Learning Life Finalist for National “Civvys” Award

This week, the Bridge Alliance announced the finalists for the fifth annual American Civic Collaboration Awards, or “Civvys,” as they have come to be known. 

The Civvys are the only national awards program dedicated to celebrating projects that emphasize working together across divides to strengthen communities and empower citizens. By leveraging collaboration as a core strength, these initiatives put community and nation before party, ideology, and narrow interests, embodying a civic spirit that inspires other Americans to take action. This year, in addition to collaboration, impact and scalability, award criteria included an emphasis on building a more diverse and equitable America.

From a record number of nominees, the Civvys Awards Committee announced 16 finalists, across three categories: National, Local and Youth: 

National Category

  • Latinx House
  • SensibleSchool, Inc.
  • VoteAmerica
  • AllVoteNoPlay.org Civic Playbook
  • American Democracy Project


  • Uniting for Action on the Maryland Economy
  • GenUnity
  • Voters First Virginia
  • Learning Life
  • Environmental Justice Coalition
  • NC Leadership Forum at Duke University


  • Certell Inc
  • Kids Voting Durham
  • Green Our Planet’s Farmpreneur Program
  • American Public Square at Jewell: Civics Education Initiative
  • Kentucky YMCA Youth Association

Learning Life was recognized for its work in building the metro Washington DC Democracy Learning Community (DMV DLC), starting with its regular Democracy Dinners in June 2019.  Learning Life has used the Dinners to build a network of over 4,000 democracy sector professionals in the Washington DC metro area whom we invite to the Dinners.  Close to 200 people have participated in the Dinners since June 2019, some repeatedly.  In 2022, Learning Life is drawing on that growing Dinners network plus further outreach and research to plan for the next steps in the development of the DLC.  A vision and action plan is scheduled for release in January 2023.  For ways to connect and get involved in the development of the DLC, click the DMV DLC link above.   

For more information about the Civvys Award, contact Sachi Bajaj at sachi@bridgealliance.us. 

Stakeholder Spotlight: William Schneider

The “Stakeholder Spotlight” is a new occasional series of posts highlighting people who are helping to advance Learning Life’s work.  Our second post in this series features Bill Schneider, Ph.D., whom you may recognize if you watched CNN in the 1990s and 2000s. Bill is a frequent participant in Learning Life’s Democracy Dinners and a strong supporter of our broader Democracy Learning Community.  To learn more about Bill, click here.  For ways you can support Learning Life, click here.  

What is your current occupation?

I am currently Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Please tell us more about you.  

Besides being Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at George Mason University, I have also been Visiting Professor of Public Affairs at UCLA and Boston College. I was the Cable News Network’s (CNN) senior political analyst from 1990 to 2009.  I am now a contributor to Al Jazeera English and The Hill.  I am also the author of Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable, published by Simon & Schuster in 2018. 

Why did you decide to support Learning Life?

I decided to support Learning Life after being invited to participate in several Democracy Dinner discussions.  I found the participants engaging, enthusiastic and deeply concerned about the survival of democratic values and institutions.  I am happy to share my long experience writing, speaking and teaching about democracy with them.  I believe I was the oldest participant, having observed, covered and taught democratic politics all over the world for more than fifty years.

Seeking Family Storytelling Judges

Learning Life seeks existing groups of people in the USA and abroad interested in family, world affairs, and/or storytelling for an extraordinary opportunity: serving as volunteer judges for the family storytelling performances of international family diplomacy (FD) trainees in October 2022. 

From July 10 to October 23 this year, Learning Life, a Washington DC-based educational nonprofit, is training its first cohort of FD trainees, culminating in their family storytelling performances in October live online to audiences of judges.  The July-October training is part of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative.  FDI is an ambitious, long-term effort to connect, train and empower families to participate in decision-making at local to global levels.  We envision a world more connected and caring because every family has one or more family diplomats, and those citizen diplomats advocate via nonprofits, businesses, media and governments for the needs, concerns and aspirations of families worldwide. 

The ability to tell family stories effectively is one powerful way to speak to family needs, concerns and aspirations.  Hence, in July-October, the FD trainees will each create their own story about their own family or a family they know, connect it to a wider issue or topic (happiness or depression, health, love, drug abuse, violence, poverty, wealth, inequality or equality, immigration, refugee crises, faith and religion, gay rights, climate change, war and/or peace, etc.), practice their stories together in weekly meetings, culminating in performance of their stories to a live audience of ordinary people who will serve as the storytelling judges.  The storytellers who receive the highest scores from their judges will receive cash awards.  Hence, Learning Life is now recruiting (a) FD trainees to learn about family storytelling as well as citizen diplomacy and what is happening with/to families worldwide, and (b) FD storytelling judges.  For details on the FD trainee opportunity, click here. For details about volunteering as a group of storytelling judges, please read on.   

What is involved?

Judging is not a time-demanding task.  It requires a minimum of about 3 hours and a maximum of about 6 hours, composed of the following:

  1. On a date and time in September or October for the group, the judges will meet for about 30-60 minutes via Zoom with a Learning Life staff member to (a) learn how to judge the family storytelling performances using a simple online scoring rubric, and (b) discuss audio-visual and any other logistical preparations.  Judges will also then be able to ask any questions they have about FDI, or the scoring process.  
  2. On one, two or three dates and times in October that works for the group, the judges will meet for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each time to hear and score the family stories (each story 5 minutes max) of 4-8 FD trainees from different countries.  The storytellers will tell their stories in English.  Each judge will independently score each story using a scoring sheet that can be printed out or filled in on the internet using their cell phone, then proceed together to the next story. After the storytelling and scoring, the judges will have an opportunity to ask the storytellers questions and hold a discussion to learn more about the storytellers and their families, and have a discussion moderated by a Learning Life staff member and/or a member of the group of judges.  It is up to the judging group to determine if they wish to commit to 1, 2 or 3 storytelling sessions.   

If all goes well, and each group of judges is willing, they will have the opportunity to judge future cohorts of FDI family storytellers in subsequent years as Learning Life deepens and expands our FD training program.   

What are the benefits?

Judges get the opportunity to connect with people from different countries and walks of life, learn about their families, reflect cross-culturally about family life, and help support the training of family diplomats for a more caring world.  

What do judges need to qualify?

Groups of judges must:

  1. Speak English at an advanced to fluent level. 
  2. Be existing formal organizations or associations of people with explicit interest in world affairs, family, and/or storytelling.  The group must have at least ten individual members able and willing to participate.  These groups can be mothers/fathers/parents or family clubs, international affairs associations, performing arts or storytelling groups, high school or college classes, or else.  No storytelling or judging experience is required. 
  3. Have one person from your group who will take the lead in communicating with Learning Life staff and collecting and reporting your group’s scores.
  4. Have a public or private room (e.g., in a library, or someone’s home) to meet that is quiet, and visually non-distracting. The room should ideally have a screen on which you can project a live Zoom session and audio strong enough to listen to storytellers, or otherwise one person’s computer around which your group can gather to watch and listen clearly to the storytellers.      
How do we get involved?

Is your group interested in serving as storytelling judges, or do you have questions?  Contact us at email@learninglife.info

Know someone interested in participating as a storytelling FD trainee?  They can click here for more information. 

Spotlight: Spring 2022 Learning Life Interns

Learning Life’s interns do vital work responsible for the vibrance and growth of our organization.  This spring, their work includes outreach to thousands of people on Facebook and Linkedin to help grow the Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) worldwide, and the Democracy Learning Community in metro Washington DC; research in diplomacy, democracy, education and fundraising; social media communications, and more.  Learning Life is very grateful for their dedicated workYou can learn a little about each of them below. 

Jibbi Bah

Year, major, and school: I recently completed a Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Politics at George Mason University. 

Hobbies: My hobbies mainly consist of different sports.  On the weekends I like to swim, or play football with my friends.  Also, when I have the time, I like to read to prepare for my upcoming master’s. 

Career aspirations: Inequality is a significant issue for me, and hence that’s sort of the main problem I’ve always been interested in addressing. The career that I found most apt for this aim is in social policy, specifically working on designing social safety nets in developing countries to enable social mobility.  Accordingly, I am starting a Masters’s in Social Policy in the Fall, and then hope to begin working with an international development organization. 

Why Learning Life?  I find appealing Learning Life’s ability to transcend class barriers by leveraging the internet to provide mentoring and intercultural exchange.  I think the internet can be a great tool to address inequities in education, and this is exactly what Learning Life attempts to do, so why not be a part of such an effort. 

Josie Belliveau

Year, major, and school: I am finishing my last undergraduate semester at American University in Washington D.C. I am majoring in International Relations with a specialization in Development and Inequality in Latin America. To help my understanding of this wide topic, I have minors in Spanish Language and Economics. I am also currently spending my last semester abroad in Ecuador with the Pachaysana Institute working towards my Spanish fluency. 

Hobbies: I enjoy reading, traveling, and learning about new cultures. My experience in Ecuador is inspiring me to seek out traveling and living in Latin American countries in the future. I also love to dance and find that it is a great way to connect with different communities and cultures.

Career aspirations: I am interested in environmental advocacy and working with community garden programming. I would love to combine my interests in environmental activism and working with children. Ideally, I want to feel that I am making an impact on the world. I am also interested in exploring the world of sustainable investment and the conscious economy. I hope to be able to continue using my Spanish Language skills and perhaps live and work in other Latin American countries.

Why Learning Life?  Learning Life’s remote internship is a great opportunity to continue my professional development while abroad. I enjoy engaging with a variety of cultures and peoples every time I am working. Learning Life’s dialogues and activism on democracy in metro Washington DC and family diplomacy internationally strongly resonate with me.

Kevin Espino
Year, major and school: I am a first-generation college student and junior at the University of California-Santa Barbara.  I am majoring in Chicano Studies, and minoring in Education.

Hobbies: In My free time I like to go for walks around my neighborhood.  I also like going out with friends and trying new restaurants and food from different countries.  I especially like Mexican and Italian food.

Career aspirations: I was born and raised in El Salvador until age 12, then came to the United States with my mother and sister.  I took ESL (English as a Second Language) courses in high school in California to learn English.  I noticed in these classes that Latin American students who didn’t speak English fluently were treated differently.  Since college counselors assumed we wouldn’t go to college, they kept us out of college preparation events.  As a result, I am committed to assisting immigrants like myself.   After college and for my career, I aspire to work as an academic counselor where I can assist immigrant students in achieving success in high school and college.

Why Learning Life?  I’ve always believed that education is critical to the development of a more peaceful and compassionate society.  Learning Life caught my attention because of its emphasis on education outside school walls.  I’ve also always been interested in learning about diverse communities and cultures, and Learning Life’s international reach has provided me with that opportunity.

Aminata Keita

Year, major, and school: I am a senior at Marymount University majoring in Liberal Studies with two concentrations: Business and International Studies.

Hobbies: I spend most of my free time listening to music.  My favorite genres are Rhythm and Blues, Afrobeat and Caribbean music. I am also passionate about African art, and love baking.  I am a chocolate lover, so I like to bake chocolate cakes and cupcakes, chocolate chip muffins and cookies, brownies, marble pound cake, as well as apple pie and crêpes.

Career aspirations: In the future I aspire to a career in international development to help reduce poverty in developing countries. I am particularly interested in education, democracy, sustainability and health.

Why Learning Life? I chose to intern with Learning Life because it aims to help people become better citizens and to shape a better society to live in. Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”, and I firmly believe that this is what Learning Life is perpetuating through its commitment to education, democracy and diplomacy.

Destiny Monegro
Year, major, and school: I am a junior at Virginia Tech studying International Relations, National Security & Foreign Affairs, and French.
Hobbies: I am very passionate about languages and culture, so I enjoy traveling and discovering new things. I love learning new languages, so I am currently challenging myself to learn Italian and French. Last semester, I studied abroad in Switzerland and had the chance to travel to ten other countries during my time there. After visiting the cities of Prague and Munich, I am very interested in learning Czech and German in the future. I am also extremely family-oriented, so spending quality time with family is essential for me.
Career aspirations: My post-graduate plans are to earn a Master’s Degree in European Politics, Peace & Conflict Studies, or Intelligence and Security Studies—preferably at a university abroad. I picture myself working for the United Nations, the U.S State Department, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or an agency within the intelligence community.
Why Learning Life? I decided to intern at Learning Life because I believe education beyond school walls is extremely important, and family diplomacy is a unique concept. I also admired the international scope, which brings families from around the globe to speak on various subjects—shedding light on different perspectives and promoting tolerance of diversity.  I was particularly intrigued about Learning Life’s Democracy Learning Community project as well, as it aims to bridge divides, nurture democracy, and encourage civic engagement within the Washington DC metro region.

Macy Pope

Year, major and school: I am a senior honors student graduating in May of 2022 from Marymount University in Arlington, VA.  I have a double major in Philosophy and English, with a concentration in writing.

Hobbies: In my spare time, I love to read as much as I can about whatever I can, especially ecological critical theory fiction classics and true crime.  I also love to hike and camp, or really just get outdoors!

Career aspirations: After I graduate from college, I hope to join the U.S. Peace Corps.  I am then hoping to either take the LSAT and attend law school for environmental or humanitarian law, or to pursue a Master’s Degree in sociology.  More than anything, I want to be able to help people and to have a positive impact on how people treat the environment and each other.  I also want to one day write a book about my research on the climate crisis.

Why Learning Life?  Learning Life is a really wonderful organization that has offered me an opportunity to connect with different people.  During a time where we are all so online-focused, Learning Life has really made me feel connected to a group of like-minded individuals all passionate about learning throughout life.  I think that education is the key to creating a more compassionate worldview.

River Stone

Year, major and school: I am a third-year student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, double-majoring in Foreign Affairs and East Asian Studies.
Hobbies: I enjoy playing sports, spending time with my friends and family, going outside, and traveling. I have been studying Mandarin for the past three years and love learning and practicing the language. I am also the President of UVA Club Gymnastics and coach gymnastics in my free time.
Career aspirations: I would definitely like to pursue a career in public policy, government, or diplomacy. I am also really interested in public education policy and women’s rights. I aspire to work in the Civil Service or the State Department, working to improve access to education, equity in public policy, and US security.
Why Learning Life?  I was drawn to Learning Life for it’s emphasis on face-to-face dialogue between different cultures and its mission to advance democracy and civic engagement.  Throughout my internship, I have studied and worked on citizen diplomacy and civic engagement, learned about the inner workings of an NGO, and made connections with professionals in the field.