1. I was at a crossroads in my life, between turning 50 in two years and feeling unfulfilled in my job.
2. My youngest, Chloe, would be turning 18 and graduating from high school in two years and would no longer be a Teen Leader at ART 180 (teens are funny about their mamas invading their space)
3. I felt a sense of freedom and opportunity happening at the exact time, feelings I’d never felt before. (This was personal.)
I remember it like it was just yesterday, though it was 2017. Marlene sent me a text from the beach while she was on vacation, asking if I would be interested in Trey Hartt’s (my predecessor’s) job. I recall looking at the phone and thinking to myself: Who, me?! I’m always open to exploring new opportunities (I tend to venture into the unknown a lot). A few days later I received an email from Trey that read, “Wanna talk about my job? Marlene wants us to talk!” It never dawned on me that this inquiry would actually be about me joining the staff of ART 180. But then if you know Marlene, you know she has a way of tapping the right people at the right time.
Trey and I met, and he began sharing about his role. I couldn’t tell you what an annual fund, donor relations, or donor retention meant. To be honest, the word donor intimidated me to my core! I’ve been in procurement most of my career, so I could tell you what the Code of VA said, or how to write an RFP, but when it came to understanding budgets and every line item (there were many), I was a fish out of water.
Unclear how I would make this job work for me I remembered what I did know, and that was people. Yes people, all kinds of folks, and one thing I was good at was building lasting relationships. Eventually it hit me: that’s all you need, Nicole! (Well, that and a support system and you can do anything.) The first year came and went so fast I didn’t know what hit me. It was a year of learning, discovery, and questioning every step of the way. I made it and was now ready for year two.
The pressure to perform was rising, because anything that had gone wrong the first year was solely on me now. Oh, and remember I had some big things happening this year so I had to find some balance and stability quick. My future was riding on it, not to mention I was moving into a space of aloneness with Chloe going off to school. I anchored down and learned all that I could. I relied on the system that was set up and used all of my experiences to move our development processes to another level, but things still didn’t feel right. I was building an internal team, the board was supportive, and my Development Committee chair had my back all the way. We met our goals yet even while being praised for good work, something was missing.
I celebrated some major milestones in year two, full of personal and life changes, but the one thing that remained consistent was ART 180. As I began to reflect I was reminded that through a lot of my transitions in life ART 180 was there. My children had been a part of this organization for so long that I never stopped to think how/where I was in my life during every program, event, or whenever I volunteered that my “family”—the ART 180 family—was a safe place to BE. It was starting to make more and more sense as to why my YES mattered. I was supposed to be here, working, healing, growing, and doing the same for others as ART 180 has done for me.
It was now March 2020, and the world had been hit by a major pandemic. Plans were scrapped, we closed to the public, and all hell seemed to have broken loose. But after two years of internal chaos, I had grounded myself enough to know that I belong here, WE belong here, and I wasn’t going to allow what we were facing to cause us to operate in fear. It was an internal feeling that I felt, one I always feel when I’m grounded, that said we’re going to be okay.
But then I broke down. I had succumbed to what many POC had to acknowledge, and that was the fact that I wasn’t okay. I needed some time to “breathe and heal.” I did just that and have been focused on the healing of POC ever since. Working in collaboration with our leadership team and now our board, we’re talking, and creating action-oriented steps around racial equity. It was the piece of my job that I had been missing and has helped me to see the bigger picture of why Marlene and I choose each other back in 2017. There were three reasons, many lessons, and three years of growing beyond my wildest imagination both professionally as well as personally.
And it all happened because I said YES.
Nicole Jones, Deputy Director, ART 180