Anniversary Reflections

An Interview with Betsy Lind Danziger

Member, Board of Directors, The Steppingstone Foundation

Steppingstone was still only an idea when Betsy Lind Danziger caught her first glimpse of it.

As she recounts the story, she’s transported back in time 30+ years to the classrooms of Harvard’s Ed School and her first impressions of future Steppingstone co-founder Mike Danziger. The two took only one course together. Betsy remembers diligently taking notes. Sitting a few chairs away, her new friend—and future husband—furiously sketched out program possibilities for Boston’s underserved students.

Now as then, “education is my love,” says Betsy. For three decades, that love has kept her actively engaged in the world of schools as well in the Steppingstone community. Always a teacher at heart, she continues working as a tutor and as an admission associate at the Fessenden School. She also serves as a steward of Steppingstone’s future as a member of its Board of Directors, a role that she took on following Mike’s tragic death in 2017.

This past year has brought longstanding issues of equity and justice into sharper focus for all educators. It has also brought to the forefront the need for the kind of multidimensional support that Steppingstone has long sought to provide. For students from historically marginalized communities, achieving dreams of college “has never been just about education,” she realizes. “There’s so much more to it.”

Betsy and her four sons

“LIFE-TRANSFORMING RESULTS”
In 1990, after graduating from HGSE, Betsy followed her passion back into classroom teaching. She kept close to Mike as he and co-founder John Simon worked in partnership to realize their dream.

Within a year, the co-founders had taught their first class of Scholars—and Betsy and Mike had become partners in marriage. As Steppingstone took shape, she relished hearing Mike’s stories and pitched in as needed. Early on, she did everything from bookkeeping to photographing graduations. And she joined Mike in forging close relationships with Scholars and families, often inviting everyone to picnics at their home or to gatherings in Boston.

Initially, she felt like she’d become part of an extended family. One of the Scholars from the first class, Alain Davis, ended up later living with the Danzigers for a time while he was a student at Roxbury Latin. Betsy dropped him off at school on her way to work, and he developed a lasting bond with the oldest of the couple’s four sons.

About a decade ago, Alain came back into Mike’s and Betsy’s lives, and he and his own children have become even more deeply connected to her and her family. “I’ve learned so much through and because of Alain,” she says.

When she thinks about the “life-transforming results” of Steppingstone, she knows that “our connection has transformed all of our lives in a really meaningful way.”

Enjoying the 2013 Gala with Isabelle Loring

TURNING POINTS
Looking back across three decades, “it’s so impressive to see how Steppingstone has reached so many people and changed so many lives,” Betsy reflects. “I never doubted Mike and his determination,” she adds.

Shepherding a nonprofit from idea to institution has its challenges. As Betsy reflects on Steppingstone’s path, “it hasn’t always been easy,” she knows. In her mind, one of the turning points was seeing it expand beyond a small circle of early funders and draw a broader community of supporters and believers.

While many people looked at Mike in his founding role as the driving force, she realizes that stability and success in the long term took an ability to know his limitations and find the right people to advance his and John’s original vision. In her mind, one of Mike’s best finds was “Kelly, Kelly, and Kelly again”. To Betsy, Kelly Glew has been instrumental in charting a course for Steppingstone since long before she became president in 2010. Finding and engaging so many exceptional board members through the years has been equally important to the institution’s health, she believes, as has the board leadership of Brian Conway in its middle years and now Isabelle Loring.

In large part, Betsy credits its three decades of transformative results to a willingness and an ability to adapt and adjust to changing times. As one example, she points to “the unbelievable way” that Steppingstone pivoted to an online summer program in the wake of the pandemic.

At the same time, she sees the talent and passion of “everyone who works at Steppingstone” as ongoing keys to its success.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Betsy remains deeply committed to seeing the organization—and Scholars—thrive. To that end, she’s active in the work of a board committee on diversity, equity and inclusion, an issue close to her heart. In the last several years, on a personal level, she’s devoted herself to understanding and addressing systemic racism. As much as she appreciates the original passions that drove the organization’s founding, she welcomes the ways in which an openness to continuous growth and learning has led to a far more inclusive mission and program. She’s acutely aware that “there’s so much more we can do”—and she sees Steppingstone and its National Partnership for Educational Access as change agents in that work. She appreciates how readily all staff continue to commit to being a force ”to swing the pendulum in the right direction.”

Scholars are never far from her thoughts. They bring incredible motivation and so much more. What Steppingstone ultimately offers is “the opportunity for them to change the trajectory of their lives,” she says. “It’s a real tribute to Steppingstone and what it’s meant to Scholars to see them return and want to give back,” she reflects. To her, “that’s incredibly heartening.”

Looking to the future, “I hope that they achieve their dreams,” Betsy says. “And I hope that they will keep reaching back to help others do the same.”