Changing the World from Behind a Desk: Part I

Changing the World from Behind a Desk: Part I

After I graduated from college, I wanted to change the world. Sound familiar? I also thought that in order to change the world, I needed to be on the “front lines” of human services; I definitely didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk at a computer. As a Sociology major, I considered getting my MSW straight out of college— but I wasn’t sure if that was what I really wanted to do. My advisor told me that the worst thing I could do would be to spend a ton of money on grad school and then change my mind. She suggested that I spend a few years working and then make a decision. My school, Goucher College, conveniently held on-campus interviews with several nonprofits in the Baltimore area. I decided to interview for a position with the Catholic Charities of Central Maryland at their group home for emotionally-disturbed, behaviorally-challenged children. After a second interview I was hired as a Child Life Counselor at St. Vincent’s Center.

It was the hardest work I’ve ever done…and I only lasted a year and a half. To sum up my job in one sentence, I’ll just say that I (along with my other co-workers) basically became a parent of twelve 8-12 year-old boys who had been emotionally, sexually, or physically abused (usually all three) by their guardians. These kids had so many behavioral and emotional problems that they could not live in a “normal” home environment. If  you truly understand what these kids have been through, it’s not surprising when they lash out at anyone and everyone they come in contact with from time to time, especially if those people are a substitute for the adults who should have been loving and caring for them, but put them through hell instead. Despite all that, it was also the most rewarding work I have ever done. Seven years later, I still feel pangs of guilt when I think about leaving those boys.

I worked with a number of amazing people at that organization, some of whom had been there for 10-20 years and were still coming to work every day with a smile. (I guess I am not cut from the same cloth as those folks.) When I finally decided that I couldn’t work there much longer, (without it taking a toll on my own mental and emotional health) I wanted to do the right thing and not leave my co-workers hanging.  I told my boss that I was looking for a new job, but I would stick around until I found something. By chance, my boss had just received an email from an old acquaintance looking for an office manager for his startup software company. That old acquaintance happened to be Steve Butz, the founder of Social Solutions.

After I took a look at the Social Solutions website, I was immediately interested. I was happy to see that both my current employer and an organization where I had volunteered during college (House of Ruth Maryland) were on their customer list. I sent in my resume and got a call from Steve the next day asking me to come in for an interview that afternoon. As I mentioned above, my job at the group home was similar to parenting in a number of ways. As a result, I dressed for work accordingly, and was wearing sweatpants, with my hair in a ponytail, and had not showered that morning. Steve wanted me to be there for an interview 30 minutes after I got off work, and their offices were 30 minutes away. I asked for the meeting to be pushed back another 30 minutes and made a mad dash home after work to make myself presentable.

The original office of Social Solutions was in an old broom factory in east Baltimore, and the entrance was down a small side street (with a different address than the one Steve gave me.) So of course, I ended up spending about 15 minutes wandering around the outside of the building, until I stumbled upon a dark walkway with a sketchy door at the end and a call box. In the old days, the first test of applying for a job at Social Solutions was finding the entrance to the building!

My interview was with Adrian Bordone, another one of our founders, and my first boss at Social Solutions (I’ve had seven so far!). I was 23 years old, and this was only the second “real” interview I’d ever had in my life (if that gives you an idea of how things went). When I asked him years later about his first impressions of me, Adrian basically told me that they hired me because they were desperate. I like to think that we were both lucky that they were desperate. During my interview I learned that if hired, I would be the first woman to work for the company. Compared to the twelve boys I worked with at my previous job, I was pretty sure I could handle ten grown men!

I started two weeks later in my new position of Office Manager at Social Solutions. I soon learned that it was possible to change the world from behind a desk. I have plenty of stories to share about the “good old days”, too, so stay tuned!

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