They ask me what I do and who I do it for
Hello, my name is April McFadden. I work for Communities In Schools of Chicago and we help students by connecting them to resources, organizations and people who will keep them on track to graduate high school and do well in life. And I tell stories. I tell what’s going on in Chicago Public Schools and what our work does to support Chicago’s students. But let me tell you why I do what I do. I’m here because my brother Terrance, who was killed last December. I do this because I believe his life would be fundamentally different if he had a caring adult in his life. I do this for Zari. A student who graduated last June whose life is fundamentally different because a caring adult was placed by Communities In Schools in her life. I’m here to support the work that supports all kinds of students who need someone in their corner. And I believe everyone needs a community of support. A tribe. I believe it takes a village.
Working in nonprofit, I’m constantly questioning myself. Why am I doing this? Is this mission aligned with what my purpose? I could be getting paid a lot more in corporate, why am I subjecting myself to this struggle? How exploitative is the organization I’m working with? Let’s not start with the NonProfit Industrial Complex (NPIC). That's another conversation for a different day. Occasionally, I find myself mentally exhausted and unmotivated by the work. My fire extinguishes.
I attended a training (PD is necessary and if you can, see if your job has a budget for it! Invest in yourself.), “Storytelling with Impact” taught by Susy Schultz, president of Public Narrative. The session was so refreshing. For weeks I was lacking passion for my job and questioning the nonprofit world in general and this three hour training gave me a renewed energy. Not only did I leave with tips to improve my performance, but listening to my communications counterparts at other nonprofits pushed me to dig a little deeper. Force me to really reflect on why I wanted to do this work.
Susy’s training required us to tell our story twice. The first time I did it, I focused very much on the messaging that I’ve been committing to memory for the past year. On a sheet of paper I was going through the prompts writing down the mission and other talking points and jargon we throw around. Like empower. What does that even mean? How do we assess youth empowerment anyway?
After hearing other stories around the room and Susy’s presentation on telling stories with impact, I went in the exercise the second time around with more direction. Focusing on my ultimate goal as a storyteller, I aimed to tell a universal story that isn't lofty or inaccessible. I reflected on why I started down this path in the first place. I worked backwards from college to my early teens. The second time around I wrote the statement I got a little personal, resulting in the statement I opened this post with. The room was moved.
In my teens I knew I wanted to start a nonprofit for young black boys. The idea was inspired by my brother and all of the support I saw he needed, but wasn’t getting. I knew I wanted to make that my life’s work. In high school the glamour of the journalism world enchanted me, leading me to focus my love for reading and writing on career in magazine journalism. College reawakened my desires to use my communications skills to serve my people. Two years since I graduated, I’m starting my career in the nonprofit communications world.
I once had a conversation with my coworker on the direct service side of our organization (I’m administration, if that gives you context) about the NPIC and how I might as well be in corporate. I felt so far from the work and that my work was more exploitative side than service oriented. He validated my feelings and reminded me that my work is still important to the mission.
Since this training I reflect on the story I wrote in that training once a week so I remember why I went in this direction. Life always brings you back to your purpose. Life always gives you signs that you’re on the right path.