Alisa Costa, DLE member and founder of Engaged Communities Consulting, has dedicated the majority of her life to working with diverse communities.
She credits her undergraduate days at SUNY Albany for enlightening her. “That feeling of walking in and seeing so many different types of people in my classes and hearing their experiences was uncomfortable for me because it was so different,” she explains.
Up to that time, Alisa’s world was predictably similar. She grew up in Long Island with limited exposure to cultural diversity. “My parents were the color-blind generation. They never talked about race at all, actually. I was at ground zero in a sense,” she reflects.
The same dynamics persisted when she started as a freshman at Elmira College. She began to feel uncomfortable in her surroundings. “The school was very white and privileged, and something was wrong with that.”
That’s when she transferred schools. “I was never satisfied with where I was. I realized there were experiences far beyond my own that I wanted to learn about,” says Alisa.
After college, she accepted a full-time position with the New York AIDS Coalition where she learned public health law while simultaneously being exposed to a very diverse constituency across the state. Alisa also worked for Family Planning Advocates of New York State and Hunger Solutions New York.
She held all of these positions despite lacking a degree in Public Health. “My degree was in Political Science. I encourage people starting their careers to be open to learning new subjects and expanding their expertise. Nonprofits are a great place to do this because they are typically short staffed and always need people to chip in. All these positions challenged me on different levels: public policy analysis, public speaking and communications.”
During her last job as Initiative Director for Berkshire Bridges Working Cities in Pittsfield (MA), Alisa realized that she needed to make a big career pivot. “I needed to take a break. I just wasn’t sure where I belonged and where I could bring my passion for system change and relationship-building.”
This was a call for opportunity that she decided to answer through informational interviews and coaching conversations. “I started talking to people I admire across the country about what my next move should be,” she remembers. The conversations gave her the validation and confidence to pursue her own career path. “I realized that there was a place for my work.”
In July 2021, Alisa founded her own consulting organization, Engaged Communities Consulting. Based in the Berkshires, her firm is committed to creating inclusive programs and services to actively assist an increasingly diverse community and workforce. “Whether it be community engagement for coalitions or building a responsive system, it is something that many organizations value.” Her clients include Springfield WORKS, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Berkshire County Head Start.
Alisa joined the DLE during the pandemic in the summer of 2020 in order to integrate herself into the community. “I missed community meetings and seeing people. The Breakfast Club was a wonderful, welcoming space,” she notes.
And she quickly became involved in planning and supporting DLE programs. “My passion is to help people connect with each other. So I chose to work on the first in-person event held in 2021 by the DLE (called “Go Beyond Virtual”) with hopes of reconnecting with others.”
She adds, “I am always meeting new people through the DLE who give me insights into community needs and who share opportunities for work. And I love connecting others to opportunities as well. I made a lot of local connections in my last position, and I will never hesitate to connect with someone when I see that shared spark.”
When asked about the future, Alisa sees continued opportunity in her mission to help organizations advance through their collective and diverse members. “It’s about system change. How do we undo all the things that are holding us back as organizations that could potentially make us stronger? Well, it’s going to take a lot of work.”