Help us welcome Tash Neal, Senior Manager of Grants and Contracts at Common Ground!

Tash recently joined our Development and Communications team as the Senior Manager of Grants and Contracts at Common Ground (CG), this spring. They are also familiar with CG through volunteering for Feast from the Fields, joining the Feast Committee and helping on our Urban Farm! Tash joined After School Media Club members, Aiden and JC, for an interview and shared their community-driven background that led them to CG.

What’s your job at Common Ground?

I am the Senior Manager of Grants and Contracts. That means I will be managing the maintenance of grants and other funding contracts, as these opportunities often require communication on project goals, action items, outcomes and data over time to serve as evidence that the funding received is supporting CG’s and the funder’s missions.

What are your previous work experiences? What made CG a good next step for you? 

I previously did research and community work. I went to Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) and got a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Then, I earned my master’s degree in Public Health. While pursuing my graduate degree in Public Health, I went to New Mexico as a member of AmeriCorps to help address food insecurity. Common Ground encapsulates all of this, so that made it a good next step.

What part of CG made you come here? What motivates you to work here? 

I came to CG, while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, and did some work on the farm and in the compost program. There, I got to meet students and learn more about the program. I didn’t know much about the overarching organization, so that’s been cool to learn about.

Other than that, I wanted to do more community work. At my previous job, I did diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work that was internal to the institution and department I was in. While I found value in that, I also recognized that working at such a prestigious university, or any academic institution for that matter, is a privileged position to be in. So, to me, the work felt less impactful than helping the community surrounding the university, which is facing many health barriers. I think CG is a good place to do community-involved work.

What makes you want to work in an environment with young people/young adults? 

In a way, it keeps me young, to start. I grew up with five nieces and a nephew. A lot of my sisters are in their 40s, so I’ve been taking care of kids since I was like 7. And I’m pretty monotone and not always high energy, but I think sometimes students relate to that more, so I hope that’s an energy I can bring. I also think it’ll be a little more interesting since I’ve been mostly dealing with college students for quite some time.  

What’s your approach to working with young people?

Being genuine, I feel like that’s the one thing you can do to relate to anyone. It’s just to be your genuine self. I don’t really have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. I’m a pretty straightforward person, so I hope they can just appreciate my jokes. I’m happily non-binary so I hope having some more queer folks around will be nice; and I’m enjoying it here, so I think just being genuine.

What’s your approach to grant writing?

My approach would be primarily staying organized. I think that’s a huge part of it. I have to keep up with a lot of deadlines, a lot of reports, data and more. And I’ll also be talking to people across the organization. So I think one of the reasons why I got the role is because I was like I’ll do a To-Do List and I like to communicate, so I think I fit in with the team and then having an organizational and coding background will help.

What life experiences made you want to work in grant writing?

I come from a marginalized, low income background. I don’t talk to my family, so I’ve kind of been on my own and just been working through that. I’ve taken life one step at a time. I took an unexpected gap year after college. I didn’t think I was going to have a gap year, I thought I was going to enter an accelerated nursing program, and it changed my life completely. So all of that kind of got me here. I think I’ve always just wanted to do community engagement work. I just didn’t know how I wanted to do it. I was going to go into the clinical healthcare field and then I went to public health instead.  

How does your job relate to students?

It definitely relates to the students in keeping the programs that interest you all the most. Those are the ones that are most effective, the ones that are most valuable in the long run. So it definitely impacts the students and hopefully I’ll be able to find money for the school, money for the programs and balance everything out. But yeah, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes and so, putting everything on and getting everything that you need for programs and stuff, it’s a lot of responsibility.

What’s one change you’d like to see at CG, and why?

It’s to increase money, hopefully I can, and keep us on track for our goals. And then hopefully find some new opportunities. A big part of my job is that they want me to come in and maintain what’s already going on with the grants and contracts. But another big aspect will be prospect research and disseminating more information to communities to try to support the school and programs here.

What do you want students and families to know about you as a person? 

That I am easily approachable. I just kind of am who I am. So I may be concise, but I’ll always be nice…Did I really just rhyme?

Would your younger self see you working here?

Yeah, absolutely. I think I always wanted to teach in some regard. I tutored a lot. I thought I was going to be a professor at one point. I also thought about maybe teaching high school, so I think this is a good in-between.

What are any goals you have completed while working here?

I walked that hike today and I read some grants. (All in one day of my first week.)

“I may be concise, but I’ll always be nice” – Tash Neal


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