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Community Spotlight: Vanessa Plant '96


Marvelwood Community Spotlight

We are always proud of the experiences of our pterodactyls. Our Community Spotlight features the stories of alumni and community members after their time at Marvelwood. To submit your story or nominate a Marvelwood graduate, email

Vanessa Plant ‘96 originally felt that she would never fit in during her high school education. In only a short time of joining the Marvelwood community, Vanessa found friends and trusted adults, and felt for the first time that she belonged! Vanessa credits her positive and inclusive experience at Marvelwood as the reason why she was drawn to the nonprofit sector. She now spends her professional time supporting nonprofit organizations that focus on youth programming.

How did you find out about Marvelwood?

I was living overseas with my father in Panama and was really struggling in the school systems there. When we moved to Brazil after my 10th grade year, my applications to many of the schools in Brazil were not accepted which drove our family to look for options within the United States. We spent time within the US Consulate in Brazil, where I spent a lot of time researching schools that might be a good fit for my interests. After considering schools in Florida, Illinois, and Rhode Island, we visited Marvelwood, where I instantly had a feeling that this was the place for me. Everyone was welcoming, and I felt at home on the Skiff Mountain campus. The admissions person that we met ended up being my advisor when I became a student, and I still keep in touch with her!

Tell me about your time at Marvelwood!

The smallness of Marvelwood made school comfortable. I loved the community service aspect, and the outdoor adventures program was unique and interesting to me. I was apprehensive at first to try new things, but I found that Marvelwood not only offered a lot of different opportunities to try new things, whether it was a sport, community service project, or extracurriculars, but the faculty went out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable and like they belonged. I signed on for community service, and my group was partnered with an elementary school where I helped children in younger grades.

Marvelwood’s faculty went above and beyond to be supportive of their students. My advisor and I often had our weekly check-in meetings over coffee or pizza and would talk about how I was doing, things I was looking forward to, and what my plans were for the future. The attention and effort that Marvelwood’s faculty afforded me was extremely impactful and made a huge difference for me. It also helped me realize that I might want to do more mentoring as a future career. Those interactions helped me feel that I finally belonged and motivated me to prepare for my life beyond Marvelwood. I had a fantastic senior year at Marvelwood. At Commencement, I was awarded the Johnson Cup for improvement both academically and as an individual over my time at the school. I was really proud to end my Marvelwood career with impressive grades, a newfound sense of self, and the respect of my peers and teachers.

I still keep in touch with some of my closest friends from Marvelwood. On Skiff Mountain, I found a place to belong by connecting with the community who accepted me.

What were some skills you learned at Marvelwood that helped you after graduation?

Living in dorms during high school gave me more opportunities to gain independence. We had assistance from Marvelwood faculty, were present, and always accessible in the dorms, but we were encouraged to be self reliant. I learned life skills such as calling home, traveling alone, and the importance of regular daily tasks. When I arrived at college, I felt like I had the upper hand as many of my peers had never lived away from home.

Upon graduation from Marvelwood, I moved to Boston to start my freshman year at UMass Boston. I settled into my first apartment, and after a little time, finalized my area of study within the Latin American Studies department.

How did you find your job in philanthropy?

After college, I tried a few careers that I didn’t feel committed to before finding nonprofit career options.

I didn’t know a lot about nonprofit work beyond general community service. I was working corporate roles, sales and wait staff jobs through college, and none were a good fit. I love people and relationships, but I’m a terrible salesperson! Over time, I discovered that when you are passionate about your job, it’s very rewarding. I realized that I’m passionate about raising funds for programs that support youth.

I then found a job working at a local adolescent center helping at-risk youth. Many of the youth that I helped had been abused, had social emotional or behavioral disorders or had been living in untenable living situations. For me personally, I found that counseling these teenagers to be too challenging, yet I was passionate about supporting the important work that was being done at the Center. It was this experience that brought me to pivot my career away from counseling. I found a better fit working in fundraising for a nonprofit organization. I loved working with people, relationship building, and sharing the mission of the organization. I worked in the nonprofit space for almost seventeen years, always in development and philanthropy.

About a year ago, a board member that I used to work with approached me about starting a family foundation and asked if I would come aboard as Executive Director. It has been an amazing experience to build this foundation from scratch! I have been on the other side, applying for grants for almost two decades, and now I’m the one granting them. Since we launched in 2022, we have offered support to approximately 70 nonprofit partners across Massachusetts. All and all, this has been a dream job for me!

What exactly does the ALKU Foundation do?

The ALKU Foundation works with nonprofit partners and organizations that support youth and youth initiatives. The Foundation provides funding, volunteers, event sponsorships, and introductions to other funders. These organizations’ services range from placing social workers in police departments to mentoring and after-school enrichment, making sure that every young person has a safe space where they feel supported.

Many of these organizations support some of those key aspects that helped me succeed at Marvelwood. I recognize that I have had a privileged life. If my advisor made such a difference in my life as a teenager, imagine what it could do for someone else.

Thanks for sharing your story, Vanessa! We can't wait to see what you'll achieve next!