I sometimes look back at my career in disbelief.  I’ve worked in nonprofit for OVER 10 years. 

When I decided to pursue social work, my intentions were to work with adults and families.  I enjoyed working in homeless services, but what I realized early on is that I didn’t like working with the individuals themselves.  Defeats the purpose of working in social work, right??

Most people go into social services with the mindset of helping and working directly with people.  I knew I wanted to help others, but learned early on I did not want to work directly with people who needed therapy or counseling.  Case management was an option, but it really didn’t peak my interest.  As I researched career options in social work, I became more interested in the administrative and community development side of social work or also known as macro social work.  I knew that eventually I wanted to work towards leading my own program or nonprofit. 

After receiving my Bachelors in Social Work, I went straight into the Masters in Social Work Program at Saint Louis University (SLU).  I had three concentrations to choose from 1)  Family-concentrated on social workers who wanted to go into therapy or counseling; 2) Medical-focused on social workers who wanted to work in the medical field such as hospitals or hospice; 3) Community-targeted social workers who were interested in administration, community development and advocacy. 

Looking back, community was the obvious choose for me. At that time, people really didn’t talk about nonprofit management as a career option.  But today there are so many programs like the ASU Lodestar Center that have nonprofit management degrees.  More and more programs are popping up every year and it’s a true testament that nonprofits are concentrating more on the “management” side of running an organization.  If nonprofit management programs were available to me as I was pursing an advanced degree,  I would have most likely pursued that, but back then (9 years ago) it really wasn’t an option. 

The summer after I graduated from Creighton, I moved back home with my parents.  My neighbor, Mr. Brooks, who I’ve known since I was five years old asked me a day after I arrived in St. Louis what I was going to do.  I told him pretty nonchalantly that I was going to grad school and I was going to spend the summer relaxing until it started up.  He then asked, “What are you going to do for work?” I thought, “What, work??? I just graduated.”

I opened the door…it was a great opportunity for him to lecture me.  Mr. Brooks and his wife had no children of their own and in some ways I think he thought of me as his daughter.   Mr. Brooks told me that in order to be successful and to get ahead in my career, I needed to start gaining work experience.  He believed having education is only part of what makes one successful in their career. Having initiative and producing results are equally as important.  I won’t admit this to him because Mr. Brooks likes to be right, but he was a huge influence in developing my work ethic and a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing today.

Anyway, little did I know, Mr. Brooks was scheming. He told me that he wanted me to apply to at least seven jobs a day. He also wanted to see my resume.  When I told him that I didn’t have one, Mr. Brooks told me write one up and he would be over the next day to look over it.  

Call it naivete, but I did what Mr. Brooks told me.  I know I didn’t do it because I thought he was right or someone I (at that time) looked up too.  I think I did it partially to keep my crazy old neighbor off my back. 

The next day he called me and said that he was bringing a friend over and to have my resume ready.  I had parts of it done, but it wasn’t completely finished.  I quickly worked on it and as I was printing out a copy, the doorbell rang.  Mr. Brooks was there with his friend, Jim Shiels, little did I know he would later became my boss. 

Jim was the Executive Director at the Jefferson County Community Partnership (JCCP).  He told me that they had openings for site coordinators.  As he explained the job, I became increasingly more interested.  The site coordinator’s role would be to work with communities in Jefferson County, a rural county just south of St. Louis.  The site coordinator would help community stakeholders assess their current status and find out  how as a community (both public and private stakeholders) can come together to make improvements.  The job was true grassroots organizing and community development.

Jim passed my resume on to his Program Director and the next week I had an interview.  The day after my interview I was offered one of the site coordinator positions.  I worked there an entire month before starting the Masters program at SLU and I’m glad I had that experience to draw from because it helped me to choose my concentration in graduate school.  I continued to work at JCCP while I attended SLU.  It allowed me to apply my work experience to the concepts and theories I was learning in school which complemented each other well. 

I firmly believe things happen in life for a reason.  I didn’t know it then, but that summer really set the foundation for my career in social work. I like to give credit where credit is due.   Thank you to Mr. Brooks for lecturing me.  I think it was the kick in the butt to get me going.  And thank you to Jim Shiels for giving me a chance.