Steel Magnolias…Rhode Island Style

For several years I worked at a local United Way as a program director/program officer. I was responsible for the organization’s work relative to children and families. I had the chance to work with many community and business leaders; really smart people who truly wanted to do work that would make an impact on some of the root causes of problems in Rhode Island.

I also had the chance to learn from some very talented and smart people while I was at the United Way. Two in particular, Jane and Kamila, come to mind right away because I continue to benefit from my experience with them. Each of us served as leaders in the three areas that had been identified for the organization to focus its grant making and systemic change efforts: kids, jobs, homes. I knew quite a bit going into the job for my area, kids, but the other areas, jobs and homes, were new information for me. I also had quite a bit to learn about the history and the organizational culture of the United Way, and since Jane and Kamila had each worked there for well over 20 years, that’s exactly who I needed to teach me.

janeFrom the beginning I was fascinated by Jane and her command of language and processes. It seemed that every time I reviewed my notes from a meeting where Jane was present, there was a word I had to go look up. At the time I thought I was fairly well-read, but Jane regularly used words I probably would only have seen on the SAT’s. I’m not even sure how to describe the other skill I learned from Jane, but have you ever been to a meeting or workshop or conference and left feeling completely jazzed? Well, that’s almost always because someone has taken the painstaking time to plan every moment of your experience. Not only have they planned, but the execution of each element of the agenda is near perfect. That’s Jane! I try so very hard now to follow that example in my current work.

KBZ2Kamila too, was a great teacher. If you have never participated in the process of reading and rating grant applications, well, you haven’t lived. It’s quite a learning experience. Even before working at United Way and having to lead the process myself, I had been a participant in many grant reviews, twice in groups facilitated by Kamila; it was amazing. She was always kind and pleasant, at the same time being firm and direct; moving the process from point A to B in a way that would make you feel as though you were on calm waters, paddling down a quiet river, and not even getting your feet wet as you stepped onto shore at the end of the journey.

Both of these women showed me what it means to have a strong sense of commitment to the community where we live and to the work that will make it better.

They are women of grace and dignity in any circumstance. I am truly grateful for the chance to have worked with and learn from them.
Thank you Jane and Kamila!

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