Sam Bergbauer broadens LRI’s reach as first Director of Community Engagement

(Left to right) Executive Director Michelle Carr, 2014 Kappa II, Mariam Kaba, and Sam Bergbauer at the Tau II commencement after hearing the impact of their Leadership in Action projects.

When Samantha Bergbauer joined the Leadership Rhode Island staff in the fall of 2019, she couldn’t have imagined — who could? — that her job someday would involve guiding a teenager through the expenditure of $1 million on projects to improve the lives of young people of color.

Even if Sam’s imagination could fathom such a responsibility, it couldn’t possibly stretch to that of guiding two teenagers, each with $1-million to spend on their different visions for a better Rhode Island.

But that’s what the warm and seemingly unflappable Bergbauer is now doing as LRI’s first Director of Community Engagement.

Stewarding two teenagers, Mariam Kaba, a senior at Woonsocket’s Career and Technical School, and Siya Singhal, a sophomore at The Wheeler School in Providence, is on Bergbauer’s front burner in this new role.

“The Transform RI Scholarship really is so unique. For a group of adults to not only express belief in young people but to put so much trust in them to invest $1 million in their vision is unprecedented. To be able to work with such inspiring young leaders as they make real, tangible change in their communities and assist in their own leadership development is an experience I never expected.” Said Bergbauer.

A glance at her academic studies — community and public service as an undergraduate, a certificate in business studies, and a master’s in school counseling — and at her top five strengths — responsibility, empathy, individualization, arranger and relator — leads to the conclusion that this job is a perfect fit.

Though her job description doesn’t say it like this, Bergbauer is now LRI’s eyes and ears in the community and she’s the community’s voice inside the walls of LRI.

Beyond that, she is responsible for developing and implementing strategic partnerships, overseeing high-impact programs, and communicating with partners and funders.

Bergbauer, whose first position was coordinator of the College Leadership Rhode Island program, says she welcomed the community engagement position with enthusiasm.

When she was responsible for CLRI, she says she particularly enjoyed engaging with alumni and other community partners when planning CLRI session days.

LRI has engaged with the broader community in various ways over the years, says Executive Director Michelle Carr 2014 Kappa II, but now the organization is able to do even more with someone directly responsible for “leading the charge.”

Carr cites the example of LRI’s six-year partnership with the Providence Journal and Rhode Island College, to offer a series of public discussions exploring major community issues facing Rhode Island. Twice, these Publick Occurrences forums won Community Outreach awards from the RI Press Association.

In 2015, LRI ran the first of three public, family-friendly, statewide Hi Neighbor! Block Parties at the Steel Yard in Providence. In all,1,700 Rhode Islanders dropped by for the summer festivities.

Creating a high-level position dedicated solely to community engagement became financially feasible when LRI and the Papitto Opportunity Connection reached an agreement more than a year ago in which LRI assumed responsibility for guiding Mariam Kaba, then16 years old, through the investment from $1-million of Papitto Opportunity Connection funds to realize her vision for improving the lives of the people of Woonsocket.

Kaba’s vision won the private foundation’s first Transform Rhode Island Scholarship competition, which also came with a $25,000 scholarship toward her own future.

Early this year, Siya Singhal, then a 14-year-old freshman, became the second Transform Rhode Island winner, and is now under Bergbauer’s umbrella as she develops plans to invest $1-million to carry out her vision of creating cultural confidence among young people by building cultural awareness throughout RI’s elementary schools.

Bergbauer’s approach is to view Kaba & Singhal as directors with their own built-in supports from LRI staff, community members, implementation partners, and volunteer resource partners.

In another community engagement activity, Bergbauer co-teaches the Capstone course for seniors majoring in global studies at Providence College,

In that role, she is leading students through what Carr calls an abbreviated version of College Leadership RI, the program Bergbauer coordinated when she first joined the staff.

Bergbauer is also working with three other nonprofits, United Way of RI, the Papitto Opportunity Connection, and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse to stage a matchmaking event at which members of the community, including LRI’s own alumni, can link up with nonprofits in need of board members.

According to Bergbauer, “LRI so often benefits from the generosity of the RI community- session venues, guest speakers, and being invited behind-the-scenes so it’s been really exciting to think about how we can be more intentional community partners and how we can in-turn benefit others across the state.”