You became Associate Director of Reconciliation Services in March 2016. Describe your path to accepting the position. It started one cold fall day back in the late 80s when I visited 31st and Troost with my stepfather. I was 12 years old. We were helping to clear out junk from a building that Father Alexii had purchased for his new ministry to the poor, which eventually became Reconciliation Services. I remember being on the 4th floor of the same building that RS still operates in today. There were phones, note pads, pens, and files covered in the ghostly dust of abandonment. Twenty years of absence had left the building looking like a neglected patient with bedsores - deterioration was everywhere. I remember it felt like we were helping someone prepare for a new adventure, to make the world a better place.
Soon after, Father Alexii and his wife Matushka Mikeala moved into the RS building at 31st and Troost. They began serving and living in relationship with a community that was disenfranchised and separated in their own city. I learned from them that relationship is the seed of reconciliation. It’s relationship that anchors our organization’s name and our mission to this day.
The time spent visiting 31st and Troost Avenue as a kid ultimately informed my career choices. It still fuels my hope for reconciliation today, not just locally here at RS, but nationally and even globally. Our team at RS is on the front lines of some of the most difficult issues in our country, and there is no shortage of important work to be done. It is exciting, rewarding work, and no two days are the same.
Are you living in community as Father Alexii and Matushka Mikeala did? I could only hope to attain the example that they set, but I have intentionally chosen to live in Midtown. I live just off Troost Avenue. My neighborhood, 49/63, was formed in 1970 as a response to the racially restrictive housing practices during that time. It was one of the first neighborhoods in the country to form its boundaries across a racial dividing line—Troost Avenue—in an attempt to intentionally integrate the community. The mission of reconciliation is very personal to me.
How does your past work relate to your visionary work for RS? I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose in everything I’ve pursued. I studied business administration as an undergraduate. Then, five years into my career, I realized I wanted to understand the world beyond the corporate walls where I worked. I wanted to know what made the world tick. I wanted answers to the questions of power, injustice, and inequality. I returned to school for a graduate degree in political science and focused my studies on international politics and development. This led to work in policy research and evaluation, public health advocacy, and nonprofit healthcare management. Throughout the last 13 years of my career, I’ve derived purpose from work that has an end goal of making the world a better place—work that improves the lives of people who are struggling to get by. Our vision for the people we serve at RS is that they find dignity, strength and solutions they need to build a vibrant community together--in short, reconciliation.
Practically, how will your previous experience serve the clients who to come to RS? I’ve served Kansas City’s east side since 2008. I started by volunteering at The Hope Center as a youth mentor. They wanted to start a neighborhood health clinic in partnership with College Park Family Care, and I was recruited to assist with the start up efforts. I helped with the research, the business plan, and grant applications. The clinic—Hope Family Care Center—officially opened in 2010 as a part-time, volunteer run effort, and quickly grew. I was asked to join the staff in 2011 and eventually became Executive Director. Around the same time Father Alexii invited me to join the RS Board. I accepted and served on the board for 6 years. Many of Hope’s patients are the same clients who are served at RS, so joining the RS staff was a natural fit.
Tell me more about the values that inform the working practice at RS. RS is a place that was founded on the idea of reconciliation. This means a strong sense of community pervades our work and our facility. Our desire is that all who walk through our doors feel welcomed and respected, whether they are coming in for resources to get diabetes supplies, or if they just want to hang out and have a cup of coffee and use the computers in the café.
We believe that relationship develops trust, which can open up a number of possibilities leading to healing and empowerment. For instance, if a client comes in for help to get a new state-issued ID, they will likely take our digital survival computer class. This might lead to a conversation with Father Chris, who runs our staffing agency, which could lead to a job. The client might also be referred to our Clinical Therapist, who could plug her into group or individual therapy here at RS. We have seen people go through this process and literally change over time. They come through on the other side in an entirely new place, with a new state of mind and a new positive approach to life. Clinically this approach to case management could be called our continuum of care, which begins with respect and views someone through a lens that sees their strengths. Essentially our desire at RS is to create a culture of veneration.
Veneration of others, which at its core is reverence or a deep respect, is a lofty goal, and a daily challenge. For me personally, veneration reminds me to slow down and be present, to empathize with the person who sits in front of me. The practice of veneration challenges me to listen deeply and consider other approaches or responses. It’s an approach based on dialogue and conversation, which can lead to mutual respect. This approach might take more time, but ultimately it can lead to better results, and everyone who participates can become better as a result.
Fr. Justin Matthews, our Executive Director, has identified veneration as the 'why' of what we do at RS. The essence of veneration fuels our vision and mission, and it informs our philosophy of leadership. My personal leadership style begins with communication. For me, veneration begins with communication, whether verbal or nonverbal. This means I continually strive for honest, transparent, and proactive communication in all of my leadership functions and in my personal life. I also work for transparency as a leader. Transparency is critically important when leading groups of other leaders and when we set the direction of our team or organization. People need to have the opportunity to buy in and they deserve to be valued and respected. I believe that sharing information appropriately and in a timely manner is pivotal to transparency. Integrity is also critically important as a leader, which means that our actions line up with what we say. This can be hard in practice, because it forces all of us to slow down and choose our words more carefully, but it is a key component of trust, whether in working with our co-workers or with our clients at RS.