The welcome meeting for Octane’s Nonprofit Accelerator Program (NPA) was two days before our nonprofit, Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano (SJC), had to move all programming online after several local schools closed in response to the spread of COVID-19. I started to second-guess whether, amidst the immense uncertainty of the pandemic and our organization’s need to pivot quickly to address the changing environment that it was the right time to participate in the program.
I had jubilantly applied to NPA a few months earlier, knowing that it would be an invaluable experience for our organization. We support students, mostly from low-income backgrounds who will be the first in their families to attend college starting in middle school through their graduation from college. We provide 10-years of academic support, college counseling, and career readiness for 330 students from San Juan Capistrano and surrounding cities. Our vision is to increase the number of college graduates from underrepresented backgrounds, create the future college-educated workforce, and ultimately break the cycle of poverty. I am a first-generation college graduate too who was a teen parent and came from a low-income background, so I can attest to the value and importance of our vision. Without my college degree, I wouldn’t be the Executive Director of Breakthrough SJC today.
Now, I was at a crossroads: undergo this intensive yet rewarding experience or focus on the reeling effect of the pandemic on our students, families, and community. In early surveys we sent to our families, over 80% expressed losing one or more jobs; many were experiencing immense food insecurity. Nevertheless, I am happy I stayed. In the end, it allowed Breakthrough SJC to better address the pain and suffering of our families.
Participating in NPA was both personally and professionally gratifying and helped advance Breakthrough SJC’s mission and vision. An organization and individuals can only grow through intentional learning and meaningful feedback. It’s a challenging experience.
I was up late at night preparing before my first presentation to Octane’s team, a dedicated group of professionals focused on making Breakthrough SJC and me better.
I was nervous. I turned on my laptop and made sure my webcam was connected and logged into our first meeting. The timer started, and I had 20-minutes to present about Breakthrough SJC. As I looked into the webcam explaining our mission, program model, and more, I keep thinking about how this experience, as nerve wracking as it was, would make me a better advocate and ambassador for our program.
When my time was up, we spent another 40-minutes on feedback, questions, and comments. That was an essential part of the experience. It’s never easy to get feedback, but growth is only possible with feedback. Afterward, I had time to incorporate the feedback and prepare for my next presentation in a few weeks.
That cycle went on for a few months; a deliberate and intentional iterative process of presenting, getting feedback, incorporating the feedback, and doing it again. The experience included participating in sessions with external experts and evaluators and peer-to-peer learning among the cohort of nonprofit participants. All intended for growth and edification.
Each session, each presentation, and each opportunity to engage with the members of Octane and fellow participants was an opportunity to become better. Personally, it also served as a moment to step away from the uncertainty that the pandemic was creating. I’m happy that I decided to stay, I’m grateful for being able to participate, and I know that future NPA participants will feel the same.