and still keep things really organized and keep things going. I hope also that I’ve learned more about being a leader and seeing how much more I have to go in that.
MD: What have you found rewarding from your time here?
ME: Feeling that I’ve made some difference. I remember when I was involved with the Green Light campaign. CIANA is part of the New York Immigration Coalition, so we’re part of various groups where we often study things or report from the field of saying, this is what’s going on right now. But with the Green Light campaign, it was some direct advocacy of being there in front of Senator Michael Gianaris’s office and doing a picket line and doing speeches, and also putting it out there on social media. And eventually that act finally passed, so it was really exciting to see something concrete out there. So that felt like a real major win. And also something like, there’s a result from everything I’m doing, because otherwise, a lot of the work that I’ve been doing in development and communications is really incremental. We’ve definitely done a lot better with the people who are following us and increasing our audience and reactions, but as I’ve said pretty consistently during my time here, both communications and development is a slow burn; you do not build relationships over night. So even though I can see in the numbers, great that we’re doing "this" much better or "this" is happening, I think something like that, a real, concrete moment of something I have done, has had this impact as part of this bigger push to make positive change, especially right now when everyone really wants a lot of- I don’t know if they want hope but I think they do secretly without knowing it. It does make me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something.
MD: Were there any specific projects or campaigns that you worked on here that stand out in your memory?
ME: Green Light stands out because of what I was mentioning before, but as for other campaigns we’ve worked on here, I think my first Giving Tuesday campaign really stands out because I had never done one before, even though I had been involved with social media marketing earlier in my career. To really be able to create something from start to finish, and how it’s very multi-channel, from social media to a website to email campaigns, again it was sort of like that first testing ground: I’ve been given over the reins, let’s see how we can run with it, and also at the same time do it as part of the rebranding that we were undertaking with CIANA, of really getting to convey to people the warmth that happens in the office all the time, and the environment that we have here, on a medium that’s not necessarily so warm and fuzzy.
MD: What’s the biggest lesson you think you’ve learned from working at CIANA?
ME: There’s a lot that I feel like I came in with, but I think the biggest lesson has been how to be a leader. Some of it is trying to be the sort of leader that I want to work under, of learning to be good at communicating with the people who are working with me, learning to check in, learning to have those moments of sensing out where, or asking- because you won’t find out without asking- what people’s interests are, and then seeing within the projects of like, ok you’re interested in developing this even though you haven’t done it before, why don’t I have you working on this? And then for the rest of it, of being that mentor figure which is really not far off from where I started a little earlier in my previous role of being a university instructor, where you do a lot of that. I mean, you give the assignments but then you were looking at the work the students were doing: okay, you’re at this point, what do we need to do to get you to do with this point? But you really also really pay attention to the psychology of what motivates the person. Sometimes you can feel it out through what they’re doing; sometimes or more often than not you have to ask. Just because you’re assigning something and they’ve decided to do a paper on some topic doesn’t mean that that’s where their interests really lie. It might just be that that’s the thing at the moment, or they think that’s going to be the project that you want to see as the professor, and it doesn’t necessarily fit into their arc of where they want to be. So I feel like I’ve brought that into the experience here, and it’s something that I’ve continued to try to apply, because I think that people are motivated to do their best work when they see a reason for it, and when they see it fitting into the overall narrative of their life.
MD: How will you carry your experience at CIANA into your future endeavors?
ME: I think everything you do has an effect on the next job. We’re all a collection of different experiences, and I think really having the chance to work in almost every single aspect of the organization will help set me up in continuing to work within either another nonprofit, or even with a corporate firm, because it shows you the essence of what it means to run an organization or business, when you see what it’s like at the ground level and you’ve done that work and you’ve worked with different people. So I think that’s a really valuable thing that I’m coming away with.
MD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ME: I’d just like to thank everyone. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done here without all of the wonderful volunteers and interns and my wonderful colleagues. Any success that I’ve had at what I’ve been doing is all thanks to you guys, so thank you.
We would like to thank Maria for all the hard work she has done for CIANA, and we wish her the best of luck in all her future endeavors,