Gals! Jessie is teaching ALL OF US an important lesson today… you are never above doing certain work. She started out as an entry level employee at the non-profit she works at, and now she’s the Development Director. That happened because she was willing to help however she could and now she’s the boss! How amazing is she?! I can’t wait for you to learn more.
Tell us a little about yourself and your career
My name is Jessie and I’m a single mother to a three-year-old little boy. I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Family is so important to me and I’m grateful I have my three sisters and my mother to lean on and spend time with as I navigate a career and adjust to my role as a single parent. Building a secure life for my son is the focus of everything I do and I’m grateful for the career I have where I can support myself independently while also being able to feel like I have the flexibility I need in order to feel present as a parent. I am currently the Development Director at a mid-sized non-profit organization called Mandy’s Farm that serves adults with developmental disabilities. This means I oversee all of the fundraising, grant writing, communications, and events for the organization.
Before I began working at Mandy’s Farm, I was pretty focused on becoming an art teacher. I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Art Education at the University of New Mexico, with a focus on how to leverage art to create change within special populations (people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, individuals who are or have been incarcerated, etc.). However, while I was in school I became really involved in disability services, first through integrated recreation programs within the City of Albuquerque, and then several years later with Mandy’s Farm. Once I graduated, I realized that I was in love with the mission and spirit of the organization and that it didn’t make sense to leave something I was so passionate about. I feel like a lot of the skills I developed in the art world were incredibly transferable to my current career and the program I was in at UNM was really focused on meeting community needs, which is obviously important for nonprofit work.
For most of my career, I have focused on trying to develop accessible educational, employment, and recreational opportunities so that adults with disabilities have a better quality of life. However, several years ago, I had the opportunity to transition from programming into the development side of things at Mandy’s Farm, which I was really excited to explore. Focusing on the funding side of nonprofit work provides me with an opportunity to celebrate and communicate our successes, find money for service and funding gaps, and write grants that creatively leverage money to better meet the needs of people with disabilities. I also get to do a lot of disability awareness outreach as part of my job, and it’s exciting to see community attitudes change when I’m able to advocate on behalf of adults with disabilities.
How does your community of women you surround yourself with support you?
One thing that I love about the organization I work for is that it’s primarily run by women. It wasn’t intentionally created or planned that way, but it sort of organically happened, and I feel like it has influenced the overall personality and structure of our organization. The women I work with are incredibly strong, empathetic, diplomatic, and dedicated. We work in an environment where we are allowed to work from home when needed, take time off when personal emergencies arise, and where we are respected as people who have a life outside of our work. I feel like this only makes me more dedicated to the organization, because I am able to have a work-life balance that allows me to arrive at work ready to focus on the tasks at hand. Our Executive Director has created an environment where you feel respected, you are allowed to fail and try again, and where you can feel comfortable asking for support when you need it.
Outside of work, I have a lot of support from a family of women who descend from a long line of matriarchs. My mother, a single parent herself, raised all four of her daughters to be independent, strong, and mouthy, so we always have each other’s backs. I also have incredibly strong women in my life in terms of friendships. I don’t know that I could have made it through a really difficult divorce and some of the tougher times of my life without a community of women who continually offer support to each other. Women step up and meet needs and offer help when no one else will. Sometimes it was flowers left on my desk, an unexpected gift in the mail, an invitation to lunch, or snacks left on my doorstep, other times it was someone to cry with, but I am lucky.
What have you learned from climbing the ladder in your organization?
Having started at an entry-level position at Mandy’s Farm, I’ve watched the organization grow exponentially over the years, and have spent time in just about every position we have. Because of that, I know the organization really well. I understand the challenges of each part of our work and can explain that to donors and grant providers. I also have been able to get to know the individuals we serve really well so I’m able to articulate what life is like for them and how the support we provide can allow them to succeed. Some of the individuals in our programs were teenagers that I met through my disability work in city-funded programs. As my career has developed, I’ve been able to follow their lives and watch them grow over ten years. It’s amazing to see how they have blossomed, come into their own, and become really wonderful adults.
As I’ve moved into different roles at Mandy’s Farm, I’ve also learned how to be flexible. There are some days where I’m at my computer the entire day, others where I’m in the community meeting with potential donors or giving presentations, and others where I’m hanging out with goats and horses (our programs are based on a farm in the South Valley of Albuquerque). I’ve had days where I got to pick up a check for $40,000 from a local funder, and days when I end up covered in mud trying to catch a goose- but I’ve learned that all of it is meaningful, all of it contributes to the mission, and that I should take each day as it comes and be prepared for anything (something that’s infinitely important as a mother as well).
What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self re: your career aspirations?
I think I would tell myself that there is time for everything. When I was younger I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn things quickly and try to master a lot of skills at once. Now I really try to focus on one or two things at a time and try to get a huge depth of understanding in those areas before jumping to the next thing. It’s given me permission to really explore some of my interests and slow down and enjoy my work. I also think that when I was younger I didn’t focus on work-life balance at all. Especially when I was in school, my entire life was work and school. I didn’t make time for things that were important to me and that fulfilled my needs outside of those areas, so I would get burnt out. Now I am able to see when I’m starting to get to the end of my rope and take some time for myself to replenish and prepare for new challenges.
What is your career-related mantra?
“Either I will find a way, or I will make one.” -Phillip Sidney
I feel like this mantra doesn’t just mean something to me in terms of my career, but also my life as a whole. I’ve had to make some decisions that were really scary, or that other people didn’t agree with, but I find that when I set my mind to something I have always been able to find a way to make it happen.