When the stars aligned

Tena Hahn Rodriguez – Director of Strategic Partnerships
Five years ago, I volunteered to be an advisor at Inclucity. I had heard about the program for years and always wanted to go, but I was a bartender and taking an entire weekend off was impossible. Finally, the stars aligned, and I was excited to volunteer. I was in a transition phase of my life; having just completely switched gears and gone back to school to study non-profit administration. I had recently gone through an extremely painful breakup with a lifetime friend and business partner, and I was searching for my purpose all over again. I had applied at a few non-profit jobs, even tried to intern, but being a non-traditional student, I wasn’t having any luck.

“Camp” was fast and furious, and there was a lot of dancing so I felt right at home. I don’t remember every aha moment that weekend, but I do remember sitting on the stairs in Hotel Theo, looking around, and thinking I want to do this with my life. I met a delegate that weekend that I immediately connected with, who still inspires me every day. My bunkmate still house sits for us. I laughed with volunteers and watched young people transform from shy and reserved to loud and proud. Then we got an ice storm and camp ended early. The notorious “half camp” was just the right amount of time, I couldn’t imagine one more day because I was completely exhausted.

Six months later, I started at Inclusive Communities as a program associate, working 30 hours a week and getting to run Inclucity. I got to shadow one camp, before things changed and then I was running the show as a Program Partner. What I learned, is that if you let young people show you the way amazing things happen. The organization shifted again, and I became the Senior Program Partner, and took on more responsibility around business programming. I learned Omaha Table Talk and assisted in some larger projects. I always felt supported and encouraged to push back and lead up.

Enter COVID, and again the shift brought a need for more processes around business programming. As the Business Development Manager, I had the privilege of helping build out the work others had started and invest in the sustainability of business programming. If someone would have told me in 2019 that I would be facilitating workshops in my living room, I would not have believed them, and here we are.

I worked to move LeadDIVERSITY online halfway through our first year, and then saw the demand for leadership development continue to grow in our second and third years. Our work is needed now more than ever. My transition into the Director of Strategic Partnerships is us starting to identify who is ready to do this work with us and in what ways. How can we lead businesses into becoming co-conspirators in equity? How can organizations leverage their collective power and make changes? How can we provide those opportunities for other organizations who want to make a commitment to improving their communities?

I don’t have all the answers, and I think asking the intentional questions is far more important. What I know is that when something sets your heart on fire you must go for it. I have made amazing friends in this team; I have learned immeasurable lessons. I have learned more about how to mentor and invest in young people and empower their voices.

I’m grateful that Inclusive Communities took a chance on me. I hope other folks can come to this work and this organization through volunteering or however their stars align.
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