Balancing Work and Giving Back
For me, the joy of giving back started early. As a child, I took my Unicef collection box around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking for coins to feed hungry children. I got really excited if someone stuffed a dollar bill into my collection box! My mother would help me count all my donations, and write one check from her account that we would mail off to UNICEF. I always imagined the children that might benefit from my efforts in some distant land I’d probably never see.
My studies were always important to me. I worked hard to make good grades as well as taking on voluntary academic pursuits like spelling bees and science fairs. Of particular pride was winning both a state spelling bee and state science fair. I studied spelling lists for hours while others were out playing. The sounds of the softball team practicing outside the computer lab as I was designing a state championship winning computer program did not distract me. I still have those trophies today to remind me of the satisfaction of working hard and achieving success.
When the time came to apply to colleges, I packed my bags and headed for the state university. While getting multiple degrees, I often did volunteer work in my community. One of my favorites was providing a better holiday for those in need. I would adopt a family in the community that otherwise would not have a Christmas, and get some friends to help me buy enough presents for everyone. I often wondered what their Christmas morning was like. Did they wait to open all the presents on Christmas morning or did they sneak a few the night before?
After college, I got my first job in Boston. In my early career, work consumed a lot of my time. There were nights I worked until midnight. I was lucky enough to work for one of the most respected market researchers in the business. He insisted on constantly striving for perfection in our craft of market research. He instilled in me a passion for not just getting the job done but getting the job done to the very best of my ability.
While it was not part of my job requirements, he allowed me to work with our statistician to learn statistical modeling skills so I could better engage with our clients. Additionally, I spearheaded the efforts to expand our capabilities in international research, building relationships with agencies that could collect data for us in various countries. He quickly put me in front of clients, giving presentations and leading the day-to-day contact. While I was learning a lot and building my chosen career, I had little time for the volunteer work I’d always enjoyed.
Next, I moved to San Francisco where the long work hours continued. I continued to throw myself into my work, doing international research projects for major clients and expanding my research skills into qualitative methods. My clients were mostly in the technology sector, so I took IT classes to learn to speak their language while conducting in-depth interviews with senior IT staff. I flew all over the world, conducting focus groups and kicking off large quantitative research projects to help companies build the devices on which you may be reading this article.
My next stop was NYC, where I had dream jobs. For nearly ten years, I led all the product development research for HBO, and then, Time Warner Cable. It was such an amazing time to work in media and it gave me a way to combine media with technology, which has always been a passion of mine. My first project was to conduct consumer research that informed the launch of the very first on-demand television platform, HBO on Demand. It is truly amazing to me to see how far that product has evolved.
Upon arriving in NYC, I had reached a level in my career that I did not have to work endless hours. I delivered “Meals on Heels” to elderly shut-ins. Grace Institute gave me an opportunity to work directly with women who had fallen on hard times, often with very low self-esteem, to help them get back in the workforce. I’ve mentored many amazing women through this program with whom I still keep in touch. I always left those events feeling like those women had so much more strength of spirit than I could ever hope to have.
While I’ve lived through some dark days in NYC, including the citywide blackout of 2003, and the tragedy of 9-11, nothing could have prepared me for the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic. The isolation of those darkest days was crippling. Everyone was struggling for ways to connect with others.
Normally, I would be preparing for Slice Out Hunger's $1 Pizza Party, which raises around $75,000 annually for hunger charities in the city. Slice Out Hunger shifted gears to help an effort called Pizza vs. Pandemic. We have collected over $650,000 in donations, and used that money to send pizza to frontline workers. Pizzerias are sourced through Slice, which is a company that connects pizza lovers with small local places, who then, were struggling to pay the rent and keep staff employed. We’ve fed hospital workers, nursing home staff, EMS stations, police, firefighters...anyone who has been putting themselves out there since the beginning to keep us all safe. I would call these frontline workers and arrange the deliveries. While I felt like my efforts paled in comparison to what others were risking as frontline workers, I was grateful for the opportunity to help in a small way.
Careers can sometimes leave you focused on the passions of professional success, causing you to lose sight of the more important things in life. Looking back on mine, I realize it is the times when I have combined my two passions that I have been the happiest. It can be tough to balance all your priorities, but making the time to connect with others that are less fortunate than ourselves is always a reward worth the effort.