BY JEN KHEDAROO
Forest Hills resident Carole Wacey Maraj is the new chief executive officer of the Women’s City Club of New York (WCC).
The multi-issue activist organization focuses on dismantling social inequities through public policy, analysis, advocacy and civic participation.
“This is the organization that’s had the longest history than any other organization I’ve been with,” Wacey said. “This is a whole new animal for me.”
Wacey has been living in Forest Hills since 2011 withe her husband George Maraj, who runs the electrical contracting company Maraj Electric in Rego Park, and their nearly three-year-old twins Jack and Justin.
She’s long been familiar with the neighborhood, as her aunt lived on 76th Street for over 50 years before passing at the age of 99.
Wacey was recently brought in to move the century-old organization into a new direction. Throughout its history, the organization has undergone three major phases. There was the initial group of women who made immense impact, including leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins. The next phase embraced having the organization managed in a member-led manner. Now that many women are working full-time, WCC is looking to professionalize its staff with its new executive director.
“It’s always a tough transition when you go from being board-led and board-driven with very smart and very accomplished women to really transitioning into having the organization’s staff really lead all of the work,” Wacey said.
Since starting her new role, she’s met with 25 of the organization’s 30 board members, as well as partners and members at large. The goal is to learn more about their backgrounds, goals and challenges.
“These are women who are leaders in their fields, way ahead of their time, and I think books can be written about each one of these people,” Wacey said, adding that the women work in fields such as healthcare, education and social policy.
WCC has worked in broad areas over the years, which allowed them to be helpful in so many different situations, but there is the potential to narrow down and deepen its focus to have more of an impact, Wacey said. It’s something she learned while working in education, where “everything is about measuring and demonstrating the impact you’re creating.” It was Wacey’s commitment to children that appealed to the WCC’s Board of Directors when selecting her as the new CEO.
“Ms. Wacey has devoted much of her career to helping others, in particular, underserved youth,” said board president Annette Choolfaian. “We are impressed by her commitment to protecting and advancing the rights of all people, sentiments that have reflected our organization’s core mission for more than a century.”
In the past, Wacey served as the executive director at the startup MOUSE, a national nonprofit organization that empowers underserved youth to learn, lead and create with technology.
During her ten-year span at MOUSE, she vastly broadened the nonprofit’s reach from 32 to more than 150 Title I schools across the city. She also expanded the reach to five other states and created a global partnership with more than 20 countries.
She also once served as the director of the Markle Foundation’s Interactive Media for Children program, which worked to help realize the potential benefits of interactive media for children by building partnerships between industry, the academy and consumers.
Prior to joining Markle, Wacey had a number of responsibilities within the Clinton Administration. As a political appointee, she held a variety of leadership roles, including as deputy director of the Office of Education Technology and senior policy advisor at the Department of Education.
In that capacity, she led the development and implementation of the national educational technology policy, “e-Learning: Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children.”
In her most recent role as vice president of Education at WNET, she led a team that produced educational television such as “Ted Talks Education,” and PBS Learning Media, an online educational media for teachers.
As someone who’s been involved in politics and policy, many of the same areas that the WCC has been involved in, Wacey wants to get the word out about the work they’ve been doing that is often behind the scenes.
“There have been a lot of big changes on the national landscape, which is certainly affecting what is happening locally, so I really see that as a good opportunity to engage more people,” Wacey said. “We want to engage a much more diverse audience, in terms of age, gender and background.
“It’s really going to be a challenge for us,” she added, noting that the upcoming Women’s March will be an opportunity to broaden their reach.
WCC and its website recently underwent rebranding efforts, but Wacey would still like to increase their online presence more to use technology as a tool to communicate and engage with people and discuss issues online.
She hopes to add a community engagement focus to the WCC website where people can share issues they care about.
“Women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and it’s important to be thinking about how to really present these issues and talk about them in a smart way,” Wacey said. “The need for the WCC is so much greater than ever with so many rights under threat from immigration to healthcare to education to reproductive rights.
“Ultimately we are responding to the needs of the New York City community and that’s what we’ll be spending time figuring out,” Wacey added. “Just make sure that the work that we’re doing is really making a difference in the lives of New Yorkers.”