* Honorees Alison Pavia and Franz Paasche *
Is there something in the air of Riverdale that imbues its residents with community spirit? Alison Pavia and Franz Paasche think so.
How else to explain the selfless contributions of so many of their neighbors or their own willingness to give back so much to their neighborhood, their city, their world — sometimes adding hours of volunteer work to an already busy work life, often making service to others less fortunate than themselves their full time jobs.
With a growing family in 1995, the Manhattan couple began searching for a new home. The greenery of the suburbs beckoned to Franz, but Alison was hesitant. “Riverdale was just about as far from Manhattan as I was willing to go.” she recalls.
Franz had grown up in Toronto and spent his formative years in leafy Vermont at the illustrious Putney School — his father’s Alma Mater — and attended Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia. He had been drawn to Riverdale’s natural beauty on visits to his cousins.
Though Alison — a graduate of Brown — considered herself a confirmed Manhattanite, as a teenager at Riverdale Country School she had developed a soft spot for the area. But it may have been Franz’s Putney connection that sealed the Riverdale deal for the couple. He had served on that school’s board with fellow alum Sarah Gund. She invited the couple to tea with her parents, Gil and Sally Kerlin — then the unofficial first family of Riverdale.
In a recent interview Alison recounted Gil’s admonition: “You’re coming to Riverdale!” he said flatly.
It took a while, and a lot of prodding from realtor Marcie Heymann, for the couple to decide on a house, but as soon as they did, Marcie began another sales pitch. She was the president of the Neighborhood House board at the time and she was always on the lookout for new volunteer talent.
Alison was familiar with settlement houses — her mother had been on the board of Hamilton Madison House on the Lower East Side — and she expressed mild interest in getting involved with RNH. That was all Marcie needed. “I never even submitted a resumé,” she laughed, “and the next thing I knew I was on the board. It was meant to be.”
It didn’t take long for Alison to have an impact. “I had a kind of apprenticeship on the development committee, with Cathy Weinroth and Sarah Gund” she said, “and we put together an endowment fund,” even when many thought it just wasn’t possible.
By the time she ascended to the Presidency of RNH in 2005, she had developed a fruitful working relationship with Executive Director Dan Eudene. Together — with expert help from United Neighborhood Houses — they spearheaded a “painful process” of creating a long-term strategic and fundraising plan for the organization and envisioned a new building to upgrade the teen center and house expanded programming for every age group.
Alison was able to devote so much of her time to Neighborhood House because she had put her career as an attorney specializing in international corporate and banking law on hold while raising three daughters, but by 2004 she was ready to reenter the workforce. That’s when she got a call from former Riverdalian Jack Rosenthal asking her to become the founding executive director of a unique new non-profit called ReServe which concentrates on finding stipended part-time jobs at schools, hospitals, government agencies and community organizations for “people in the second half of life.”
“The jobs have meaning and compensation,” Alison explained, adding that “RNH gave me invaluable knowledge of how the non-profit world in New York works.”
ReServe has now grown to be a nationwide agency and aims to place more than 100,000 applicants by 2030.
With ever expanding horizons, Alison’s scope has gone from intensely local, to citywide, to national, to global. With a brief pause after getting ReServe off the ground, she became the executive director of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation in 2009. The Alderman family had created it in memory of their son, tragically killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
An ABC Nightline program had alerted them to the difficulties of millions of people around the world who had directly experienced torture, terrorism and mass violence and who had such traumatic depression that they could no longer lead functional lives. The foundation now works to heal these victims by training indigenous health workers and establishing clinics in Cambodia, Uganda, Liberia and Kenya, treating thousands of patients. “If we could bring these people back to life in Pete’s name, what better memorial for him than that.” his mother told the Huffington Post.
Combining her expertise in job creation with her knowledge of the world’s conflict areas, Alison is currently applying her skills in a new direction. As Executive Director of the Harpswell Foundation she has taken on the task of developing women leaders in Southeast Asia. According to Harpswell’s website, “We provide housing, education, critical thinking skills, and leadership training for young women in Cambodia, and offer leadership training to young women from throughout Southeast Asia.”
Several Riverdale families have visited Cambodia at Alison’s urging to get a firsthand view of her program in action and she’s hoping more will follow.
Currently, Alison also serves on the boards of ReServe, Riverdale Neighborhood House and S’Cool Sounds, and on the Advisory Board of Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity of Hunter College. She’s also a trustee of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law.
Though they met when they were still students at Columbia Law School, Alison and Franz took somewhat different career tracks. A fascination with politics and public policy led Franz to work with the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And the opportunity to work with Ted Sorensen, a key advisor to President John F. Kennedy, took him to one of New York’s top law firms — Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
In 1994, when the chance arose for Franz to become general counsel to Market Data Corporation, he took it. The company was a leader in developing the field of providing real-time trading data to brokerage houses. The job also provided him with the flexibility to become more involved in his daughters’ school and more broadly in community service.
Later, as a crisis communications consultant with Clark and Weinstock, he recalls, “I was embedded in [New York Schools Chancellor] Joel Klein’s school reform initiative” and found himself handling crisis and reputation management during the Great Recession for a wide variety of firms and institutions facing new challenges.
It was not a stretch for him to take on a job in 2005 combining his legal talents and his flair for communication at Communications Consulting Worldwide. He, too, was now on a global stage, helping corporations, public institutions and non-profits with a wide range of communications and “reputation management” issues.
His work with CCW led to new global opportunities, first with a position at McKinsey and Co., one of the world’s largest consulting firms, in 2010, where he became the head of external relations and reputation management for North America, and currently at PayPal, where he is Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs. “That includes,” Franz explains, “global government relations and public policy, communications, reputation risk management, social innovation and community engagement.”
“It’s gratifying,” he added “to be fulfilling our overarching mission to democratize financial services, serving the underserved, providing safe and affordable digital financial services around the world to people who may not even have a bank account.”
But even with such a high powered resumé he, too, has been generous with his time, beginning with more than 25 years of service on the board of The Putney School. He also leant valuable expertise to Riverdale Neighborhood House, organizing and leading multiple board retreats. And as a board member of the Brennan Center for Justice he is working (as stated on the center’s website) for the defense of “the rule of law and the values of Constitutional democracy, focusing on voting rights, campaign finance reform, ending mass incarceration and preserving liberties while also maintaining our national security.” The center’s work, Franz says, “has never been more relevant.”
Here in Riverdale, Gil Kerlin saw to it that Franz got involved with the Riverdale Nature Preservancy. With Peter Kohlmann he became co-president of the vital environmental watchdog, helping to recruit a new generation of leadership, introducing the RNP’s first website, expanding membership and taking on challenges like advancing the Greenway, and addressing the outsized development of institutions seeking to expand within the Special Natural Area District.
Together with Alison he serves on the leadership council of Wave Hill and somehow the couple found time when their children were young to help found Congregation Tehillah with a group of other like-minded Jewish families in our community.
Busy schedules and world travel aside, family is paramount to Alison and Franz. All three of their girls went to Fieldston and all three interned at Neighborhood House. In order of age, Simone is a jewelry designer with a studio in Brooklyn, Cecilia is in medical school in Tel Aviv and Eleanor is a junior at Maine’s Bowdoin College, although she’s currently experiencing a semester abroad in Malawi.
Alison and Franz are both children of refugees (Italy, Germany and France) and one reason for their peripatetic lifestyle, they say, is to keep up with their family diaspora around the world. In addition, Franz explains, “it has framed how we see the world” and, perhaps, why the couple is so willing to get involved with worldwide projects to aid those less fortunate than themselves.
Nevertheless, there’s no place like home and they are cognizant of how lucky they are to have forged such “deep, deep friendships in so many parts of Riverdale: its schools, its organizations and the Jewish community.”
With satisfaction Alison and Franz assert, “You can live a life of many chapters in Riverdale.”