Two years ago today, my passion project turned into my full-time job. I came on as the National Executive Director and first staff person of Swipes for the Homeless, now known as Swipe Out Hunger.
I have overseen a number of milestones over the past two years– our name change, our first national conference, our east coast launch, the serving of our 1 millionth meal, hiring of our second staff person and depositing of a few checks, large and small checks.
I was 21 years old on my first official day. I spent my first two weeks rewriting our organization’s bylaws as they barred anyone from getting paid (thanks, Bryan). I can still feel the enthusiasm that carried me through that first day as I sat in the window seat of the Starbucks on Ventura Boulevard and Louise Ave. It is the same energy I feel in my heart at this moment and have felt every day since.
I am almost overwhelmed by the thought that I found a position that is so deeply fulfilling that in the fragility of youth, has lasted so long.
The lump in my throat agrees.
When I took on this role, part of the excitement was the chance to have this new experience–to live the entrepreneurial journey. What mitigated the risk was the desire to build something of value that could have a lasting impact beyond my time with the organization. I know that both of these have manifested.
I began writing this in an effort to extract and share all that I’ve learned through these two pressure-cooker years. I totally thought I’d have a list of “9 lessons for every start-up nonprofit.” Instead, I wrote about my moments of inspirations, most importantly from our eighty (and growing) student leaders who make our program happen every day. On the other side of the scale, I replayed the dismissive or belittling words I’ve been told, these too I have to carry. How easy it was for me to stay in this space of negativity.
At one point in this journey, I became hung up on the word convictions. I would ask– how could anyone at the age of 21 be so sure of something? As sure as a judge or jury (who has done their due diligence) is as they convict someone with a crime. I struggled with the word because I wanted to have convictions, I wanted to hold a belief so firmly that I could stand up and without hesitation act because of it. They say one must practice conviction as they execute their business’ strategy but if there is anything I credit Swipes’ success with, it is how constantly questioning were and continue to be. It was in 2009 when UCLA’s administration asked Swipes’ founders to stop the program that our group put all convictions aside and asked, “Well, how can we have this program exist?” It was this flexibility that led to our current model and far more efficient model. It was when our students, on their own initiative, began donating their collected swipes to their homeless/hungry peers on campus that the UC Office of the President heard of our program asked us how they could have Swipe Out Hunger on every one of their campuses. It was when we put our own assumptions aside and encouraged our students to out innovate us that our program reached its highest points. Those moments are the most joyful.
It was in writing this that I realized I’ve been a hypocrite– that I have had convictions all along. I firmly believe that everyone can see themselves as a leader. I believe that a group of committed young people can influence decades old campus policies. I do hold many convictions. What blinded me from realizing this before is that these convictions are so deeply held that nothing would stop me from acting on them– this is where our flexibility came from.
As I and our organization mark this point in time, I only hope that I’m so stubborn in my convictions that I continue to be so flexible, giving and open.
Finally, I am grateful for you, my community, who continues to share your enthusiasm with me. That initial wide eyed response of “that just makes so much sense” reminds me why our program exists and it is often what carries me through the day. There are literally one hundred people whom should be thanked, but today is just another day in the office and I’ve got a phone call with a student in 5 minutes. You know who you are and I hope you do not need a blogpost shoutout to be proud of what you’ve helped create. Happy 2nd anniversary to me.