2009 was a year of milestones in its own right: The first viral selfie was taken; The Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” was pumping the airwaves everywhere; and traces of water were first discovered on the moon.
2009 also marked a few glacial shifts in the social purpose space as well. The Great Recession was buckling itself in and national philanthropy was at a decline for the first time since 1987.
Thankfully, it was also the year of new beginnings, where we built the muscle to weather these kinds of storms and set the tempo for a new day. It was the year that Cara was honored with the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders award – a two-year investment and leadership development opportunity in which we were able to meet social entrepreneurs from across the country and grow deeply in our own practice as a result.
In that year, I met countless impressive, innovative organizations and leaders – and one that remained imprinted on my heart and mind ever since was an organization called FareStart out of Seattle and its emerging leader Matt. I felt a kindred spirit with this mission for reasons I could not quite articulate at the time, but which have remained with me ever since. Perhaps it’s the fact that our organizations’ beginnings are so similar, or that our intentions are so aligned. But I think it might be more visceral than that.
The Neighborhood Builders opportunity was one that gave you a safe, intensive, peer-to-peer learning community in which you could share where you’re getting stuck, where you feel afraid, and where you want to grow – all with a partner whose only intent is to support you on a journey to get there. I found that partner in Matt and countless others in this community, and though we are states and years apart from that experience, I still remember the bounce it gave me back then and am convinced that opportunity helped lead us to where we are today.
Fast forward to 2018; and as good fortune would have it, through the tremendous REDF community (a network of social enterprise leaders partnering in the creation and scaling of transitional jobs for our toughest to employ), I had occasion to visit Seattle at REDF’s partner retreat and finally see FareStart in action, and most importantly reconnect with my compadre Matt. I was reminded in that moment that you never really know the impression you can make on someone else’s life and was so grateful to see this person whom I admired from near and afar near a decade ago, and whose confidence and leadership in this work has enabled me to become stronger in mine.
I had held FareStart up in my mind for the last decade as an enterprise of great impact and great heart and it more than lived up to that ideal. I saw what they see – a real healing house that recognizes the inextricable connection between developing skills and developing a sense of your own worth.
Through the REDF network, these lessons are cemented in a structured environment – we share principles, we debate process, we crystallize our own points of view while being anchored to a best practice. And then these lessons are brought to life when we are given the opportunity to be both student and sharer. With REDF’s help, I was 1,000% student – afforded the capacity to learn from another in truly palpable way, giving a whole room of emerging practitioners not just the principle and why it works, but the practice and why it matters.
Miss Joan, the trainer at FareStart, shared the following quote from one of her students to illustrate the real transformation at work: “I’m here to get my keys back to my apartment. My keys back to the car I want to have. My keys back to my parents’ respect. My keys back to my kids’ hearts.” I am here to get my keys back, indeed.
Not surprisingly, I welled up after hearing this and I was reminded that, in so many ways, we are each on our journey to get our keys back – to unlock the gifts we are uniquely positioned to give and to use. And I am ever grateful to places like Neighborhood Builders (who met us early on our social enterprise journey) and REDF (who is deftly helping us to scale) for giving us the wings to do so, and most importantly the peers in this practice whose impressions on our hearts and minds will last for decades to come.
Maria Kim is the President and CEO of Cara. She holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business and serves on the boards of the EPIC Academy and Rebuilding Exchange. She fancies herself an expert solver of crimes due to her excessive consumption of “Law and Order” reruns.