What’s the first thing you do to get your day started?
Podcasts! They make the drive on I-26 much easier and they get my brain working. Right now I’m finishing the first season of Serial, plus listening to Ear Hustle and Gravy. Serial is a year-long investigation into a 15-year-old murder case. Ear Hustle is a podcast from San Quentin prison – great insight into the prison system! Gravy is from the Southern Foodways Alliance – all sorts of fun food and culture stories from around the South.
Once I get to work, the first thing I do is work on the to-do list. I try to organize the day before I get lost in email and meetings!
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Family. Maybe that’s not one thing but it’s the thing I cannot live without. My husband, my family, my in-laws, my friends who have become family, my Palmetto Place kids who have become family. That support system is very special to me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Who inspires you?
Lynda Knight, former executive director of the March of Dimes in my hometown of Gainesville, FL.
When Lynda’s first child was born with a birth defect, she took on the cause of maternal and child health with a passion that I have never seen before. She went from March of Dimes volunteer to executive director and led my hometown to be the highest per capita fundraising city in the country for the March of Dimes. When the organization launched a youth leadership program, Chain Reaction, it was piloted in Gainesville and I was in the first class. Lynda led our group of high school students to do truly amazing things. She taught us about volunteer leadership and developing relationships, fundraising, advocacy, event planning and more. With her guidance, I planned a teen health conference and became comfortable with public speaking all while in high school.
Her passion inspired me on a daily basis in high school and when she called me a year after I graduated college and said – come back to Gainesville and work with Chain Reaction, I said yes. So I spent a year and a half working with high school and college students around the Southeast and teaching them what I’d learned from Lynda. It was an incredible experience – I absolutely loved working with students. Their energy was infectious and so much fun to watch.
She really launched my career in nonprofit work, particularly with issues concerning mothers and children. She pushed me to do things I didn’t think I could do at 16 and again at 23. It’s not often that an adult has so much confidence in teenagers and that had a real impact on me. I ended up working for the March of Dimes for almost 10 years and ended my career with them as an executive director, just like Lynda.
Relationship building, board development and volunteer development/engagement were strengths of Lynda’s and I learned so much from watching her.
I am still inspired by Lynda and think of her often. She still works tirelessly for the March of Dimes, having returned to her volunteer role in retirement. I think part of her legacy is seeing how many of her Chain Reaction are now working in fields that involve children and families.
What book impacted you the most?
Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village from 1996. Take politics out of the mix and look at what this book teaches us – about caring for others and pulling together to make a difference in a child’s life. This book taught me a lot about the team effort that can be created by a community. Look at it from the child welfare lens and it speaks volumes about the foster care system. We each have a role to play in helping children in foster care and helping their families. The power that is created by an association like PAFCAF plus our state agencies and community partnerships – together we can have a greater impact on positive outcomes for South Carolina’s children.
What are you most looking forward to right now?
In my work life: opportunity! We are in the midst of huge change in the child welfare system. It’s going to be rocky along the way, but there are so many opportunities for us to do better for our kids.
In my personal life: Thanksgiving! My favorite holiday! Family and food – what could be better?
What do you love most about working in child welfare or at PAFCAF?
I love watching impact, watching kids grow up and find success. I love watching statewide change and being a part of it.
How did you get your start working in child welfare?
Lynda Knight and the March of Dimes. When I was 16, Lynda took our Chain Reaction group to DC and we met with our state senators and representatives. I remember standing on the steps of the US Capitol and thinking, this is what I want to do.
If there was one person (alive or dead) you could have dinner with who would it be?
The list is too long! And it changes on a daily basis. Some days, there are politicians I’d love to have dinner with and pick their brains and ask a million questions. Some days it’s a national nonprofit leader. I’d love to have dinner with the Pope or the Dalai Lama – that would be fascinating. The explorers who found a new nation – imagine that conversation! The great Renaissance leaders – that is a conversation I could have for hours.