Director’s Desk: September 2021

One year ago, on September 8, 2020, I had the privilege and honor of transitioning into my new role as the Executive Director at Neighborhood Partnerships. This transition has been both one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors I’ve had the opportunity to undertake. It has been a significant change in my life, both in the level of professional responsibility and sheer volume of time and energy required to maintain and keep up. I can now more fully relate with the expression, “drinking out of a fire hose.” Given all of the change and uncertainty in the world around us, I’m incredibly humbled by the opportunity to lead this great organization in this time of change and I’m proud of all of the incredible work our team has accomplished over the last year. I’m writing this month’s message to share about my experience and reflections of the past year and to celebrate some of our successes as well as being transparent about some of the challenges.  

Throughout my non-profit career, I have held various leadership positions, but this is my first position as Executive Director. Although I thought I had a good idea of what the position entailed and what I could expect, it wasn’t until I was in the position, learning about ALL of the details, tasks, strategic considerations and long list of responsibilities that land on the shoulders of many executive directors that I more fully understand the scope and depth of the position and the unrealistic expectations set for non-profit leaders. If you take a couple steps back it doesn’t take long to see that the limited resources most of us have access to simply don’t match up with the expectation placed on us to do the work by funders, by our contracts and by our system. As a new ED there were times over this past year that were hard and challenging, where I felt completely overwhelmed, and where I had thoughts of self-doubts, questioning if I belonged in this position. My Board chair accurately described this experience as riding a roller coaster with all of the ups and downs and there were plenty over the last year. 

But every time I was in those moments of challenge and overwhelm, I was reminded by others and myself of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that I have to contribute to continue moving our work forward. I was able to go inward and sit with the discomfort and work to breakthrough my challenges and mental blocks. I was reminded of what helps me get through challenging times is to ground myself in my body, to my breath and to the earth. And that by doing this I’m able to better focus on what I have control of. And most importantly I was constantly reminded that I’m not alone and I that I have an incredible team of leaders around me that support me and are committed to idea of racial equity and justice.   

Additionally, there were several components that I’ve found incredibly helpful during my first year, one being connecting with other executive directors that are also going through similar situations. I’m thankful for their brutal honesty and vulnerability and sharing about their leadership struggles. I’m also very appreciative for the people making safe and supportive space for new executive directors to have blatantly honest conversation about real struggles they are experiencing. It’s been refreshing to both be open about challenges and be in a supportive atmosphere where we can collectively troubleshoot ideas and solutions. In having frank conversations with other directors, I quickly came to realize that I wasn’t alone, and that many are also going through similar experiences and challenges. Unfortunately, we don’t hear about them for several reasons, one being the unrealistic expectation that we put on our leaders. After all we are expecting individual nonprofit leaders to meet their mission, to keep the lights on and pay staff a living wage while working within a larger system that is fundamentally not set up to see organizations and leaders succeed.  

And most importantly I’ve felt a tremendous amount of joy, connection, and support by being in relation and in community with the Neighborhood Partnerships staff, Board and colleagues from across the State. I’ve been reminded and reenergized by the passion and tremendous work happening in community every day to make Oregon a more equitable place for all of us. I’ve seen what’s possible when we make true connection built on trusting relationship and community. It has helped to affirm one of my personal mottos that it’s not me, but us.  

Over the last year our organization has continued operationalize and center racial equity as we lean into our agreement of slowing down, to create the space and time needed to surface our assumptions, to engage multiple perspectives and to ultimately do business differently to truly be responsive to people, to our staff and our community. Slowing down enabled us to have the space necessary to shifting our work completely remote while supporting our biggest asset, our staff. We made the hard choice of shifting our yearly RE:Conference to a biennial conference. The Oregon IDA Initiative was successful in selling tax credits and we passed all of our policy priorities during the last session. We have continued to support and see ROC members engage and this year have their first legislative agenda. And through our housing policy advocacy we helped to advance solutions to support those most impacted during the pandemic and saw record investments for housing to address our housing crisis. Internally we revised our benefit offerings and our assessment and development practices to better support our team. Our Board of Directors also created their own Equity Subcommittee and developed their own equity goals. And lastly, we have embarked on an equity centered strategic planning process to outline our vision and how our organization can support housing, economic and racial justice.  

And all this work and progress is made possible by the talents and skills of our incredible NP team and supported by our dedicated Board. I’d like to thank Joel Madsen, our Board chair for his continued support and guidance. Also, Roberto Jimenez, past Board member who has been my onboarding buddy the last year, meeting with me monthly to bounce ideas off of and talk through questions and challenges. And lastly and most importantly to the NP staff, who have been gracious, supportive and all have stepped up to support me and one another during this time of transition. I especially want to thank our leadership team, Alison McIntosh, Karrie Herrlinger and Holly McGuire, who continue to lean into a more distributed leaderships model that brings more people into the decision- making process. They have all stepped up and taken on more responsibilities and worked to make year one a great starting point for us to build off.     

This first year was a huge learning curve for me and I’m thankful for all of the learnings and support I received. And through it all, what felt true, was that when we come together, in community, to center the voices most impacted, that is when we will truly move toward policies and system solutions that lead to equity and justice. I hope you will continue to support and join us on this journey.