7 Brunonians who are paying it forward

From cooking meals for the homeless to advocating for Indigenous sovereignty to feeding the troops in Ukraine, Brown alumni share the ways they’re giving back to their communities.

Brown University is a place where students can thrive and learn to pursue lives of “usefulness and reputation.” For generations, Brunonians have made their mark with their service to society—from volunteering in their local community to dedicating their life’s work to helping others and everything in between.

We asked the Brown community to nominate a Brunonian whose efforts to make a difference deserve recognition. Here is just a sampling of some remarkable Brown alumni who are paying it forward.

Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller ’19

“As an Indigenous person, I live across generations. Our cultures remind us that we are a product of our ancestors, just as much as our actions today provide for our descendants. For me, ‘paying it forward’ is more than simply altruism and philanthropy. I see caring for the future and those yet to come as a fundamental responsibility.”

Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller ’19

Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller ’19 was only 15 years old when she began her journey of climate advocacy, standing up against a proposed mine poised to devastate the watershed of her village in Alaska. Her advocacy efforts have only grown, from grassroots organizing to working with legislators to even working with the United Nations while an undergraduate student at Brown. Her work in climate justice and Indigenous rights has spanned continents and involved tribal governments, policymakers, nonprofits, youth voices, and many others to raise the profile of Indigenous rights and the severity of climate consequences on our Arctic landscapes. 

Miller not only pays it forward with her advocacy but with her art. An accomplished musician, singer, and performer, she’s creating cultural arts that intertwine advocacy with self-expression, spiritual exploration, and liberatory joy.

Curtis Harris Jr. ’09

“There were several times in my life when individuals helped me when I was in need, even though they didn't have to do so. That’s why I pay it forward.”

Curtis Harris Jr. ’09From College Hill to Cape Town, Curtis Harris Jr. ’09 and his drive to give back know no geographical bounds. Even as a student at Brown, Harris was venturing off campus to connect with the community. He tutored students in the Providence public school system, volunteered with elementary school children, and taught ESL classes to local refugees.

Today, his service to society continues in his local community of Wilmington, Delaware. He cooks and serves more than a thousand meals weekly with a local nonprofit, teaches life lessons and mentors grade school children, and visits a 100-year-old World War II veteran each week. He’s even begun to extend his efforts to his travels, volunteering with a homeless outreach organization while visiting Cape Town, South Africa last year.

Maya Westcott ’00

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to earn a Brown education. I've always felt a great responsibility to pay it forward by giving back through positive change in my own community.”

Maya Westcott ’00Not long after graduating Brown, Maya Westcott ’00 left a burgeoning career to focus on raising her four children, enrolling them in her childhood school, Nido de Aguilas (“Nido”) in Santiago, Chile. As a parent and alum, she quickly realized that the school had potential for growth in some critical areas. So, she got to work.

Westcott formed the school’s first alumni association, compiling a database of 9,000+ alumni, organizing gatherings around the world, and raising funds for key community initiatives. Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and she was asked to join the school’s board of directors, for which she is now board chair. Her work on the board not only includes initiatives for the school, but also building bridges and providing vital support to areas in need near the school, including efforts that helped provide a Nido education to talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the greater metropolitan region.

Helen Birtwistle Garbuz ’97

“I believe that for a community to be truly vibrant, its members must be willing and care enough to give their time and resources to it. A vibrant community connects people, gives them a sense of shared goals/direction, and gives people a chance to experience happiness.”

Helen Birtwistle Garbuz ’97

Helen Birtwistle Garbuz ’97 has called Kyiv, Ukraine home since 1998. She runs a small, organic vegetable business that primarily served the city’s expatriate community and has been involved in the charitable activities of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv. Then, in early 2022, Russia invaded.

Garbuz was among the many Ukrainian residents who fled the country, but it didn’t stop her from giving back to her community. Through local NGOs, she was able to donate her produce to the Ukrainian Armed Services. After five months in Germany, she returned to Kyiv in July 2022 and continued to aid Ukrainian soldiers by facilitating donations from friends and customers to buy and deliver items for the army—for which she received special recognition from the local branch of the Armed Forces.

She also took on a leading role in the Kyiv International School’s PTO, working to help students connect offline when the conflict closed down the school’s campus and forced students to continue their education online. When the school opened for in-person lessons, she and the PTO helped to create a sense of normalcy for students as they returned to class.

Lehidy Frias ’17

“When we pay it forward, we receive. It may be a meal, recognition, or gratitude, but we can all learn a bit more about ourselves by how and when we show up for others and how we cherish what we receive in those moments.”

Lehidy Frias ’17

Lehidy Frias ’17 is no stranger to service. Since middle school, they have been giving back to their community, working on service projects with City Year and serving dinner at a homeless shelter in Providence—despite struggling with food insecurity in their own home.

With the skills they gained at Brown, Frias forged a career in restorative justice. Working with human resources offices, higher education systems, non-profit organizations, and primary schools, they are helping to repair harm and create environments of inclusion across Rhode Island. Even in their spare time, they are giving back to their community and Brown, mentoring local students and volunteering on the Providence Juvenile Hearing Board, the Brown University Latino Alumni Council, and the Inman Page Black Alumni Council.

Lynn Horowitz ’08

“In a world where much inequality exists, I have always been motivated to advocate for marginalized individuals and communities. On a daily level, being able to prevent someone’s eviction or lead newer attorneys through difficult cases feeds my empathetic nature.”

Lynn Horowitz ’08

Lynn Horowitz ’08 has dedicated her legal career to advocating for the rights of low-income and working-class tenants in New York City. For the past decade, she’s been fighting for the preservation of safe, affordable housing and eviction defense. She’s also been working to address the need for support of attorneys doing this work—not only in terms of lawyering skills, but also in experiencing vicarious trauma and courthouse harassment stemming from racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.

For Horowitz, it was because of Brown that she found her calling. As a student, she volunteered to teach English as another language to families in Pawtucket—exposing her to the communities that she would dedicate her career to serving and helping. “I was lucky enough to attend a school like Brown that enabled me to be in a position to advocate for those who need it the most,” she says.”

Paul Espinosa ’72

“What I treasure from my time at Brown were the talented and generous professors who were dedicated to teaching undergraduates, something not always valued in other institutions. The commitment of my professors at Brown provided a powerful model for the professional work I have done in the intervening years.”


Paul Espinosa ’72

Late in his undergraduate career at Brown, Paul Espinosa ’72 discovered anthropology—and it’s been a guiding force behind his work ever since. The storyteller and documentary filmmaker has been creating films examining the often-contentious relationship between Mexico and the United States. His works, which exist in university and museum collections around the country, have contributed to a deeper understanding of multiple topics like immigration, labor rights, desegregation, Latino identity, and the role of art and imagination in community building.

As the founding president of the board (and current vice president) of the Media Arts Center San Diego (MACSD), Espinosa has continued to serve the San Diego-Tijuana community, using media as a tool for social change and artistic expression. Through his work at MACSD, he has created a range of diverse and inclusionary programs that serve all ages through instructional programs and services with a particular focus on marginalized communities.