#IamNonprofitReady featuring Heather Brown from Starfish Family Services

October 30, 2014Alec Green

Heather Brown is a Program Manager at Starfish Family Services, a community-based nonprofit serving vulnerable children and families in metropolitan Detroit. Heather has spent her entire career in the nonprofit sector, focusing on the areas of community mental health, juvenile justice, community services, and family work.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Heather about her career, her role at Starfish, and what inspires her to develop new skills and take on new responsibilities.

Tell us more about Starfish Family Services

Founded in 1963, Starfish Family Services is a private, nonprofit agency serving vulnerable children and families in metropolitan Detroit. Starfish is a leading provider of early childhood development and parenting programs, children’s mental health services, after-school programs, and an emergency shelter for teens and youth in crisis. We have more than a dozen programs at service sites throughout metropolitan Detroit, 400 employees, and a $20 million dollar budget that serves more than 10,000 at-risk children and families each year.

Starfish believes in investing early in the lives of families to keep them intact. We strive to prevent problems before they escalate and help strengthen relationships to build solid families that work. We believe in the potential of all children and the power of healthy parent-child relationships to break the cycles of poverty and create long-term positive outcomes for children.

How has your role there changed?

I’ve worked in nonprofit social work for 20+ years, all in the Detroit area. For the past 3 years at Starfish, I have run our Center for Family Success, which is a program we created to help parents and caregivers establish meaningful goals for themselves.  My day-to-day responsibilities have revolved around supervising staff, managing budgets, networking with other professionals, and building relationships with the families we serve, our staff, community members, and volunteers.  Recently, I’ve been focusing less on these traditional programmatic responsibilities and have been working on a new framework to expand our engagement with parents across the agency.

How have you managed that transition?

I’ve really needed to take a longer-term focus to my work.  It’s very different from my programming, which tends to revolve more around day-to-day management of people, budgets, and tasks.  In my new role, we’re really trying to create this new model and framework for the agency.  It’s very intense and I felt like getting some additional training on project management might help me to think about where to start, how to break all the requirements up into discrete tasks, and determine  if I’m on track with my current approach. I learned about NonprofitReady.org through our monthly newsletter, signed up, and browsed the catalog for project management courses. In the past, I have taken training on creating budgets, grant writing, and operations. This was the first time I took any type of project management course.

What are your impressions of NonprofitReady.org so far?

I’ve taken 6-7 hours worth of training and found it to be really helpful. I’m the kind of person that is always trying to find free or low-cost training. Every year I need to get a certain number of Continuing Education Units to keep my license current. But I also seek out professional development courses -- either because I’m interested in the topic or because it will help me in my job.  In the past, some of the in-person training courses I have attended were okay but not worth the money. I really like how with NonprofitReady.org I can take training when it’s most convenient that all the courses are free.

NonprofitReady.org seems like a really good resource for new managers.  Unfortunately, very few nonprofits are able to offer courses  to new supervisors.  People may get promoted because they are good at their job, but may not have any experience actually managing people.  The courses on having difficult conversations and becoming a first-time manager would be really valuable to anyone making that transition.

What keeps you motivated to seek out these new challenges?

I have always liked working with families, especially the parents. Anyone who has been a parent knows that we all need support sometimes, so I know how critical it is that these types of programs exist. To be honest, I never imagined myself having a corporate job. Working in the nonprofit sector is not without its challenges, but the personal rewards have always made it worthwhile.

Thank you for sharing your story Heather! Learn how Starfish Family Services is strengthening families to create brighter futures for children in the Detroit Area  by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Know someone else that should be featured in our #IamNonprofitReady series? Leave a comment or send an email!

About Alec Green

As Chief Marketing Evangelist, Alec Green is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners... more


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