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Interview with a Non-Profit Program director
In this candid career interview, a project director for a non-profit program explains how she is able to remotely help children develop reading skills from her home. This job requires a strong understanding of technology and ability to set up networks, a passion for children, and ability to teach and train others. Would you be cut-out for a similar career? Read on to find out!

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My job was as an Executive Director at a non-profit organization in Chicago, Illinois. The position focused on improving reading skills through technology. I worked in this position for one year before taking a more lucrative position as a Program Director, also in the same line of work. In this line of work, I had to work independently. Therefore, in three adjectives, I would describe myself as autonomous, consultative and managerial.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a female, and my ethnicity is somewhat ambiguous. Both my parents are a mix of Irish, African American, Native American and a host of other ethnicities. However, those three are the most prominent. Since, neither of my parents are full-blooded Irish, I have never considered myself bi-racial.

I never thought of race as a factor in my life. I grew up getting along with all types of people from all over the world. My best friend in elementary school and middle school was white. I also had some black friends in middle school, but middle school is a tough time, and women become catty. So, I primarily made friends with white people.

In high school, I was in accelerated classes. Only three black people were in accelerated classes, so my friends were predominately white. I had an Asian friend as well. It was not until I received minority scholarships that I gained more friends of color. I kept friends of every ethnicity after I went to college.

My town had issues with race relations. I was one of the students negotiating and navigating these issues. I tried to treat people with respect in all instances. I tried to be understanding of everyone’s situation and recognized that most race relations issues stem to someone getting hurt by one person of a particular ethnicity.

People then ascribe the action to everyone in the race, but it may not be true. The truth may be that the person only has alliances with a particular race and that is who will fight on their behalf. Unfortunately, people divide the lines based on race when they take sides in an argument.

When one ethnicity also has more resources than another, it poses problems as well. I try to address problems from an objective point of view unless the situation is irrational and someone made it a racial problem, instead of focusing on the actual problem.

I suppose being black has only helped me obtain a minority scholarship, but it did not put me in the top five or top 20% of my class. I cannot say that I have an advantage being of my ethnicity. Until the past four to seven years, I never experienced any blatant racial discrimination against me personally.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: During this position, I worked from home and traveled to different schools installing computers in classrooms. This involved installing local area networks (LANs), installing software, training teachers and students, acting as a liaison and implementing a pre-set curriculum. I cannot say that there are any misunderstandings about mentoring children in reading skills remotely. Some people may not understand how interactive learning occurs and how remote conferences are held virtually. The concept relied upon remote conferencing software.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have ranked that job an 8. I enjoy working from home and the autonomy. I enjoyed working with the children, executives, principals and teachers. I did not have as much contact with my superior as I would have liked during the initial stages. A clear budget was not established initially. We could have incorporated more technology into the program to make the idea work. During the time that I worked with him, the budget had major constraints. Since then, more funding has been obtained.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I enjoyed working with the kids and learning Spanish and Japanese alongside the kids. It felt good to help people and to not be in one location every day. I think better from home than in a cubicle. I had an office at work before, and I am less distracted in an office or at home, than in a cubicle. I am still not sure what my calling is in life. I have worked with youth for 15 years, and I enjoy it. I also enjoy writing, but it is not currently a lucrative profession for me.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: Most people have overcome adversity in their lives, especially since the recession. It almost seems to be a competition to determine who has overcome the most adversity. If there is anything unique about my career, it would be that I have worked in a variety of fields that seem to not be congruent. However, they are all centered around helping people from a medical and technology perspective or an educational perspective.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I searched philanthropy websites and networked to find this position. If there was one thing I could change, I would have been more aggressive about finding funding to make the classroom technology more cohesive.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I had to learn to communicate more with my Board of Directors to find what we needed with the company.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: I have learned more through experience than I have in school. I understand more about technology through reading, writing and doing, than I understood actually going through the motions in school. When the pressure of making an ‘A’ was removed, I learned and retained more. My best lessons were from real-world issues.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: Child abuse was reported to me by a child. It was the first time I had to deal with it, and I did not know what to do. I reported it to a teacher.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I felt good knowing that I was helping kids that grew up in an impoverished neighborhood obtain more knowledge that could lead to a better lifestyle.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I was bombarded with children’s issues that were unrelated to the job. I also wanted a larger budget for better equipment.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job was stressful because of children’s problems and technology issues and constraints. I maintained a healthy work life balance by going out to eat, going to museums and going to jazz clubs.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: My salary was approximately $55,000. I took a pay cut from a previous position, so I was suffering slightly financially. However, it was manageable.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I do not get nearly enough vacation and would like to take more. I am given two weeks of vacation typically.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: A technical background is required. Clients need to know how to set up local area networks, troubleshoot computers, mentor, teach, train and manage.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Keep your technical skills up to date. Remain personable and informed about your position. Patience is instrumental.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: Honestly, I would like to be independently wealthy, investing and living off of an annuity. I would also like to serve on a Board of Directors for a non-profit organization to remain engaged in philanthropy work.