June 27, 2011

advice from my mom

I turn 25 next week and have been a health literacy trainer since the ripe age of 23. Just writing that sentence is liberating. In my job, I feel like I am constantly avoiding any discussion about my age or "credentials." Healthcare providers are incessantly asking me how old I am and what my background is. To them, 25 is the same as 23, and 23 is the same as 18. At least that's how it feels to me when I walk into a room of established healthcare providers who have been taking care of their patients for more years than I have age. And credentials...well, I have my B.A. I double-majored and did two internships abroad. Both things I'm very proud of, but when everyone else in the room has an MD, RN or MPH...well, my BA is something I'd rather keep tucked away.

But c'est la vie! I'm 25 (wait, 24!) and don't have any degrees above a BA...judge me if you will, doc. But I'm also a damn good trainer (excuse my french). And in my two years of researching health communication, patient-centered care, patient-empowerment, yada yada yda, I've become a subject matter expert. And in our research-based, half-day workshops that teach healthcare providers about the prevalence of low health literacy and their role in improved communication with patients, the providers learn A LOT! 96% of providers who attended our workshop reported increase awareness and knowledge of health literacy, and learned at least 3 communication interventions that they planned to utilize with their patients. I think those numbers are something to call home about.

So that's what I did. I talked to my mom about the ageism hangups I was experiencing and, per usual, she had some great advice for me.

"You have a unique knowledge, this health literacy thing that you do. It's obviously important and will help the doctors provide better care for their patients...maybe even save lives. If you go into the trainings with the mindset of, 'I have this knowledge that you all don't, and it's my duty to share it with you.' Then your age won't matter. You've studied this stuff because they don't have time to. And you're sharing it with them because you know it's important...and they'll learn that it's important."

Thanks, mom!

June 24, 2011

Interview Tips....

Literacy AmeriCorps Central Texas begins in September and I have been in full swing planning mode since January.  In the last two months we have had nearly 300 applicants, conducted more than 80 interviews (a few more scheduled), and I have absolutely loved getting to know all of these terrific individuals that are interested in serving in AmeriCorps!  I have learned a lot about myself and the millennial generation throughout this process. People I’ve talked to throughout the last few months have introduced me to new ideas and sometimes just new music!  The creativity, passion for service and engagement of these applicants has been obvious. As you can imagine the interviewing process – recruitment, review, interview, assessment, matching, etc has taken up the majority of my day time hours in the last two months so I have a few tips for folks that find themselves interviewing out there.

First off CONGRATS to all the new graduates out there!! I remember the elation from that time in my life, and the anxiety that quickly followed as I started searching for a job. In this tough economy I can’t imagine what you are all experiencing and I hope that this will help someone out there… I have a few tips I have been mentally collecting over the last few months for job seekers:
  1. Remember that you are a perfect fit for some agency/corporation out there. If you don’t get the first, second, third, or even eighteenth job you interview for - continue to go on interviews with your head held high.  You are learning something new at every interview. You will be better prepared at each and every interview….

  2. LOOK PROFESSIONAL. The interview is your first and sometimes only chance to make a good impression. People that show up to an interview looking disheveled don’t leave the interviewer with a sense of confidence in your professionalism. Show your interviewer how confident you are by looking them straight in the eye dressed appropriately – slacks, appropriate length skirts, nothing to tight or revealing. Don’t wear jeans – no matter what, no matter where. Don’t wear tennis shoes. Wear something that you are comfortable in but be classy folks!  Carry a lint roller in your car – get the dog/cat hair off of you on the way in! Iron your clothes whether you think they need it or not!  Sit up straight, don’t slouch … it will wrinkle your clothes!

  3. Interviewers CAN SEE YOU on Skype. Make sure that you have something behind you that is blank or appropriate (i.e. beer signs and pictures of your friends doing a beer bong are a bad idea for interview backgrounds). Dress up for your Skype interview, at least waist up. Showing up to a Skype interview in your PJ’s is not winning you any points!

  4. BE ON TIME.  Don’t arrive too early. When someone is conducting interviews, particularly for multiple positions schedules are tight.  If you get there more than 20 minutes early wait in your car. Arrive no more than 5-10 minutes early for your interview.

  5. Know what you have to offer. Be prepared for all the basic questions – “What can you offer to us?", “What is your strength/weakness?”… Know how you plan to answer these basic questions.

  6. Take time answering questions and give depth. It's better to answer slowly, accurately and with detail than it is to go on and on or add "umm", “you know”, and "like" in between every word. Give examples, even when people don’t ask – but especially when they do!

  7. Don't wear perfume. I am personally highly allergic to a lot of perfumes, as others are and in a small office sometimes even a little is overpowering. There were a few interviews that I had a horrible headache by the time my interviewee left the office because of the perfume in the air.  Take a shower, be clean and don’t smoke on your way in to the interview. Just smell naturally nice!

  8. RESEARCH the place you are interviewing with. When someone walks in for an interview and knows NOTHING about your company/agency it does not leave the impression that they really want to be there. Know everything you can about the place that you can – Google them, look for their partners, know what the job is and the programs that they offer. Study for this like you study for a test in college to make a good impression.

  9. Have questions. Along with doing your research, you should have questions about the job and about the supervision prepared. Candidates who don’t ask questions also come across as unprepared and unengaged. Questions show interest, prove again that you did your research and help to make sure that the position is a good fit for you.  Not having questions communicates you don’t have any interest in the company and are just looking for a paycheck.  If you have no specific questions make sure you have good general questions like “What would be the three major goals in this position,” or “What are some qualities of successful people at your group?”  Sometimes interviewers are more impressed with a candidate based on the questions that they ask rather than the answers that they give… if you walk in with good, insightful questions and show them that you did your research they will remember you when you walk out the door.

  10. Closings are not just for realtors and lawyers. When you think about it an interview is about selling yourself.  You want to be a good sales person – be the closer!  Your goal for an interview is to get a job, or at least move to the next round so don’t walk out (or hang up) until you have made your final pitch. Ask what the next steps in the process are and what the decision-making timelines might be.  Reiterate your interest in the position and why you are a good fit!
I sincerely hope that this helps someone out there looking for a position right now! I wish you the best of luck and just want you to remember - know what you want and where you are!

June 20, 2011

Derailed by thieves

Devastating news lurked in my inbox this morning. One of the Literacy Coalition's partners will have to shut down indefinitely due to vandalism and theft. The air conditioning units at the Austin Public Library's Ruiz branch were destroyed by vandals over the weekend leaving the library without A/C units. Why anyone would want to derail the wonderful services our libraries provide to the community is beyond me. Clearly the vandals have never taken advantage of the library's open door policy, welcoming anyone in the community in need of its services. They've never met the wonderful, often volunteer-driven staff that dedicate their time and energy to answering questions, promoting local programs, checking out books, meeting members of the community, and helping to provide computer and internet access. An awareness is missing that by forcing a library to close, the vandals are hurting their very own community! There's nothing quite so satisfying as stepping in to a cool library on a hot Texas afternoon and sitting down to read in a quiet corner. What an unnecessary tragedy this is! Our thoughts go out to our wonderful friends and partners at the Ruiz branch.

June 14, 2011

Fragile fund raising for fragile families

Yesterday evening I participated in a panel discussion at the University of Texas. There were for of us; all Executive Directors of local non-profits. One non-profit has a very large client population of families that were very affluent. His fundraising efforts looked VERY different from mine. He was able to go to the users of his services, appeal to their inside knowledge and appreciation for the value of those services, and raise millions of dollars from the very families the agency services. I have a starkly different perspective- I am trying to raise funds to support a very vulnerable, often very silent, invisible population that has little to no financial means available to donate to a non-profit. Low literate parents most often work one in very low-paying jobs, barely making ends meet, unable to afford clothing for their kids, a night at the movies, or a sports uniform for team sports. I cannot ask them to donate to our cause. I have to ask other families to try to understand their struggle, and the fragile nature of their existence, and donate on their behalf. And I undertake my fund raising efforts with very fragile, meager resources, because I work for a relatively small non-profit. I can't afford a massive staff to run a capital campaign or multi-million dollar planned giving initiative. Each day my team and I devote our very limited time to try to raise tens of thousands of dollars for a multi-million dollar problem. But miraculously, we're doing it. By very strategically allocating our time and attention, we've been able to secure hundreds of thousands of NEW dollars for literacy programs in 2011 alone. It's a fragile, but amazingly effective effort. And I'm so proud to be a part of it.

June 13, 2011

Test Your Knowledge of Health Reform

Who's read the full Affordable Care Act? … That’s what I thought.

We’ve now got a Public Health Intern at the Coalition, so we’re looking forward to getting his expertise in this area out to the community! Until then, here’s a 10-question quiz to assess your understanding of recent health care legislation. The tool even ranks your performance against the rest of the nation! Come on… You know you’re curious!

What was your score? Were you surprised? Let us know!

June 2, 2011

Now go, develop for us!

A few months ago, our talented Development Officer moved on from LCCT. It was a sad time for us and we missed her (self-proclaimed) snarkyness around the office. On top of missing her personality, we gravely missed her high-quality development work. But rather than stretching our budget to hire a new development employee, we decided it would be best to split her roles (and they were many!) between a few of us here at LCCT.

Here's how my initial development meeting went down...

"So Peter (who admittedly has very minimal development experience), how would you like to take on the role of event manager, individual giving cultivation (huh, what's that!?!), and health literacy grants writing and management?"

"Umm, yeah that sounds good. Thanks." (Peter immediately heads to his computer to Google "Individual giving cultivation" and spends the following nights reading books on "The Benevon Model.")

Well, maybe it wasn't that simple...I mean, I did have a bit more to say than "umm, yeah that sounds good." But walking away from the meeting I felt like I was in a whirlwind trying to wrap my head around the new roles.

It's been a sharp learning curve (that I'm still in the midst of!), and my first big event is coming up this Sunday. It's called Literacy on Tap and it's going to be a friggin blast! It's an invite-only event (ooo la la!) and we're going to have live music, free appetizers from Zax, free beer from Jester King and Live Oak Breweries, and lots of word games. All is coming together these last few days before the event and (the purpose of this blog post) I have collaboration to thank for it.

Although I came into this position feeling a bit nervous about my new jobs, I was fully supported by colleagues, board members and volunteers. Take the Literacy on Tap planning committee for example, our planning committee is comprised of a development coworker and our ED, two members of our board of directors (one of which is the chair), and three highly committed volunteers (who happen to be two close friends of mine and my gf). This eclectic group coalesced and planned the most successful event in LCCT history! Well, that's a bit of stretch considering the event hasn't even taken place yet, but I can say that with only three more days to prepare I'm feeling very calm and stress-free. I'm confident it'll be a great event.

I've been with the Literacy Coalition for 2 years now and I've come to realize that it's the collaborative effort on projects and unending support that allows me to really love my job. I know that on any given day I can reach out to colleagues, board members, volunteers and community members for guidance and collaboration, and they'll be there without hesitation.