Opportunity to Build and Serve in Community

July 22, 2023

Contributed by Kelly Clavel, the 2022-2023 Shinnyo Fellow and Community Development Policy Analyst, Redwood City Together

“What are you planning on doing after you graduate?” is one of the most anxiety-inducing questions to ask a college senior. In addition to making sure that you’ve met your credit requirements and are doing well in your current classes, you also have to decide what you want to do after closing the chapter on the last four or so years of your life. When I was faced with this question a year and a half ago, I felt lost. I knew I wanted to go to law school, but starting immediately after completing undergrad felt too overwhelming. I knew I needed to find employment, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a position that I had no passion for. 

When I learned about the Shinnyo Fellowship through Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service, I was sure that this is what I wanted to dedicate the next year of my life to. The Fellowship allowed me to be placed at Redwood City Together, a collective impact organization in Redwood City, and Stanford’s Gardner Center for Youth and Their Families. Community engagement, data, and research have always been passions of mine, but there were rarely any opportunities for me to meaningfully engage in both through a single role. I was ecstatic when I was notified that I had been selected for the Fellowship, and even more so when I learned that there was an entire cohort of Shinnyo Fellows that I would be able to build community with and learn from

Upon completing the Fellowship, I was offered the opportunity to continue my service with Redwood City Together through a new position within the organization. In this role, I have the opportunity to mentor and guide our new Shinnyo Fellow. As a part of this mentorship, I was asked to attend the Shinnyo Fellowship Program Orientation for a second year in a row. Here, I had the privilege of meeting the 2023-24 cohort of Shinnyo Fellows. Much like my cohort, I could tell they were nervous, yet eager to start a new chapter of their path to peace. 

Throughout the Orientation, the Fellows had the opportunity to learn more about the Shinnyo-en Foundation and each other. They were asked to share their path to peace, taking into consideration their past experiences and looking ahead to the future. Each of the Fellows have very unique backgrounds and perspectives, and it was clear that they were very passionate about the service they were gearing up to engage in.

While listening to the 2023-2024 Shinnyo Fellows share their path to peace, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the year prior and remember my cohort. We were all a little anxious to meet each other for the first time and learn about what the fellowship would entail. The Program Orientation, however, is so thoughtfully and carefully crafted that even though we were strangers when we arrived, we were to end the Orientation as friends and knew we had each other to rely on during our year of service. I left the orientation confident that this new cohort of Fellows would represent the Shinnyo-en Foundation well.

The Shinnyo Fellowship allowed me to explore my interests in a meaningful way that also allowed me to serve and positively impact the local community, which has led me to my current role at Redwood City Together. I am infinitely grateful for the experiences and people I met through my fellowship, and am excited that the wonderful individuals I met at the Shinnyo Fellow Program Orientation have the opportunity to engage in such heart-felt and thoughtful interactions in their own path to peace. 

Please find more photos from the 2023 Shinnyo Fellowship Program Orientation at this link and read on to learn more about each of the 2023-2024 Shinnyo Fellows! 

Proudly Announcing the 2023-2024 Shinnyo Fellows

Each year the Shinnyo Fellows immerse themselves in a yearlong Fellowship in local, national or international organizations while they maintain their involvement with their universities. For the Shinnyo Fellowship Program this year,we continue to collaborate with George Mason University, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities and Redwood City Together. We are very grateful that each Shinnyo Fellow receives executive level supervision and leadership development opportunities throughout their Shinnyo Fellowship months while they try to actualize their paths to peace.


Vernice Heard (Post-Undergraduate Shinnyo Fellow)

Vernice is a recent graduate from George Mason University with a B.A. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a double concentration in Justice & Reconciliation and Political & Social Action. While studying at George Mason, Vernice was introduced to the practice of restorative justice and its positive impacts on individuals who have been affected by incarceration, juvenile detention, and stigmatization in social re-entry. With her newfound interest in Restorative Justice, Vernice has taken the opportunity to work as an intern for the Transitioning Justice Lab at the GMU Carter School and Restorative Arlington, a non-profit organization that works to implement Restorative Justice practices in Arlington County public schools, and police departments. With her passion on the issues of incarceration, Vernice has also worked with the Virginia Interfaith Center during their annual Student Day of Action in 2023 in advocating for bills that could make calls and emails from the inside more affordable and/or free. Although Vernice has been on the path of practicing Restorative Justice, she has also been pursuing her lifelong journey in creating artwork. In her senior year, she took the leap to study comics, where she was able to gauge an understanding on how comics build community, professional development and most importantly, a space for emotional expression. 

With her passions in restorative justice and incarceration and creating artwork, Vernice hopes to continue her work in merging these interests together as a 2023-2024 Shinnyo Fellow. 

The John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at STANFORD UNIVERSITY and Redwood City Together

Ella Gray (Post-Undergraduate Shinnyo Fellow)

Ella Gray (she/her) is a recent graduate from Stanford University. She obtained a B.A. in Human Biology with a concentration in disease, gender, and public health. She strongly believes that community partnerships are one of the most effective and ethical ways to improve the health and wellness of underserved populations. She has previously volunteered with Project Systole, a student organization that partners with LifeMoves community centers across the Bay Area to provide first aid training workshops for their constituents, as well as with United Students for Veterans’ Health. She is especially passionate about child health and has worked as a researcher with Stanford’s Graduate School of Education to investigate psychological resilience among youth populations suffering adversity. 

As a Shinnyo fellow, Ella hopes to learn more about community wellness and advocacy, and improve the health of those who need it the most. She is excited for the opportunity to work alongside passionate individuals who strive to value, empower, and collaborate with local community members.


Vanessa Torres (Post-Undergraduate Shinnyo Fellow)

Vanessa Torres (she/her) is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley where she obtained a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and Legal Studies. She grew up in a small city in Los Angeles known as Lawndale, CA (about 15 minutes away from LAX). As the only daughter of immigrant parents, this really shaped her understanding of the world around her and the systems she was impacted by. Growing up, Vanessa was always passionate about community work and educational access for communities of color. She took this passion to her undergraduate career at Cal and worked together with a student-run student-led organization called the Raíces Recruitment and Retention Center that works alongside six other multicultural resource centers. In her four years working with the center, she created and supported programs to expand resources, foster retention and demystify higher education for the Latinx community at Cal and all around California. During her time as the retention coordinator, she prioritized welcoming Latinx students and their parents to promote a sense of community and belonging during such a monumental transitional period for many first-generation students. Through her work within the space, she realized how transformative and crucial college access work was, and hopes to continue cultivating a culture of empowerment for youth of color through higher education. 

Now, Vanessa is excited to work alongside students and foster a sense of community and empowerment while addressing educational disparities with Shinnyo-en Foundation as the newest Shinnyo College Access Fellow.