PR Girl…still on a Mission

Hey there y’all. Well, it’s safe to say, it’s been a minute since I last updated this blog.

Being that I’m in public relations, I find myself wanting to give you the best, most honest and concise summary of my life and why the blogging fell apart, and why I abandoned this blog for so long. However, every good PR girl knows what information is necessary to move forward with a public and what information is erroneous and just confuses the argument further. So, after hemming and hawing over how to best dive back in to the blog, I decided to go about it this way.

The last two years of my life have been turbulent. I ended relationships that were dear to me and difficult to leave. The biggest one being my first job, the disabilities organization I reference in the previous posts. It’s never easy to decide to leave a job and move on to the greener pastures, but the decision for me was particularly difficult because it was made under duress and I struggled with whether I was really ready to move on from disabilities services as a field.

My health has been in jeopardy. I’ve struggled also with some major health issues in the last two years, which recently came to head as I was most recently hospitalized for myocarditis. Yeah, that’s a big ol’ word, and it pretty much means my heart muscle became inflamed. No good, y’all. No good at all. Thankfully, I caught this earlier, received excellent care at some stellar DC hospitals (big shout out to Washington Hospital Center!) and am heading towards full recovery. Lemme tell ya, nothing sets your priorities straight like near-heart failure.

My faith has become a major part of my life. I spent 18 months on a pastor nominating committee at my church, Rockville United Church, looking for a new pastor. You may be thinking, “18 months is a long time to pick a pastor.” Trust me, I thought so too. Turns out though, the process was making major changes to my heart and mind and faith in God. Changes that kept moving and shaking around in my life until recently. Some of you may know, I occasionally give God or my spirituality a shout out on Twitter. I have to admit, I’ve always been apprehensive about being fully open about my beliefs. This is in part because I’m all too aware of the barriers people put up when they think you’re coming at them from a Jesus place. So, I want to make clear that while I will likely be posting about my faith in the future, because it’s integral to why I do the work I do, I never intend nor wish to ram anything down anyone’s throat. Y’all are entitled to your own beliefs, your own thoughts, your own ways of living. All I ask (really, beg, actually) is that we respect each other in those spaces equally.

I’ve gained some clarity and some direction. When PR Girl on a Mission first started out, I intended to use it as a way to communicate my experiences as a newbie PR girl, fresh in my first role, struggling to make miracles happen on a non-existent budget. I learned a lot and along the way I began defining myself and the issues I care about. I’ve changed jobs, changed apartments, changed lives. I’ve gained some clarity and direction I had been seeking two years ago, when I fell away from this blog. I’m hoping that in the next few months, I can backtrack a little and catch you up to where I am now; still with the purpose of sharing this PR Girl’s efforts at communicating for good.

I’m still a PR Girl on a Mission, y’all. The mission looks different than it did when I started, but I’m feeling confident we’ll have a much more consistent conversation with one another, if you want to hang on and see what I’ve got to say.

Love love love,

ABP

I will not stop

(Video of myself, and Latria, a woman supported by my organization, at our annual prom.)

I will not stop advocating for her. For people like Latria.

Two years ago, I started this blog because I wanted to share with you my experiences, both good and bad, as a new nonprofit public relations professional. I knew that I wanted to use my talents and my love for public relations, communications, and outreach to do good in the world. I wasn’t quite sure how that would unfold at that time, and over the last two years, I have discovered exactly what I am passionate about and what my “mission” is. Now I want to share that with you.

I work in the disabilities services field. More specifically, I work for an autism service provider. I had some experience and connection to this type of work through college jobs (I worked in youth programs with the YMCA) and through a family member who worked for the Arc in my hometown. However, it wasn’t until I came to this place that my passion for sharing the stories of people with autism and developmental disabilities* really took shape.

Over 4 million Americans have developmental disabilities. There are 7 to 8 million people with intellectual disabilities in the United States, and an estimated 30 million (one in ten families) are directly affected by a person with intellectual disabilities in their lifetime. People with disabilities (all types) are the largest minority in this country. Bet you didn’t know that. I bet you also didn’t know that for adults, like Latria, with autism and developmental disabilities, there are no uniform (across the country) supports and services. The system and history of community services is complex and will merit another post entirely, but in short, each state determines what (if any) services will be offered and how much support they will provide to adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

Tens of thousands of these adults, like Latria, are sitting (languishing, in most cases) on waiting lists for services.

In Maryland, over 19,000 people are waiting for funding and services provided by the Developmental Disabilities Administration and administered by organizations like ours.

Did you know that? I bet you didn’t. I bet you’re wondering now how you could have not know about 4 million people, the LARGEST minority in the country, and their struggle to live a productive, independent life. If you’re a Marylander, I bet you’re wondering how 19,000 people (the size of a small town-imagine an entire town of people without access to work, housing, recreation, etc.) are sitting at home, more often than not with aging parents, or a parent who had to quit a job to support them, without access to services that can make them a productive, employed, independent and active member of their community.

I hope you are.

If we, as a society, are content to allow the most vulnerable among us suffer in silence, with no real hope of relief, then something is gravely wrong. That is a world that I, for one, cannot live in. I will not live in.

So I will not stop.

*please note that autism is considered a developmental disability. If you want specific numbers about how many people are living with autism, then I suggest you visit the Autism Society of America or Autism Speaks.

Why am I here? Thoughts on what drove me to the non-profit sector

I tend to spend a lot of my time with my fellow non-profit pros in a networking sense- I am active with YNPNdc and have friends/colleagues in real life and on social media channels that I connect with frequently who are non-profit professionals in a variety of fields, causes, and roles. I recently began branching out my “circle” and going to networking events for my specific field, public relations, and this is when I was confronted with a new kind of “get-to-know-you-question” than those I normally hear with my nonprofit peers and that is, “Why did you decide to go into the non-profit sector?”

I have to admit, sometimes I ask myself this very question. Why did I choose this, over agency work, corporate affairs, public relations in the for-profit world, etc? I certainly find myself thinking of it more when I’m facing a mountain of bills or wishing I could go traveling more often, etc. While my compensation at my organization is incredibly competitive and fair,  I’m not getting rich here, and I’m sure most non-profiteers would agree.

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a seminar and coaching session with the Nonprofit Career Coach, Mark McCurdy, courtesy of a contest I won from the lovely Rosetta Thurman. The seminar’s topic was about “Finding Your Passion” and how to transition into the non-profit sector or obtain employment there, paths to success, etc.  Of the many helpful things shared, one thing stuck out in my mind was the emphasis to “Focus on your mission”. That is, what do you love to do? What brings you joy? Where do your interests lie? Whether it be non-profit or for-profit, I think these are crucial questions to ask yourself when looking at a career path/job. For me, I didn’t set out with this in mind, I just knew that I didn’t want to “work for the man”. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something I felt good about when I left the office and headed home at night.

When I took on my current position, I was leaving a temp job in a defense firm that just did not fit me, at all. Great people, sure, but I hated what I was doing in every sense- from the concept to the daily tasks and goals. I interviewed for my current position and found a great serendipity between what the organization did and what I had experience with. My org. serves people with disabilities- I had an aunt who had worked for the Arc and her personal stories had inspired me, I had worked with children who had developmental disabilities in my experiences a child care professional during college, I had taken a behaviorial disorders class in college…all these things added up to me feeling very attuned to the mission of my org.

My experiences in life, and in this job, have helped me develop my “mission”, and when I move forward someday, I will look to this to help guide my search. Mine goes something like this:

“I believe in equal opportunity and equality for everyone- regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ability, age, and any other category society puts on an individual to quantify them and qualify them. I will strive to make opportunities for those who are not afforded them, make known those opportunities to those who need them most, and make the world see that we cannot, as a society, continue to deprive anyone of equality, equal opportunity, and equal chance at success, happiness, and fulfillment.”

How do you know when you’ve found this? For me, it’s cheesy and simple, but it’s that incredible high I feel when I’ve accomplished something that brings me closer to seeing that mission a reality. I wrote a grant for my org and we were awarded that grant, and now our individuals will have access to recreational opportunities that they have not been afforded due to their disabilties, challenging behavior, and the stigma society has placed on them. I am positively beaming today. That feeling, for me, is why I am here.

Why are you here?

Who I am and what I do

Who I am is finally starting to be a question I know how to definitively answer, and as for what I do…well, that’s still evolving- which is why I am writing this blog!

My name is Ashley, and I am a PR girl on a mission. What my mission is might still be up for debate, but for simplification purposes we’ll say my mission is to be a successful non-profit public relations professional.

I recently graduated college and began my next big project: Life! I graduated from Hollins University in May 2008 and moved my little Florida grown derriere to the closest big city- Washington, D.C. Armed with my liberal arts education and my two closest friends as roommates, I was set to conquer the world!

Well, the world conquering didn’t happen quite the way I planned. After a month of working as a temporary administrative assistant with a rather massive and well-known defense firm, I was starting to lose hope about my world conquering aspirations. And then….

I was hired to do what I actually wanted to do! Public relations! Communications! Development! Hoo-ray! I began working for my current organization,  in late July. What do I do there? Well, let me give you the long and the short of it: I am the Communications Coordinator, so officially I am in charge of creating collateral materials including the newsletter, website, brochures; external and some internal communications such as letters and correspondence; development and fund raising, researching, target, and writing grants; and any other duties that randomly get assigned to me along the way. Unofficially? I’m the one-woman PR/Communications department.

You are probably wondering what my organization does, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of that as well, because it’s going to come up a lot in my blogging. My organization provides services and support to children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. This overall mission/purpose encompasses a large number of programs including residential, supported employment, a school for kids, after-school and summer programs for children, plus social and recreational activities. We are a community-based model, essentially meaning we strive to keep these individuals actively involved in the community- we are not a “center” or institution by any means. This is really fantastic and also really challenging at times, but overall it is a fabulous organization that is doing really amazing things and I’m thrilled to work there.

This blog is going to be my ramblings, stumblings, and general anecdotes on what it is like to be a young public relations professional- I welcome any suggestions, comments, story sharing, advice, or general responses you might have to whatever I may say along the way. 🙂 That’s about it for today- see you next time!