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From San Fran to LA, a Community of California Rams: Five Questions with Eva Fordham

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Growing up in California, Eva Fordham had not heard about the university that shares her name until she started looking at colleges in New York. Once she did, she knew she had to apply.

She took an unconventional approach to her admission essay—she wrote a fictional story about how Dionne Warwick and the Psychic Friends Network predicted she would go to a school that bears her last name. “This was a time when that show was big, and when there really wasn’t a Fordham presence in California,” the San Francisco-area native explains.

Her risk paid off, and she continued to hone her writing as a communications major at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, where she wrote for The Observer. She graduated in 2001.

“At Fordham I learned to tell really good stories,” she says, “about all sorts of topics, including things out of my comfort zone.” And though she didn’t end up pursuing a journalism career, her undergraduate experience helped get her a role as a grant writer for The Salvation Army in San Francisco. “I found a career I didn’t know existed, where I am able to help nonprofits and my community,” she says. “And that’s all from a journalism standpoint, which I owe to Fordham.”

It was also at the Salvation Army that Eva first thought about getting involved with a local Fordham alumni chapter. “My boss was very involved in his college’s alumni association, and it had just never occurred to me,” she says. So she contacted the head for the Fordham Alumni Chapter of Northern California, Mark Di Giorgio, and asked how she could help.

“Mark was a tremendous mentor who really kept Fordham grads in the area connected,” she says. When a job opportunity arose in Los Angeles, she promised she would get involved with the chapter in her new hometown.

Since her arrival in the city three years ago, she has done much more than that. With the help of a few fellow Fordham grads, she has revitalized the chapter, introducing two signature events.

She first connected with Caroline Valvardi, FCRH ’10, a “powerhouse behind group,” she says, who has since moved to Washington, D.C. Together, they brought on David Martel, FCLC ’00, and Kevin Carter, FCRH ’12. More recently, Lori Schaffhauser, LAW ’00, joined them. “It’s one of the most well-rounded teams I’ve ever worked with,” Eva says of her fellow Fordham Alumni Chapter of Los Angeles leaders. “It’s all ages, all different industries, all different types of talent. … It’s a great crowd, and they’re just happy to help. If this were corporate America, I would be really excited. And, of course, we’d love to have more.”

The group also reflects the diversity of the local Fordham audience. “LA is so vast; it’s just a different market,” she says. “But being here, we also have unique opportunities to leverage alumni in fields like entertainment. This is the entertainment town, and you don’t quite realize how many different aspects there are within that until you’re here.”

That’s why one of the chapter’s new signature events is a summer Entertainment Panel featuring Fordham grads who range from TV actors to Marvel writers. “It’s sold out both times we’ve held it,” Eva says, as has the new Malibu Wine Hike in the spring. Along with the annual LA Presidential Reception in January, these events have come to form the core of the chapter’s offerings for alumni.

“We’ve also tried baseball games, basketball games, holiday happy hours, all of that. We’re trying different locations and frequencies. It’s all trial and error to see what people here want,” Eva explains.

“This city is a bit fragmented, so I just look forward to linking this community together a bit more, to bringing more Fordham people together.”

What are you most passionate about?
I’m passionate about connecting people with organizations or communities or causes they care about that provide wellness for others, and about giving everyone access to opportunities they might not normally get. In my work, a lot of times that’s through philanthropy, like raising funds for after-school programs for children from low-income backgrounds. They provide more than education—they also provide health and wellness support. Nobody operates at their full capacity without having access to basic needs like nutrition, education, and mental health. So I’m passionate about providing access to that, but I’m also passionate about giving donors an opportunity to see how their contributions really make a difference by hosting community events.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A former CEO I worked with, who was such an inspirational man, once shared a definition of disillusionment that has stuck with me. He said that disillusionment is what happens when you walk into a situation with an illusion of how it should be. Since then, I have made an effort to address most things in life with an open mind and not with preconceived notions that can lead to disappointment. It’s hard, but it works.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
My favorite places in New York City are the Lower East Side, West Village, or anywhere south of 14th Street, places like the original Five Points neighborhood, where real old New York is and where New York came into being. When I lived in New York right after college, I had a book that listed all these historic spots. And I would take the train with this book and wander around and just start marking off places. Lower Manhattan is just rich with history.

In the world, I would say Paris. I just went for my birthday earlier this year, and I hadn’t been since I was 11 or 12. There’s a ton of history there too, of course, which is perfect for me. Renoir is my favorite artist, and his studio there is now a museum, which I got to see on this last trip. I just loved tripping around the cobblestone streets and the old shops in that hilly area near the basilica, finding the oldest restaurant and the oldest bar and the oldest of everything.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
There’s a book I read a few months ago that I think will stay with me for a long time. It’s called The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling, and it’s by Stephen Cope. It’s a little self-help, in a way, but what I really enjoyed is how he tells a lot of tremendous stories about people who really followed their passion. I especially loved the stories about Jane Goodall and Gandhi, those two stuck out to me. There was so much I didn’t know about their lives or why they chose to do what they did. Understanding why they made these conscious decisions was inspiring.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
I would say Elizabeth Stone, who founded and ran The Observer at Lincoln Center for a long time. She was a big supporter. She encouraged me to push the envelope a few times, to take difficult articles even if they might not get published, and even though it sometimes frustrated me at the time, I am so grateful for that opportunity that helped me learn so much. I took writing classes with her too, but it’s one thing when you’re in a class and you’re writing papers—working on a newspaper is a totally different thing. You’re on a team with everybody. You’ve got co-writers, you have an editor … it’s real life. And that was an opportunity that I wouldn’t have taken advantage of if she hadn’t pushed me in that direction.

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