I went to a party last night. I rarely go to parties for a plethora of reasons, but this particular party was a birthday party for someone I’ve known since I moved to Chico in 2008 and who now lives downstairs from me (so I was going to kind of be at this party either way). I had a truly wonderful time. I met several people I’ve never met before and reconnected with several people that have a connection to the little community I’ve lived in since moving to Chico. There were plenty of laughs and plenty of good conversation over a bonfire on my front lawn.
An interesting aspect of the whole evening for me was how many people shared that they knew who I was and what I did even before we were introduced. It was part of the continuing awareness that I now live in a much smaller town than I grew up in back in Milwaukee. Many of the people I had never even met before last night ended up sharing a story regarding someone they knew that used our services or something they had heard about me personally or about the Torres Shelter. Chico truly is a tight knit community. And the stories shared with me regarding our services, growth and success helping people escape homelessness were overwhelmingly positive. There were also some questions about the rationale behind or efficacy of some of our policies, but that’s always good because it demonstrates that our community cares both about the individual people we serve and about our impact as an organization in the community as well. It’s vital that an organization like ours gets feedback on both.
At the same time, there was a considerable amount of the evening where I felt I was receiving praise that belonged to others. First, let me admit that I’ve always been bad at accepting praise and compliments. I have a tendency to shrug them off, minimize them or make a joke. Praise just makes me uncomfortable and reminds me of how much more work is needed to get done. However, most of the stories I heard last night really don’t belong to me at all. They were the result of both the individual guests’ efforts and the competence and passion of specific staff people. In all honesty, these successes have relatively little to do with me except that they are all connected.
On May 9th of this year I will have been the Executive Director of the Torres Shelter for 6 years so this will probably be my last ED message before that anniversary. For me it’s kind of an important anniversary because it will mark that I’ve been in this position longer than anyone else has and in a field where burnout and emotional fatigue are pretty prevalent it feels like I’ve done fairly well navigating the inherent stress involved. At the same time, it’s still a learning process and I continue to look for ways to improve.
A primary reason why the burden has never been too heavy is that I’ve been fortunate throughout my tenure to always have several staff people that I could rely on and still do. Our staff at the Shelter has grown considerably from 9 people when I started to 17 now and we are still growing. We have had to grow in order to meet the increasing demand for services like ours and we still need to grow more in order to reach the full potential our organization has to improve the lives both of the people we serve and the community that makes our work possible.
Despite my aversion to praise, I can feel pretty good about the work I’ve done to create a stronger infrastructure at the Shelter; a better system where both guests and staff can focus without significant fears regarding their personal safety or the financial stability of the organization. I can also claim some credit for being able to use my 20+ years of nonprofit work to help brainstorm and troubleshoot on individual cases. But in the end, the thousands of people our organization has helped to escape homelessness in my almost 6 years at the Shelter have been due mainly to the much harder work both our guests and staff have accomplished. And I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. ~Brad, Executive Director