Taking the Time to Reflect

I just passed the halfway mark for my fellowship in June. This seemed momentous for several reasons: a) This is my first “real job,” thus I feel like a real adult with one work anniversary under my belt, b) I have less than a year to figure out my next steps, which still seem pretty nebulous right now, and c) How has it been over a year since I started working here? It seemed only proper to reflect on my experience thus far. Below are some of the reflections that I have written over the last few weeks.

First of all, I have learned so much in this last year. I have learned about humility, generosity, listening to and valuing people regardless of background or life situation, and patience, just to name a few. There are also two mentors that have encouraged me, shared their own professional journey, helped me make contacts, challenged me to contemplate tough questions, and have always been there to listen. My understanding of affordable housing has grown over the last year and it has become a cause that is dear to my heart. I have remained an optimist even when it was easier to be a cynic. I also learned how gratifying and how difficult it can be to work in a nonprofit.

In the midst of reflecting over growth from the last year, I am also constantly reminded of how much I still have to learn. For instance, engaging the community and donors on social media has been much harder than I imagined. Also, I have not mastered effectively delegating tasks to volunteers or other coworkers. Unfortunately, too often I take on more projects than I should and stretch myself thin, to the point where I am not doing anything well. I have been tasked with doing things out of my comfort zone, like trying to chat with and recruit volunteers; I am still not comfortable doing this or very good at it but having done it once makes doing it again less intimidating.

There are also touching memories that I will cherish long after I leave my post at DHC. Working on building luminary kits with spunky eighth graders in the cold and rain for what seemed like unending hours. The moment of elation when I found out that we were awarded funds from the first grant application I wrote at DHC. The time I received a note from an elderly women I helped on the phone that proclaimed that I “restored her confidence in people.” The utter chaos of our Souper Bowl fundraiser and the awesome team I had that helped avert disaster. The conversations I’ve had with tenants that remind me why my job is important and why advocacy is crucial- to take away the stigma of affordable housing and put a face to the work we do in the community. Meetings with passionate students and volunteers that have unique ideas and energy that fill me with hope that other people care as much as I do. Going forward, I will remember all of these things and continue to make new memories.

From these reflections I know that I want to appreciate and enjoy these next ten months. I hope to accomplish goals I have set for myself and help DHC reach new milestones. I hope to make a lasting impact on this organization as I know this experience has made an impact on me.

Lessons in Event Planning

For the last several months, my time has been consumed largely by planning DHC’s two biggest fundraisers. This includes a luminary fundraiser around the holidays and a soup tasting fundraiser right before the Super Bowl. At times, there seemed to be a lot of pressure; botching an event could reflect negatively on the organization or convince people not to participate next year. I made mistakes along the way, but I also learned so much, from enthusiastic volunteers, knowledgeable board members, and kind co-workers.

Below are some of the lessons I learned from planning fundraisers (disclaimer: I am by no means a professional, but speak from my own experiences):

-There are things beyond your control, some of which will go wrong. With these fundraisers we had last minute issues with electrical outlets, the amount of supplies and the beyond-our-control weather. After the fact, I learned that these things weren’t the catastrophes that they seemed to be in the moment and that panicking didn’t help the situation.

-Don’t stress about the little things (also see above)- It is alright if a mistake was made on the promotional materials or if you receive a piece of constructive criticism about the event logistics. In the grand scheme of the fundraiser, these set-backs don’t matter that much.

-Delegate tasks- I am 100% guilty of the mantra “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately for me, this can mean a very heavy workload and more stress (albeit self-imposed). With these fundraisers, I quickly learned that I could not do everything. I have been extremely fortunate to work with very dependable and organized people. I have also learned that it is important to be very clear about the role that volunteers will be responsible for to ensure that expectations are met.

-Be kind to yourself and others- I believe that it is very important not to be too hard on yourself; we all make mistakes because we are human and the best part is that we can learn from them. I have also found it very important to be kind to others. Even when you are stressed and everything is going wrong, it is worth the extra effort to be kind and polite to those around you. People probably won’t remember the mistake on the program but they are more likely to remember how you treat others.

After the months of planning and hundreds of e-mails, with a sigh of relief I was able to enjoy myself at both events. I was grateful that nothing major went wrong; luminaries were distributed and lit and over 180 gallons of soup was eaten. I was amazed by and grateful for the community’s support of these events. The big fundraisers are over and now I will have more time to work on grants and other projects. I hope to continue to learn and be challenged in my work here at DHC, no matter what I am doing.

Hope and Housing

A large part of my job as the Management and Development Fellow is fundraising. Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC) has its two main fundraisers during the winter, before Christmas and for the Super Bowl. While planning for these fundraisers I noticed a trend. When in doubt about the name for a fundraiser, incorporate “Hope and Housing” into the title. For instance, Campaign for Hope and Housing and Holidays for Hope and Housing. This got me thinking, what do we as an organization really mean when we say “hope and housing?”

The housing part is pretty obvious. DHC has almost 60 affordable apartments targeted at lower income families and helps other families achieve their dream of home ownership, by educating them and walking them through the home buying process.

But, hope can be an abstract idea and can take various forms in different situations. In the nitty gritty day-to-day of a nonprofit, sometimes there can seemingly be little hope. The craziness, business, lack of money, juggling act, and stressfulness can take a toll. I think that anyone in the nonprofit field would admit that it is all too easy to get caught up in the daily grind. This can obscure the good work that goes on in these organizations and can sometimes make us downright cynical. Finding hope here can be tough. It can be easy to focus on the negative. It is during these times that I realize that hope is what we try to give clients and is just as important as the tangible things we provide, such as an apartment or a home repair.

Many of our clients hope for a better, brighter future in which they have stability and are self-sufficient. Safe housing, secure jobs, and financial counseling all provide the hope of achieving a better future. For instance, when single parents finally find an affordable but also safe and clean apartment for their family. Or, when a person that has worked for years on rehabilitating her credit score and stuck to a strict budget purchases her first home. Or, when a client lands the job that he has been wishing and working for since becoming unemployed. In turn, these circumstances give me hope and are what makes my job so fulfilling. After much consideration, I would say that we are in the business of “hope and housing.”

Stay tuned to hear more about our upcoming fundraiser, Holidays for Hope and Housing!

Hope and Housing

A Return to Davidson

A Return to Davidson

Two weeks ago, the town of Davidson became inundated with students as Davidson College began freshmen orientation and the fall semester. For the last four years, I have been among the ranks of students visiting the bookstore in droves and moving an unimaginable amount of stuff into my small dorm room. But, this year is different, I am not a student but an outsider surprised at the transition from the quiet summer months to a busier fall with an extra 2,000 or so young people in the area. With the knowledge of hindsight, I can now look back on my time at Davidson College and how my perspective has changed as a Davidson Impact Fellow now working here in Davidson.

After graduation, I knew that I wanted to live and work in the greater Charlotte area; I imagined myself working in Charlotte, a somewhat unknown, big place where I would embark upon my first “real” job. Fast forward six months and here I am working as a Davidson Impact Fellow at the Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC). DHC’s programming is focused on four main areas: affordable housing, financial literacy and homebuyer education, job search assistance, and emergency home repairs. My role is the Management and Development Fellow, which means that I am the office manager (wearing many hats on a daily basis) and I also play a major role in fundraising and grant writing for the organization. I started my two-year position in the middle of June and with excellent training from the former fellow and current co-workers, I dove into my new title. In the ensuing two and a half months, I have learned so much and am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make a real impact at DHC.

Working in this community, outside of the supposed “Davidson Bubble” of campus, has given me a new perspective of the town. Part of my job description is to be the first point of contact with anyone that calls or walks through the door at DHC. This means that I am able to have conversations with the people that our organization serves, providing me much-needed moments of personal contact to break the monotony of staring at a computer screen. Through speaking with our clients and viewing the neighborhoods in which some live, it has been eye opening to see the side of Davidson other than the idyllic college town, the so-called “other side of the tracks.” This side of Davidson is one in which many people live in substandard housing and/or in financial instability, one emergency away from not being able to pay their bills. Thus far, I have been fortunate to get the chance to get to know to the clients I serve, many of whom I immediately recognized as the friendly faces that work around Davidson. At DHC, we strive to provide safe, affordable, decent housing; I now comprehend just how necessary the services we offer are and what the consequences to individuals and the community would be if we didn’t offer them. Unfortunately, during the last several months I have also come to the realization that there are many people that need assistance that our organization simply cannot help, due to a number of circumstances. These experiences underscore glaring needs in the community, such as the lack of emergency housing in the area. Although this other side of Davidson is not as glamorous as what I was used to, the work I do makes a tangible impact in the lives of the tenants that I have come to know and respect.

Conversely, my time spent at DHC has also shown me some of the best qualities of the town of Davidson that I couldn’t appreciate as a student. While I was a student, I realized that Davidson was a close knit community; yet, during my time fundraising at DHC, I have gotten a new appreciation for how much community members and restaurants support local organizations that in turn strengthen the community. When there is a fundraiser for an organization or a family in need, action is taken immediately. Similarly, I have been amazed by the DHC board members’ dedication to the organization and inspired by the energy they bring to the table. Their example has provided me with a new definition of service, giving their time and their skills for the good of the organization. Lastly, by working with both middle school and college students in Davidson, I have realized just how important these young, inquisitive minds are for social justice and change, especially when these minds are encouraged and guided wisely. Local schools and the college cultivate this powerful combination of learning and service in the community.

Overall, my time at DHC has been one of transition; I have been learning a lot but have also started new projects and continued with ongoing ones. After two and a half months on the job, it is fulfilling to contemplate the change in perspective that (I hope) has made me a more informed member of this community that I am honored to serve as a Davidson Impact Fellow.

css.php