I attended a community event a couple of weeks back that celebrated Women of Accomplishment. The keynote presenter, Karen Perkins, spoke and honored women--teachers, health workers, students, social activists and determined citizens who had decided to make a difference. She named them agents of change.
I’m a transplant to Muskegon, and dabbled here and there in events and activities aiming to ‘do good’ before eventually being drawn to Every Woman’s Place. When Andy invited me to become a contributor to The Muskegon Channel, it was a confluence of my experiences since putting down roots here and that uplifting moment of positivity at the Women of Accomplishment event. So it didn’t take long to decide to focus on the changemakers in our community.
What I wanted to learn is how leaders of nonprofits in our community enact the change they’re passionate about. I wondered, too, how and where that seed of interest gets planted, how it grows, and how we as a community surrounding and supporting these organizatins, can nourish it.
How is the seed planted? It isn’t a secret that (often) those who experience an injustice, a life-altering accident or experience, or who are catalyzed by a calling, or have come up against an obstacle, can become the so-called ‘poster child’ for that cause. What we are exposed to in our formative years will shape who we become, and so it stands to reason that those whose lives, whose families, whose communities have been touched by trauma (often) become those who are drawn to creating change.
ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are the very warp and weft of the lives of many in our community, across our country. I don’t know if I would say I’ve been ‘called’ to the work I do, and though as a woman, I am considered a minority, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have ‘experienced injustice,’ but my own ACES score isn’t zero.
I regularly remind myself and the team I work in that we have the right and should expect the highest level of training and support for the work we do, and that presenting ourselves as fully deserving of that support is a key part of inspiring those we serve. We are leading our teams in righting wrongs, yet often aren’t offering ourselves what’s needed to sustain our passion for the work.
How can we nourish the leaders? Because we do need to nourish these leaders and the organizations they’ve founded or adopted as their own. We are leaning heavily on leaders old and new and the work they’re trying to accomplish, saying to ourselves, “they’re so passionate, it’s really inspiring” yet failing or refusing to recognize that an organization’s capacity to keep doing good work is directly tied to the capacity of its team.
When we ask nonprofit and other community organizations what they need, how often do they say that their leaders could benefit from intensive teambuilding, or an in-depth understanding of managing strategic change, or simply training to get up to speed with new technologies? Rarely. When I asked Shauna Hunter what she could do with a million dollars for the organization she leads, her answer is immediate and to the point: fund the programs, spaces, and resources for the youth that Pathfinders of Muskegon serves.
What could an organization do with a million dollars to keep positive change accruing? To continue to be in the right places at the right times to touch a life and, through our impact on that one life, send ripples of positivity into the community? When we give financially to support an organization, what percent of those funds are allocated to build the capacity of their team--to replenish the source if those positive ripples?
I’m interested to learn if my preconceptions hold true: that the work of healing trauma, righting inequtiy, crusading for causes is falling heavily on those who come to the work out of passion. How can we be agents of change for them? What must we do as a community to sustain those who are leading change?
So, here’s my million-dollar question: what can we do to nourish leaders?