By far one of the greatest things you can do for your community is to give back. Canfield BHP Alum Aaryaman Singhal has decided to do just that. We caught up with him recently to discuss his time as the Chief Operations Officer at Groundwork Dallas, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the natural surroundings of Dallas and beyond. Aaryaman also walks us through projects that have been keeping him occupied since graduating and explains what he enjoys most about his job as COO.
Tell us about Groundwork Dallas’ story and what interested you in the position?
Groundwork Dallas is an environmental nonprofit that focuses on two types of programs. One is restoring green spaces in Dallas; that means removing litter from the environment, building trails so that people can access wilderness areas, and installing benches, picnic tables, wide-viewing platforms, and bridges so that people can enjoy the spaces with family or friends. Groundwork Dallas also runs a wonderful youth program primarily for students who are underrepresented in the outdoors. Their families might not have the means to buy equipment or take camping trips. The program allows them to go canoeing, camping, and mountain bike riding – all for free. They also receive environmental education, volunteer opportunities, and environmental job training. Through these experiences, they also benefit just from being outside, which research shows, provides physical and mental health benefits.
I found Groundwork Dallas as a volunteer while working at Southwest Airlines. I volunteered regularly for a year, served on the board for a year, and have now been on staff as Chief Operating Officer for a year. Because we’re a small nonprofit, I have received many opportunities for growth here. With my business background, I try to manage as many office tasks as possible so our team can focus more on the fieldwork. For me, I felt it was a great opportunity to use and develop the skills I developed during my time at Southwest. Here, I do finance, accounting, strategy, marketing, sales, operations, and technology. There’s never a dull moment.
Take us through a day in your shoes as COO at Groundwork Dallas.
There is no “typical day” in my job. Just looking at a random day on my calendar, last Tuesday, we hosted 110 students from a local high school at one of our cleanup sites. I helped load trucks and set everything up for the day. Some students picked up trash in our canoes, others helped move debris from flood events that occurred over the last couple of months. Halfway through that, I stepped away to meet with my city council member. I’ve been working on building a relationship with him and letting him know a little bit more about our organization so we can improve our city together. Later, I came back to the cleanup site and finished out the day there.
My days range from hosting cleanups to facilitating board meetings. Anything outside of our direct programs to building trails or work with our youth directly tends to fall into my lap – and even those do sometimes.
What do you enjoy most about working at Groundwork Dallas?
One is that I regularly get to go outside for my job. Last week, there were two different days where we were working on building relationships with different groups of funders and partners, and I got to take them paddling down the fork of the Trinity River. Getting to canoe, camp, or volunteer outside for work is incredible.
Secondly, the sheer variety of tasks that I work on at Groundwork Dallas is exhilarating. There’s always a new challenge. I’m always learning something new. I don’t think that I would have been able to get that type of hands-on learning in any organization that was larger than 12 or 15 people. It’s only been a year so there’s so much more to learn still – and it’s really exciting.
Tell us about a project you’re currently working on and what you plan to achieve.
When I arrived at Groundwork Dallas, we tracked all of our expenses in a way that combined GL accounts, grant-specific expenses, and project-related expenses into one hierarchy. In reality, this metadata is all different and independent. I worked with our accountant to define all of our grants and types of expenses we have, such as office supplies, tools, and machinery costs. Then, we identified every program that we run, every grant we have, and the spending restrictions on each grant. After implementing some new financial tracking tools and processes, we can track each transaction to all appropriate spending categories.
A big project for Groundwork Dallas is the Frasier Dam Recreation Area. It’s 115 acres of wilderness in West Dallas, which is an industrial and more neglected part of the city. After many years of cleanups and partnering with the City of Dallas, the recreation area is now open to the public. We’re working to build more trails and install more picnic areas there now.
How do you think your time at CBHP aided your success at Groundwork Dallas?
Two ways. First, education in all aspects of the business (marketing, finance, law, org behavior, technology, etc.) is critical for me in my role. I have a major role in all of these verticals of our organization. The second way and more important way is that in MIS301H I learned how to figure stuff out when I am lost. While having some background in many aspects of business is great, I mostly figure stuff out on the fly like I had to in 301H.
What can the community do to help Groundwork Dallas in its mission to regenerate, sustain, and improve the Dallas Elm Fork Greenbelt and Great Trinity Forest?
Volunteer – bring your office or community group. We love hosting groups of all sizes, 10-200. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Partake – come enjoy the spaces we have developed in Dallas (Hines Park and Frasier Dam Recreation Area) and/or tell others about them.
Do you have any advice for current Canfield BHP students?
I almost dropped the program on a few occasions because I didn’t always feel like I fit in. I am so glad I stuck it out for the background knowledge which makes me more effective in the field of my choice today. There are lots of Canfield BHP students who don’t go the consulting/banking route. Follow your passion because your day to day job is too much of your daily life after graduation to be doing something you don’t deeply care about.
Groundwork Dallas believes that everyone deserves a green, healthy, and resilient environment. Be a part of the wonderful work Aaryaman and the amazing people at Groundwork Dallas are doing for their community. If you have a passion for the great outdoors and would like to help keep Dallas Elm Fork greenbelt clean visit groundworkdallas.org or email Aaryaman at Aaryaman@groundworkdallas.org.