A Lesson in the True Meaning of Stronger/Together

JULY 2022
Shayna Horwitz is the Development and Communications Director for the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington D.C., where our President, Robin Heller is a member of the advisory board. They’re a bridge to justice for trafficking survivors, both in the United States and around the world. Shayna was a valued member of the Stronger/Together forum, an invitation-only group of business leaders in the nonprofit and affiliated space, talking monthly with candor and joy about the challenges of work and life during the pandemic. Here, she reflects upon the space shared.
In the summer of 2020, it was hard to hope. I remember, vividly, how lost I felt. Separated from loved ones and community. Working in isolation while trying to retain some sense of a “team” at work. Grappling through the fear and grief brought on by the pandemic. Trying to learn – and unlearn – as citizens of the world called out for the end of systemic injustice. It was overwhelming.
One day, I received an email about an opportunity: “Stronger/Together.” This opportunity, conceived by The Athena Advisors (at this time, still Robin Heller International), created a virtual forum for people to “share ideas and build networks for good.” A chance to share with people outside of my network and learn from colleagues around the world? I replied “yes” without hesitation.
The space was more than I could have envisioned. More than fifty incredibly talented, empathetic professionals working in the social justice space signed up for the forum, many in the highest ranks of their organization.

We all carved out the time, once a month, to come together in unity.

The first gathering focused on online fundraising – a topic that was on many of our minds. The pandemic had upended traditional fundraising efforts and it felt like we all had to learn on the fly. In that session, colleagues shared about their recent experiences – what went right, what went wrong. But they didn’t only provide incredible insights, they offered to meet with attendees one-on-one after the call. I took one presenter up on their offer. From that conversation, I had a contact for an online event consultant. We are now working with that same consultant for the third year in a row.
I was asked to play a role in the second session, titled “Leading from a Broken Heart.” Imposter syndrome took over. Who was I to share when so many others were facing far worse than I? I steeled my nerves and agreed to take on the role. I wrote a poem about my grandfather, who was 97 at the time. I wrote about how incredibly blessed I felt to have that time with him. The sadness I felt watching his frame grow smaller each day. Others thanked me for sharing my poem, many sharing their own story of loss and grief.
That was the beauty of “Stronger/Together.” Whether we came together to discuss issues we faced in our everyday work or topics that reached further within our hearts, it was the community we created that filled my soul. These sessions became a critical part of my self-care during that time. I made friends that are very dear to me that I still have never met in person. I brought back to my work best practices that were shared throughout the year.

Over the course of the forum, themes included: Meaningful Gatherings and Events; Leading From a Broken Heart; Mindfulness and Leadership; Equity and Power, Power and Equity; Staying Motivated; 2021 Inauguration Gathering; Stillness; Risk and Failure; Creativity and Innovation; Inspiring Growth; Resiliency; Beauty of Fundraising and Boards.

Thank you to all my colleagues who showed up. Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for the wisdom you shared. And thank you to The Athena Advisors for creating this space for us. A special thanks to Robin Heller, Lucy Hart, and Carmen Bitar for their leadership.

Words cannot describe the gratitude I feel to have participated in “Stronger/Together.” It was the perfect response to the unraveling everyone felt during that time. It was exactly what I needed to restore hope. The forum drew to a close in August 2021 as life began to slowly move towards a form of normal, but the community remains open and for that I am grateful.