StrongWomenStrongGirls

New year, same game: Staying on with Strong Women, Strong Girls

When people ask me how my “new job” with Strong Women, Strong Girls is going, I tell them that almost nothing has changed! I was the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow for 2014-2016 at Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, and officially ended my fellowship in June 2016. The previous fall, conversations with my supervisors began about what it would be like for me to stay on in a long-term staff role following the end of my fellowship. Eventually, things became official, and in June, I became a Program Manager with SWSG. In this role, I continue with the same responsibilities that I had during the second year of my fellowship: Managing partnership with SWSG’s college- and university-based chapters, elementary schools, and community centers; leading SWSG’s Junior Mentor Program; coordinating relationships with peer organizations; contributing to our research project on girls’ experiences with mental health and body image; and supporting mentor training, special events, and Development.

All in all, the transition was very natural. Fortuitously, the transition happened to coincide with my three-week vacation to Colombia. I left Boston as an FAO Fellow, and returned as a Program Manager. It was the longest vacation I had taken since beginning my fellowship, and allowed me valuable time to reflect on my experience with SWSG thus far and my intentions going forward. There is nothing like explaining your job in Spanish in a completely different cultural setting to help you pause and reflect!

There are two significant differences that I would note between my pre- and post-fellowship experiences: A greater sense of confidence and security, and deeper consideration of my next career steps. As a fellow, I was constantly taking on new projects and roles as I shifted from a Development- and adult volunteer-focused role in my first year, to a program management-focused position in my second year. I was always the “new person,” and always learning. Now as a Program Manager, I am certainly still learning; however, I have the familiarity and trust of established relationships in the community, greater certainty in my skills, and greater efficiency. I continue to be challenged by staff transitions and the growth of SWSG initiatives; yet, it takes me less time to get up-to-speed.

In terms of my perspective on next steps, the offer from SWSG to stay on as a Program Manager really forced me to consider and re-consider my aspirations. Before a staff departure started the conversation about me staying on, I had envisioned graduate school being my destination post-fellowship. Since undergrad, I’ve been interested in pursuing a Masters in Social Work, but decided to get some work experience before going back to school. Both while at SWSG and in my previous job, my supervisors have primarily been social workers, and I have really enjoyed learning from their approach. When I was offered the Program Manager role, I reasoned that some additional, deeper exposure at SWSG would only help me strengthen my future academic experience. Plus, I could save more money to have while in school (and living off loans!), and put me on track to get an even better job after completing my Master’s degree. Now, in my third year with SWSG, the question I am considering is simply when—and where—to go back to school, and what kind of Social Work, Education, and/or Nonprofit Leadership program is the best fit for me.

Working at Strong Women, Strong Girls has been an absolutely unexpected blessing, challenge, growth opportunity, and true joy in my life, and I am proud to be working here for a third year.

swsg-post

 

Here I am with SWSG staff and a family that is part of our Junior Mentor program at Jump into Peace, an event in August 2016 organized by the office of Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Presley to promote peace and girlhood.

 

Sarah Kacevich is the Program Manager for  Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, an organization that empowers girls to imagine a broader future through a curriculum grounded in female role models and delivered by college women, who are themselves mentored by professional women. Outside of work, she loves to hike, run, do yoga, make art, cook, and travel. She is a Class of ’16 FAO Schwarz Alumni Fellow.

 

Refining Your Core Values

I’ll never forget that first retreat with the Fellowship in the fall of 2012. As we all sat down in JumpStart’s conference room in midtown Manhattan, we introduced ourselves and the mission of our host organizations. I do remember those introductions to my new-found colleagues well, but perhaps what struck me the most about this first meeting—believe it or not—was the décor of the conference room. Surrounding JumpStart’s walls were huge posters that stated its values: learning, connection, joy, and determination were among them.

As we traveled from Philadelphia to New York City and Boston, I saw how other excellent, youth-serving organizations articulated their core values and lived them out well beyond the classroom walls. In their cubicles they crafted impactful narratives for funding, and in meetings they discussed how their specific projects reflected the nature of the organization’s mission. Each organization provided living proof that core values matter for all people at all positions. They were the guiding force for the organization’s culture.

If successful non-profit organizations take the time to craft its core values and make every effort to live out these values within each facet of their work, then surely as a Fellow it was important for me to consIMG_6175ider the guiding principles of my own career trajectory. Many of us have a sense of the driving factors that motivate our decisions, but have you taken the time to intentionally write them down? Have you reflected upon them in the light of your professional decisions? Doing so can help you not only to live more fully into your own life, but can also help you to clearly see why your specific function within your organization matters. Here are a few guiding questions to help you craft your own core values:

  • What have been the most life-giving projects of the past year?
  • What are the strengths that your teammates consistently call out in your work?
  • What are the areas of your job that give you life?
  • What led you to pursue a job at your organization?
  • What are the challenges your organization is facing?

Once you’ve jotted down a few answers to these questions, it’s time to start connecting the dots. What are the common threads between your answers? How might your strengths meet the greatest needs in your organization? By mulling over such questions during the Fellowship, I am now able to articulate my own core values—leadership, togetherness, empathy, and hope—that guide me in my pursuits for equity and justice. More specifically, my own core values have led me to Princeton Theological Seminary where I am strengthening my theological and organizational skills to lead within faith-based organizations.

The opportunity to see myriad strong non-profit organizations intentionally live into their core values helped me to refine my own and thoughtfully consider the guiding principles of my career. The moments of reflection we give ourselves throughout our career can tremendously help us to be the best version of ourselves so that we can better serve those around us. I have the Fellowship to thank for that valuable lesson!

Kayla Peck is a Masters of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ. She enjoys studying the intersection of spirituality and social justice. This coming year, she will serve at a local episcopal church as they seek to be a good neighbor within their community. More specifically, she will help with a variety of community outreach opportunities, including representing the church on the city’s affordable housing committee. When she isn’t studying, she is planning her upcoming wedding, learning how to knit, and hiking in the Adirondacks. Kayla was a 2012-14 Fellow at Strong Women, Strong Girls in Boston. She occasionally tweets glimpses of her journey at @kaylajpeck.

 

How to Stress Less Over Project Management: The RACI Tool

Remember the days of working on group projects in school? If you’re like me, you might have felt like no one had any idea what his or her role was. You might have even gotten stuck doing all of the work because you were worried that no one else would take responsibility or were afraid to ask for help. Maybe you came to dread group projects. Nowadays, does your professional life ever feel like that?

When I first started my FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship at Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, we were undergoing several leadership transitions. Roles were unclear, and projects sometimes stalled or petered out entirely. Luckily, when our current Executive Director came on board, she introduced our transition-weary team to a project management tool with a somewhat conspicuous name that has since helped us immensely: RACI.

RACI is an acronym for the words “Responsible, “Accountable,” “Consulted,” and “Informed.” Below is a quick summary of what that all means (you might notice that it should really be called “ARCI”).

  • ACCOUNTABLE: Ultimately accountable for the success of a project, program, event, or goal. S/he may or may not be responsible for carrying it out in a hands-on way.
  • RESPONSIBLE: Responsible for implementation. There may be more than one R, and an A may also be an R.
  • CONSULTED: Someone who is consulted for her/his opinion, but not expected to be involved in carrying out a project.
  • INFORMED: Simply needs to be informed of progress and/or outcomes.

Here’s a quick example: Say you are the Program Director of a year-long program for teenage girls. You’re nearing the end of the school year, and are planning a celebratory event for the girls. You are overseeing a team of one staff person, whom you supervise, and three volunteers. All of you are involved in the event planning in a hands-on way.

  • A: You as the Program Director are accountable for the event’s success.
  • R: You, the staff member, and the three volunteers are all Rs.
  • C: Your Executive Director is not involved in-depth, but you need to consult her here and there to make sure you are staying in line with the event budget. Plus, she is helping you secure a venue through her sponsorship connections.
  • I: Given the culture of your specific organization, your Board Chair only really needs to be informed of the date, time, and location (if she wants to come) or simply of how the event went after the fact.

Since learning about the tool and applying it to all areas of our team’s work, I’ve become somewhat of a RACI evangelist (as have other staff and volunteers within SWSG!). I’ve implemented it when planning events with a team of volunteers; when navigating community partnerships that me, my supervisor, and her supervisor are all involved in; and when simply looking to designate someone who was in charge of something, big or small. (“Who’s the ‘A’ on opening the mail?”)

What’s so great about RACI? Simply identifying roles—what they mean, how they differ, and how they interact—for a project, program, or goal, is immensely clarifying and tension relieving. It’s also simply helpful to provide your team with a common language to refer to understood norms for roles. As a person who is young IMG_82981or simply new to an organization, it can be tough to decipher when you are and are not in charge of something unless it’s spelled out. It can work the other way around, too. For example, does your Development Director really need to be “responsible” for overseeing your program’s field trips? Nope, she’s more like an “I” or even a “C.” Keep that micro-management in check! Supervising staff or volunteers and want to set expectations around their role? Draft a RACI, get their input, make sure they buy into it, and use it to hold them accountable.

Clarity and communication, paired with the right amount of detail and structure, equals less stress, more progress and more goals met. Have you or will you put RACI to the test after reading this? Let me know how it goes!

Sarah Kacevich is the FAO Fellow and Program Associate with Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, an organization that empowers girls to imagine a broader future through a curriculum grounded in female role models and delivered by college women, who are themselves mentored by professional women. At SWSG, she oversees three college chapters and 35 partner program sites, leads the pilot Junior Mentor Program, and manages partnerships with other nonprofits. Outside of work, she loves to hike, run, do yoga, make art, cook, and travel.