Yesterday, I celebrated my Aunt Ella’s 93rd Birthday. She is a humble woman who cared for her family during the great depression, and now the era of an ever-changing service industry.
As I reflected on Aunt Ella’s perseverance and path in life, I also thought about some other leaders that I know who are mentors, coaches and play a role in ensuring employees grow, develop and stay engaged in their work. Not always an easy task.
I had no idea one of the Interns I laid off, and later rehired, would be speaking at a conference; and he did not know I would be in the audience. Yet, he delivered such a captivating and riveting leadership speech to his peers and State Officials that I had goose bumps, and had to fight back the tears.
This is a small except of K’s speech given at the State House in Boston: “I had worked at Camp for a couple of summers. In 2008, we were very aware of the economic crisis and the threat that it posed to our program, and I cannot begin to recall the number of letters that were written to the people who work in this building, pleading for the funding to keep us open. We managed to get through that summer, and, after a long winter of uncertainty, I applied again to Camp.
Things looked bleak as the summer began. To put it succinctly, Wendy let me know the camp did not have funding to hire me. Soon enough, though, I received a call explaining that Camp was being run by Interns and, as luck would have it, a position had become available. I eagerly accepted the job of Recreation Specialist.”
Five years ago, we were on the cusp of the global economic downturn and my agency merged into another agency that had a new culture and values.
I considered leaving and specializing, but had just come from a staff leadership position in a capital campaign, asking for donor funds. We had just completed the construction of a new building for our programs; and those programs experienced significant budget cuts. Ethically, I could not just walk away from our donors who made that building possible, or our program participants.
At the time there was already two development staff working on fund development. My new development role was solely as a grant writer. Although I did share that securing grants is not long-term sustainable funding; I had to seek urgent grant funding for our programs.
In 2009, budget cuts got much worse. The day before our summer camp opened we lost the state funding that provided financial aid to at-risk campers so they could attend camp, and paid for staff positions.
In my HR role, I was solely accountable to lay off many staff who I knew had great leadership potential based their qualifications, experience, background and aspirations. That was a very bad day for staff, campers, their families and our donors.
The camp program was then staffed by a State sponsored college intern program. We opened camp, but with less campers and staff. Why? Because Camp is a loved community program due to our inclusive approach in working with campers with and without disabilities – beautiful children from all walks of life.
The Camp has opened every year since 1975, at a time when children with disabilities had no place to go in the summer and remained at home while their siblings and peers could go to summer camps. When an innovative group of parents and professionals decided to start a summer camp that would include them in the mainstream of traditional youth activities. This model of full-inclusion to learn, grow, and play continues today.
Campers attend camp so parents can work during the summer months. Every summer parent’s share that Camp helps their child develop skills in positive socialization, increased self-esteem, physical activity, self-control, anger management, and daily living skills.
For me, there is always opportunity to be inspired, learn, grow and change. I’ve been seeking a full-time position to specialize, and when my family can afford it, I do intend to complete the application and testing required for certification.
In June my esteemed full-time development colleague left. She handled everything in fund development, except grant writing and our very recent shared role in marketing.
Now I am moving away from human resources and grant writing; and falling rapidly forward into fund development. It is a little daunting because most of the Development Officers I have known, experience very high turnover rates.
Yet, I started down the path of fund development 23+ years ago, as a mom and community volunteer to make a lasting change for good where I work, play and live.
(*Ella was my colleague and mentor, who later became my Aunt through marriage.)