Our Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit team received an Operations Transformation Fund grant to expand our project team and focus on writing, designing, and building the Toolkit.   

As part of this work, we recently onboarded a new fellow, Connie Vandarakis, who’ll create and facilitate trainings for City engagement practitioners.  

Learn more about Connie below.


Tell us your story. 

For 37 years, Philadelphia has been home. (Yep, a long time.) I left the Midwest for graduate school, then worked as an Academic and Associate Dean at a university for 30 years. Now, I work as an International Disability consultant, and I’m loving the work. My favorite role is being a mom to my three kids, even though theyre all adults. I also have two grandchildren. Theyre my first source of learning. Im curious about most everything and love to engage with people to learn and keep growing. My superpower is connecting people.


What values underpin your work and why?

  • Passion: Every day is a gift to explore, and I want to lean into the human experience.  
  • Change-maker: As a verb, not a position. Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka says, “Imagine a world where everyone is a change-maker.” How can I work with my family, neighbors, local organizations, and global organizations to help create change for a better world? It’s a practical thought put into action. 
  • Kindness: I choose to be a rebel of kindness. There is enough negativity in the world. Being kind has its own rewards internally (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) even if it’s not reciprocated. 


Why are you interested in contributing to the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project?

I couldn’t imagine a better project to engage in than the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project. Building community is at the forefront of my consultant work with disability inclusion projects, so when I learned of the scope of the project, I was excited. I also have to say the interview process showed me how dynamic the team was at every level, and that was energizing. 


What’s your most favorite thing to do in your down time and why?

I’m blessed to have the opportunity to travel and train people all over the world, so learning about the arts and culture of a city or country is a big treat while I’m there. As a long-time dancer, I love a good contact improvisation class or teaching a DanceAbility class. Plants are a big passion, and my home resembles a greenhouse. My most favorite downtime is spending time with my kids. They’re incredible artists and change-makers working in their own communities for social justice.