I hope this message finds you well and that the brighter days are a balm to your spirits! I am writing to share some updates on our ongoing efforts to transform our physical space here at the NEW Center. As we usher in Black History Month I am reminded that dreaming is a revolutionary act. We’ve been hard at work bringing our improved community-centric space – a place where dreams and action collide – to life. I’m humbled by the labor of so many that are committed to making this happen and are offering their gifts and brilliance with so much love! I’m also grateful for the support and patience that many of you have extended to me and the team as the development unfurls.
In late fall 2022, we put the word out that we were seeking a consultant to help guide us in our journey. Yes, though I have led others in strategic planning work, I wanted to be present in the process, not facilitate. I personally find it hard to guide others in generative discussion and be active in the exchange myself. I was also concerned about bringing my bias into the process, giving more room for ideas that aligned with my own. I knew I was too close to the work to lead the process in an open manner. NEW needed someone who understood our desire for intentional growth and deeper impact, while holding true to our values and approach…
In May 2023, I took on the role of Director of Consulting. I was new to the organization and new to the role. Not only being asked to lead a team of tenured consultants, but I was also faced with saying goodbye to a longtime team member and bringing in a new one. All within the first six (6) months of my work. Not to mention our CEO was leaving for sabbatical and our new fiscal year had just started! Like leaders at many other nonprofits, I was emerging into leadership in conditions created by the pandemic. I’ve been a consultant, a program manager, a crisis line worker, and an activist. However, this was my first foyer in the role of Director. I was equipped with skills, but was challenged with asking myself what it meant to lead. How do I move into supervising people who have been working with the agency for years prior to my joining?
“Without vision, the people perish,” (proverb). A shared and inspiring vision is the cornerstone of any organization’s journey towards meaningful change. But, vision alone is not enough. It needs a companion in the form of a well-crafted strategy rooted in core values. Core values are the guiding principles that define an organization’s identity and shape its actions. Aligning vision and strategies with these values ensures authenticity and cohesion. Our core values – humanity, justice, collaboration, relationships, learning and growth, and collective liberation – show up in every decision we make. They guide how we’ll advance our vision. A few highlights from our 2024 vision include:
Personally, though, I believe that ensuring nonprofits have access to the right technology and security is vital to our communities. Our work is so important and often vulnerable. We fill in where the private and public sector have left people without vital resources. Nonprofits often deal with disparities of resources, while working to ensure that everyone thrives. Doing such important and life-changing work deserves more than basic infrastructure. Our peers deserve the same access to support as anyone else doing essential functions in our communities. Funding for nonprofit IT infrastructure and systems is imperative for the future.
Our President & CEO, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, shares some of her experiences during the first chapter of her sabbatical, taken in summer of 2023. The sabbatical is part of the McGregor Fund’s 2023 Eugene A. Miller fellowship, of which Yodit was one of nine (9) awardees. The program supports McGregor’s grant partners’ CEOs and executive directors to take extended time away from their organizations to recharge, immerse in enriching experiences, build skills and knowledge, and broaden their vision – all according to a plan of their own design.
In many ways, ecological gardening is a form of magic. When done well, the garden becomes more rich year after year, while the gardener intervenes less and less. In a few years, a barren patch of land can become a food forest, lush with flowers, fruit trees, and vegetable vines that produce in abundance. By connecting the systems, the gardener closes loops that western agricultural methods leave open and helps cultivate balance. Every living thing within the garden contributes to the health and survival of everything else. And while there is still loss – everything dies eventually – even those deaths are part of the cycle, the resources used to make the ecosystem stronger. It is essentially everything we want for our social sector and vibrant communities.
For me, this journey was about being honest with our beliefs and allowing them to guide our actions. It has been a journey of discovery and transformation to remain relevant in the ecosystem we serve. This path demanded great patience, thoughtfulness, and a strategic approach. Together, we crafted an expression of our organization’s soul. It may not be perfect, but I feel pretty darn good about it.
For a long time, I was angry. Without any real form or direction, I was resentful towards a society that I saw no reflection of myself in. I struggled in school, struggled maintaining healthy relationships, and had (still have) trouble setting boundaries and saying no. It wasn’t until the birth of my son that I started to examine my adoption, and the feelings and trauma it had left me with.
My instinctive approach to any clean up, discovery, or big decision making moment is to make a big, gigantic mess. It’s cringe (as the youth say), because messiness can be seen as a sign of inadequacy. And that leads to vulnerability. But without vulnerability there would be no growth or influence. Without making a mess and cleaning it up, what have you learned? Without driving around and getting a little lost, would you have discovered the gorgeous wildflower patch by the stream? You get my drift?