Growing up, the most important thing in my life was the farm I spent my summers at. It was my home amid the chaos of my family and moving from place to place. I remember my grandmother gave me a book of fairy tales that was all about people trying to overcome oppression. Those fairy tales had a big effect on me: Helping communities offer more opportunities for everyone has been a persistent theme in my life.
I got a lot of support for this philosophy when I went to Radcliffe and was surrounded by people trying to make a difference in the world. My first volunteer job was in college. It was an after-school program in a mostly African American community. The church and parents who formed this program really inspired me. It was the first time I witnessed up-close the power of community action.
After college, I got a Master’s in teaching. I taught for two years at a school outside of Boston and started to realize that I probably wasn’t cut out to be an effective teacher. Classroom management was my Achilles’ heel! My husband and I headed west to Seattle. I remember stopping in Minnesota where we canoed from lake to lake. It was so beautiful! In Seattle, I did some substitute teaching and my two children were born. Then we moved to Atlanta for a year and I got involved in some community activism through the Quaker community.
After Atlanta, we moved to Ethiopia for two years. Living in such a different country was a real eye-opener. Everything from going shopping to getting to know people was so different from anything I’d known before. Since then, I’ve never seen the world the same way. I got such a different perspective: it was like learning a whole new cultural language.
For the next fourteen years, we lived North Carolina. It had always been my dream to live on a farm again. We rode horses in the surrounding woods, played soccer games in our big field, and learned all about living in the South. What I loved about North Carolina was that I had a chance to be part of a racially diverse community.
Once my daughters graduated from high school, I moved back to Seattle. I worked at a counseling center where I counseled individuals and led counseling workshops throughout the Northwest, including Alaska.
I then started working at Seattle University where I ran their service learning department. What an amazing experience that was! I saw first-hand how valuable it was for students to learn through community volunteering rather than just inside the classroom. As I always told students who were doing service learning for the first time “service learning is more interesting than going to the library but it’s not as safe.”
I continued working for volunteer organizations when I moved to Portland, where I spent time at a large volunteer center in Portland, and then ran the service learning department at Portland Community College.
From there, I moved to Bend to live in the same town as one of my daughters. Building on the experience I gained from these jobs and from the teaching and counseling work, I decided to found Volunteer Insights to support service learning at the school and college level. After a few years that organization expanded into Volunteer Connect, which helped people of all ages connect with volunteer opportunities. We did incredible work and catalyzed so many meaningful experiences.
As I got closer to retiring, the board and I decided to close Volunteer Connect and shift the work we were doing to another organization called Better Together. I now I volunteer with Better Together, as well as a number of other community organizations in town.
Over the years, people have sought my advice and mentorship, particularly with regards to getting more involved with their community. I decided to launch a community engagement consultancy, to meet with people who are trying to figure out their next step in community leadership. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected to the leaders of tomorrow.
My advice to other women entrepreneurs? Have a clear vision of where you’re going. Don’t get tempted to get too big and go beyond the core of what you’re doing. Know what you’re good at and not so good at. And above all, get support wherever you can.