Callie Kaplan of the Social IMPACT Research Center

Callie Kaplan’s passion for data and serving communities has brought her from Haiti to Heartland Alliance as a Senior Research Associate and seeing data in action is what grows her love for learning, every day.

1. What got you into research? What got you into research for non-profits?

I really got interested in research during my first job working for a public health organization in a small city in Haiti. I was 22, and had thought I might want to become a clinician, but working with this community organization, I saw how impactful research can be in terms of program improvement, program design, funding and policy/advocacy change. I was fortunate enough to work with an organization that had an extensive public health database and very strong community ties. We were able to actually analyze data, visualize it and give it right back to the same community health workers so they could share it with the communities we were working with. I definitely believe knowledge is power, and this gave me a glimpse of how people can use information, when they have access to it, to better their own community’s health.

2. Why is this work important to the community? To the people Heartland Alliance serves?

Applied research, which has direct and often immediate impact on programming and policy, is critical work when it is driven by community voice and priorities. Applied research can ensure that programs and services are relevant, effective and appropriately tailored for folks who access them. Also, applied research can inform policies which may either promote or hinder inequalities and inequities which create the conditions that necessitate program services. For example, IMPACT’s annual poverty report, can be used to promote and/or advocate to uphold policies which support folks experiencing poverty. Our research also digs deeper to use a gender and/or racial equity lens to expose how poverty, for example, impacts communities of color, and especially women of color differentially due to historical racism and oppression. Using data to change the narrative around poverty, race, and gender is a critical part of our work for Chicago and specifically the people that Heartland Alliance serves.

4. What is your favorite part of your job?

I believe that applied research we do at IMPACT makes an actual difference in our city and our state and local communities and going to work and feeling like I’m contributing to some good in the world is my favorite part of my job. I also feel like I’m constantly learning and I love that too. Whether it is about an area of social justice, or a social service that I wasn’t familiar with, or a new software tool, I learn from my co-workers and folks who are part of Heartland Alliance as well- as long as I’m growing and learning, I’m happy.

5. This year, you co-led Heartland Alliance’s Research and Policy Division’s Adopt a Family gift giving—what made you say “yes” to doing this your first year at HA and what is your favorite thing about the Adopt a Family program?

Well, for one, Suniya Farooqui who is a Heartland Alliance Data Analyst based in Michigan, volunteered first, but since she is remote, she needed an on-the-ground person, so I was happy to play that role, mainly because I like working with Suniya, and respected that she said yes so quickly. And also, because I liked that this was something that my office committed to each year. My favorite thing about the Adopt a Family program, is that it centers you and reminds you what is important not just doing the holidays all the time- connecting to and supporting others. Also I loved one of the gift which was a family vacation to a waterpark because I always think the best gifts are experiences with people you love.

6. What is your favorite part of the holiday season? OR How are you planning to celebrate the holidays?

My favorite part of the holiday season is spending time with my Mom’s side of the family who all live in Pittsburgh. All twenty or so of us sleep at my grandparent’s house on couches, and sleeping bags so we can all wake up and cook together and then play board games, and do a white elephant present exchange. This year will be hard, because my grandmother, who really pulled us all in, passed away a few months ago, so I think it will be a mix of sadness and celebration of her life and being together, which is what she would have wanted. But I also will get to spend the holiday with my 3 nephews who are all under 4 and they always brighten everyone’s day because they are hilarious and crazy. They live in California and I don’t see them often, so getting to be with them, and spending time with family, both given and chosen, will be the best part of my holiday.