Thursday, March 11, 2010

Creating My Destiny - Ashley Wants to Save the World

I have always been drawn to stories of injustice and people who take a stand for the things they believe and people who are in need. Besides a time in 4th grade when my best friend Jenny and I planned on being fashion designers together, I have always imagined spending my life helping people. I pictured myself feeding the starving, building homes for those without shelter, even helping people escape persecution. I was greatly impacted by stories of slavery, war, genocide, poverty . . . I loved movies and books that told an inspiring story of one person making a difference somehow.

I was never sure, though, exactly how I wanted to help people. I’ve always loved history and culture and for a while I thought I wanted to be an anthropologist. I pictured living with people groups very different from my own . . . I was a junior in college, an Anthropology major and just beginning to understand that I didn’t so much want to study culture as I wanted to do work to better people’s lives, when I found out I was pregnant. I was thrown for such a loop with the pregnancy that I dropped out and went to work full-time.

We got married, had a second child, and I spent several years working office jobs that I was good at and enjoyed. At this point in my life I didn’t feel a strong need to have a career – having a job I enjoyed that helped to support my family was enough. At work I participated in things like my company’s Diversity Team, United Way campaign and community-service projects. I remember thinking, “I wish this was my job” and being surprised when my company created a Community Relations position to manage all of these initiatives. I’d never known that jobs like this existed.

My supervisors saw my energy and abilities and encouraged me to go back to school, but I just wasn’t ready. The only programs that fit around my work schedule focused on Business and I wasn’t interested in investing my time that way. I put it off and put it off.

After 4 years of marriage, my husband and I decided to move to Chicago, where he’s from. I was able to transfer within my company to a different division, where I was supposed to do work similar to my previous position, but for a different “customer”. Unfortunately, I was very unhappy. The supportive, community-minded atmosphere of the division I’d left wasn’t present in my new division. I didn’t feel good about the product we were promoting and didn’t fit in with my workaholic co-workers. I spent most of my day dreaming of being at home with my kids or doing something – anything – that would give me a sense of having done GOOD for the world.

I eventually left and began looking for work in the non-profit field. I now work at a graduate school that places a heavy emphasis on community, service and diversity. Ding ding ding! I love our mission, my co-workers and my small part in helping to make the world a better place.

I think it was being around people who were furthering their education, having a third child (hello exponential cost of living increase!) and realizing that there were all kinds of degrees that I never knew existed, that finally prompted me to start looking at going back to school. I had heard of Social Justice programs and that seemed right up my alley, but the only ones I could find wouldn’t fit with my work schedule. Luckily, I stumbled upon a Social Justice certificate offered through the seminary of North Park University. North Park is a small, Christian liberal arts school which places a heavy emphasis on service. I found that they offered a Non-Profit Management degree AND it was available through their School of Adult Learning. Classes are offered nights, weekends and online – perfect for me!

I was intimidated at the thought of applying for admission, but right from the start, everyone at NPU welcomed me and helped me get past my fears. Before I knew it, I’d been admitted to the program, transferred my credits from my first college go-round, gotten a financial aid package, set up my tuition reimbursement agreement and registered for my first classes!

I’ve now been in school since the Fall of 2008 and I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown. I still have a year or more of courses (I’m taking things slow, just one course at a time) but I know I’ll be graduating before I know it. The program I’m in is so perfect for what I want to do, because the thing is, I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. My program is exposing me to organizations and people that inspire me and I'm gaining skills and knowledge that I can apply to ANY non-profit I work for. I’m learning about fundraising, advocacy, boards, grants, foundations, volunteer management and more. My classmates and instructors have such great insight and experience to share and our classes are highly interactive. No boring 400-student lectures!

I expect that the work I’ll be doing in 20 years will probably be something I had no idea I’d end up with, but I believe this education will help me no matter where I go. I’m really excited for my future – I finally feel as though I’ve found my specific way to help people. I won’t be roaming the world looking for people to save, at least not until my kids are grown. But I can help people here in my community, and I can help others go out into the world and make a difference.


Anonymous said...

I know you're going to help save the world, you already are.

Ashley said...

Aww, thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

I came to your site from WC. I just wanted say that this post spoke to me. I have had thoughts like this since I was young and have also pushed it off due to life. You have given me lots to think about! -Amy

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