Jesselyn Leach is the Office Administrator/Program Mentor for Speak It Forward, an organization that uses spoken word poetry to transform lives. She happily discussed why she loves her job, and how mentorship has played a huge role in both her job duties and her own personal growth.
1. What is one of the most energizing aspects of your job?
Mentoring the youth that we work with and watching them progress as they write down their stories and produce a piece of poetry or a story or a song that they can be proud of. So, the growing process.
2. Do you feel like your early life and education directed you to your current career path, or are you surprised at where you are?
I believe that travelling from the north, Michigan, to the south, Texas, as a child really opened my eyes and allowed me to connect with more diverse people because I was constantly going through culture shock. And, I believe the painful and traumatic experiences I went through growing up allow me to connect with the youth on a very honest and deep level. Through learning my own way of using writing as healing, I’m able to teach other people how to do that.
3. What has been one of your most impactful professional experiences?
On May 1 we had a show at Chenery where we brought out a few of the youth we work with. I performed as well, and the piece I performed was about the impact my mother’s drug addiction had on my life. The reason it was so impactful was because of the steps I took leading up to that day, like the talks that I had with my mother and processing myself through that pain. Being able to share an honest experience with the people that were there was really impactful.
[View Jess’s performance on Youtube]
4. Are there many early career professionals in your workplace? Does that make your job more challenging/simpler?
There are three of us in the office, myself and the co-founders. The two co-founders of Speak It Forward started this organization when they were much older than I am now – they were in their mid-twenties, and I’m 20 now. So, in some ways that makes it easier because they’ve gone through what I’m going through, and in some ways it makes it difficult because it’s harder for me to connect with them in the space that they’re in now, which is [that of] professionals.
5. What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about millennials/early career professionals today?
People feel that we don’t have enough experience to do what we’re doing, and specifically in my area [of poetry]. It’s not about how long you’ve gone to school or how many years you’ve written poetry. It’s about the life experiences you’ve gone through and your personal self-growth. Sometimes I feel like I have to explain myself or justify why I’m in this position.
6. What has been one of your most useful professional development experiences? (e.g. trainings, education programs, mentorship, etc.)
Mentorship. As I grow as a person I grow as a professional, and to just have mentors-- the people that I work with and people on our Board [of Directors]--that want to help guide me through life and help me grow through what I’m going through has been really helpful. Not only am I learning from them but I’m learning from myself. And then I can help teach the youth. So it’s an ongoing learning process.
7. What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
The collaboration between organizations. You meet so many people that have [worked between] organizations. Like Yolanda [Lavender] from the Black Arts & Cultural Center: I met her as an artist and now she’s grown into her position as Executive Director. And through my work at the Resource Center, we brought the youth to the Black Arts and Cultural Center. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation and all the wonderful things they’re doing…and Communities in Schools is doing a lot of really great things. So, the potential for collaboration and the way organizations link up to offer their services to the community is really awesome to see.
8. What is the best piece of advice you've received to date, and who gave it to you?
It was a question, and the question is: if the world were going to end tomorrow, what are the things that you would do today, and what’s stopping you from doing it today? That came from one of my co-workers and mentors, Gabriel Giron. I received it right before our show in May. To me it just means being honest and genuine and kind, today. Those are the things that I would do. It creates awareness.
9. Which natural talent do you get to use most often in your work?
I have two. [First], making connections with people has always been something that happened naturally. So that could be the people we work with, or the youth, or even in my day-to-day life. I’ve also been a really strong writer, and that’s definitely something I use often because we use spoken word poetry as a tool.
10. What's your favorite way to spend your free time?
Listening to music and singing the music, and playing all the instruments in the song all at once. I’m a really great air musician, if that makes sense. I can make it seem like I can play instruments. We have this room in our office, and we have a mic stand. Sometimes when I need a mental break from work, I’ll go into the room and set up the mic stand and listen to music and pretend to perform.
11. Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
I like coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee. I take it with two creamers, two sugars. You can’t go wrong with French vanilla creamer.
- 7/29/2015 10:21:37 AM, by Lolita
I recently watched two webinars at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation on the topic of collective impact. Sponsored by the Collective Impact Forum, these webinars were an in-depth exploration of nationwide programmatic and policy efforts to affect whole communities. A handful of initiatives were presented, many of which focused on health, and education. (I think the Kalamazoo Promise would be a great fit for this series.)
The projects that I found especially fascinating were those that were conceived and put into practice in collaboration with the community. One of the presenters explained that rather than expecting institutions or external organizations to go into communities and impose leadership, lasting change comes from leveraging existing strengths and assets of a community's members. In other words, communities often already have the ideas and leaders that they need, but could use time and resources to address pressing issues.
The idea that we have the leaders we need lies at the heart of Kalamazoo Connect, the new collaborative talks that ONEplace is co-hosting with the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every quarter, Kalamazoo Connect will give three community members up to 10 minutes to talk about what they are doing to make Kalamazoo a better place to live and work. We're excited to spotlight these efforts, many of which you may not have heard about.
Join us next Wednesday, February 11 at 5:00PM for the debut of these quarterly events. And if you or someone you know has innovative community-building efforts in the works, our next call for submissions will be in the spring.
- 2/6/2015 11:57:07 AM, by Lolita
This month is our first installment of Latte With. I will sit down with an early career professional who works in Kalamazoo's nonprofit sector to discuss their professional lives, goals, and experiences.
My first conversation was with Mikki Henry, Youth Outreach Associate at Kalamazoo Public Library. Mikki coordinates Ready to Read, KPL's early childhood literacy program.
What is one of the most energizing aspects of your job?
I would say the fact that I feel that my position allows me the opportunity to have a profound impact in the life of another person.
Do you feel like your early life and education directed you to your current career path, or are you surprised at where you are?
In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. My parents and various other relatives were always very good about sharing their love of reading with my brothers and me and taking us to the library routinely. So I have almost always loved books and loved sharing them with others. My later education wouldn't necessarily have led me to this position though my job experiences did.
What has been one of your most impactful professional experiences?
This is a difficult question. My last three positions have all been impactful for very different reasons but I'll focus on just one. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be offered a position as a teacher's aide in the English department of a public school in Madrid. I very quickly figured out that each teacher I worked with had a different idea about what my job was. In one class I might just correct homework, while in another I took half the class to another room and went over the day's lesson with them. It was a lesson in adaptability.
Moving to Spain was also a complete change for me. The whole experience was intimidating and at times overwhelming, but I think it is experiences like this that help inspire confidence in yourself.
Are there many early career professionals in your workplace? Does that make your job more challenging/simpler?
There are a handful of early career professionals here. I guess I'm not sure how it impacts my job. I would definitely say that I have benefitted from working with others who are further along in their careers.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about millennials/early career professionals today?
A big misconception seems to be that millennials are lazy or rather, lazier than previous generations. Scott Hess makes some good points about this in his TEDx talk Millennials: Who They Are & Why We Hate Them. He observes that Gen X was also labeled lazy by the previous generation.
I would say that laziness is a personal attribute, not a generational one, but also that it seems to be human tendency to make things as efficient and convenient as possible. So, in a way it makes sense that every generation seems to have a worse work ethic than the last given that every generation probably benefits from new technology that makes life easier.
What has been one of your most useful professional development experiences? (e.g. trainings, education programs, mentorship, etc.)
I guess I'm not sure if this counts as a professional development experience but during my year with AmeriCorps we were required to attend a certain amount of trainings. One of these training opportunities happened to be attending the Diversity Lecture Series which is hosted each year by Grand Rapids Community College. Another AmeriCorps member and I ended up going to a talk by Susan Cain about her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking that was part of this lecture series. I would point to this as an impactful professional experience because not only did I realize that I am something of an introvert but the lecture was also very informative about how introverts work best and how they relate to other people.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
The emphasis the entire community seems to place on the value of education.
What is the best piece of advice you've received to date, and who gave it to you?
I once worked at a fairly upscale restaurant as a hostess. I have to admit, I didn't particularly like the job or the people I worked for, but one day my supervisor pulled me aside and expressed the importance of displaying confidence even when you don't feel it. Of course, there are times when it's probably a good idea to express a lack of confidence, but strangely, that moment has stuck with me. I often reflect on it before things like interviews and presentations.
Which natural talent do you get to use most often in your work?
I would say that despite being a bit introverted I am a fairly friendly person and that is one talent I get to use in this position since I work with a number of community partners.
What's your favorite way to spend your free time?
I enjoy getting lost in a good book when I have the chance.
Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
I like to drink it strong but with milk, cream, or almond milk if I can get my hands on it.
- 12/3/2014 10:03:08 AM, by Lolita
Have we forgotten what leadership looks like? Is there a global crisis of leadership? Does it really matter?
In Forbes last week, Mike Myatt answers all the above with a resounding YES! In his article, A Crisis of Leadership – What’s Next? he claims that poor leadership is a systemic problem and so pervasive that we can no longer recognize good leadership. Further, he points to poor leadership as crippling businesses, ruining economies, destroying families, and possibly bringing the demise of nations.
Then he asks, “What do we do about it?”
Myatt calls for a Leadership Movement. Rather than pointing the finger at others, he calls on each of us to require more of ourselves, to take the lead in not only calling out poor leaders but in practicing leadership that values performance above rhetoric, forward progress above positional argument, compassion above ego, and openness above the need to be right.
“We must once and for all learn that what we fail to require of ourselves will be hard to ask from others.”
Much of this rings true to me. It captures the importance and urgency I feel, and it reflects much of why we’re focusing on leadership development at ONEplace. Imagine the collective impact achieved by a nonprofit sector not characterized by a few standout leaders, but led by persons who – to a one – embraced the values above. That’s a vision worth working toward.
Perhaps we should start a movement…
P.S. KPL & ONEplace are closed Monday Oct 14 for a library staff day, and ONEplace staff are attending the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) conference on Tue & Wed, Oct 15-16. Consider attending our Debrief of MNA on October 23.
- 10/11/2013 02:48:23 PM, by Thom
One of my favorite authors is Jim Collins. His newest release, Great by Choice, addresses the question: why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?
Using a comparison study method as he did in Good to Great, Collins demonstrates the value of strong values, consistently applied and the importance of a long-term approach to mission-driven work. As he nears the close of the book, he reiterates one of the main lessons from his previous work: “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”
What conscious choice has your organization made – what is its mission? Do you know it? Does everyone on the staff and board know it? Is it engraved on their hearts?
What impact (or difference) does your organization make in the lives of your target audience(s)? How do you know that? Are all of your programs and activities contributing to this impact or could some be changed or abandoned?
To succeed in times such as these – indeed, at any time – tough questions need to be addressed. Clarity and focus on mission & purpose is the first step to a thriving organization.
Jim Collins provides a Good to Great Diagnostic Tool that you may use to assess where your organization is on its journey to being great. When there are differences between businesses and nonprofit (social sector) organizations, he points these out. Find the tool at http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/diagnostic-tool.pdf
Great by choice
- 1/11/2013 11:27:03 AM, by One