In my first blog post, I sought to tell a bit of my personal story. I wanted to explain the connections between my varied experiences over the past few years to show where I have been and where I am going. After all, the ten week Columbus Foundation Fellowship will be just one step along the journey.
Though I typed out a version of my story, I then failed to live it. To start my second week at Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, I seemed content just being the guy at the office working to “review the victims’ rights toolkit website to make it more user friendly for clients” (my verbatim project description). I would show up, put in eight hours and leave. Since mine is an ongoing, independent project, I mostly stayed at my desk and responded to interactions rather than initiating them. I knew the staff was busy managing a number of cases, and with no background knowledge or experience in law, I felt I didn’t have much to contribute anyway. I was there for one purpose – the toolkit.
After working mostly on rewording text in the toolkit the first week, I was reminded of the broader nature of making the toolkit more user friendly early in the second week. Suddenly, I began to question whether I was the right person for that job, as well. Others in the office already had ideas to improve the toolkit and may have heard direct feedback about it from clients. Plus, I knew little about web design best practices. My self-doubt about my ability to help the organization is an example of what Ashon McKenzie would describe as Impostor Syndrome when he talked with our Fellows cohort at our professional development session that Wednesday.
Ashon McKenzie discussed, at times, feeling inadequate when working in a nonprofit setting and being invited to the table for discussions about situations and traumas he had not experienced himself. While he challenged us to think of how to elevate the stories of who we are representing in such scenarios, he also emphasized the importance of sharing what makes us who we are. He reminded us that
“You come as the value because a lot of tasks could be done by others.”
Instead of recognizing the unique skills and expertise I did bring to my fellowship, I had allowed myself to view my role as dispensable. Yes, other OCVJC staff obviously know more about the toolkit than me, but as they have repeatedly told me, they want an outside perspective on it and value my thoughts. As I reflected more and did research about the ideal navigation and organization and presentation of information for websites, I remembered that I had taken a Nonprofit Community Relations class last semester and even evaluated a nonprofit’s website as an assignment. I had more relevant background for the project than I originally thought!
Thanks to Ashon’s insight, I was determined to share more of my passion and abilities at work. I gladly seized the opportunity to translate an email when one of the attorneys asked if I know Spanish, and I later followed up with him to read through a case he was working on that involved immigration, one of my interests. We ended up having a conversation about my career interests. I struggled to conceptualize what my dream job would be, but I thought of my long term goal to be in nonprofit management, or nonprofit consulting.
By the end of the week, I had reframed the way I looked at my project on the toolkit. It was not simply a task I was completing for the summer. I can view it as an early experience in nonprofit consulting. On a very small scale, that’s what I’m doing – evaluating an aspect of a nonprofit and providing my recommendations for how to improve. With that thinking, I am once again owning my personal story.
I’ll be starting week 3 knowing that the value in my work is me. Many people could be reviewing the crime victims’ rights toolkit, but no one else brings the specific characteristics that I do. I need to utilize those.