First Person: Dan Cardinali

I grew up in a strong family that celebrated faith and believed in social justice. I remember visiting the South Bronx with my sociologist mother and going to sports games with my dad and brothers. I was pushed academically to question. I guess you could say that it is part of my DNA to step into the question and not to fear it.

As a young man, I became a Jesuit seminarian. There too the principles were to co-create, not to comply, and not just to follow a set of rules. Dialogue was a gift. Then came a profound moment in my middle-class existence: I went to Mexico to work with a squatter community. The notion was that I was going to do something for them. In fact, I was clueless. I didn’t know the culture. I had trouble adapting to the language. I was bumbling along – and it was the quality of their openness, their willingness to socialize me that saved me. The most powerful contribution we made for each other was developing authentic relationships within the context of dire poverty. That was the unfolding, the transformation that opened me up to thinking about my life to date.

Back in the U.S. I decided to continue my vocation as a lay person, not a formal cleric. I was in my early 30s, with no job, and few resources in Washington, D.C., a city where everybody was a class president or valedictorian. I found a more secular community, Partners of America, with amazing leaders who helped me professionalize my life. Then I landed at Communities In Schools, where I found a home for 17 years and came to believe that:

It is people not programs who can transform lives.

There is value in aligning hard work and synthesizing what you learn with loving relationships.

It is possible to integrate evaluation and live with rigorous self-reflection while grounding relationships in love, a love that translates into transformative social change.

One Comment

  1. Your background in compassion and community development through relationships resonates deeply within me. Thank you for stepping up to lead the Independent Sector. I am very interested in connecting the religious segment of the charitable section of the nonprofit sector to front line work in good governance and ethical practice. My PhD dissertation is founded on using the Principles to address this concern. I hope to be done by year end.

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