Monthly Archives: May 2019

Self-care is mission first.


As nonprofit professionals, we work hard to serve our clients and care for the mission. On the flip side, are we doing enough to care for ourselves?

A few of our colleagues would like to share what they do to stay positive, healthy and energetic. “How do I restore my most basic natural resource—myself,” asks Jennifer Moran, leadership director at the Evanston Community Foundation. Find out how she and five other changemakers sustain their well-being.

How do I restore my most basic natural resource, myself?  I am not sure I do the best that I could, but there are places and spaces and activities which do fill me with peace of mind. I love to cook. The preparation is my meditation. As I curate a meal,  I think about a part of the world I would like to know better through the food.  Each culture has a “comfort” food so I start there.  It could be a savory Pho, a spicy Korean pancake, or the best homemade Matzo ball; it is the process that allows me to focus and create. Every sense is involved and I love it. The end result requires a beautiful table and honest conversation to honor the effort. It is the moment where my family and guests will enjoy the flavors, the textures and the sharing that comes from sitting together in a circle.   The entire experience is what makes me feel joy.
— Jennifer Moran, Evanston Community Foundation

We owe to ourselves to take time to relax and recharge to maintain the focus and energy that drives our commitment to the important work of the nonprofit sector.  I personally find exercise, time with family and friends, and catching up on a few favorite TV shows are just what I need!
— Andreason Brown, Spencer Foundation

I read a great deal during the course of the day.  I also respond to approximately 300 emails a day.  Many nonprofit managers are awash in information, phone calls, emails, tweets, and meetings all day.  In order to relax and lower my stress level, I concentrate on my breathing while enjoying a strenuous workout. I sometimes take a walk along the lakefront and look at the water lapping the shore while thinking about nothing else. Sitting on a park bench in a remote area lets me concentrate on a bird formation in the distance until the birds are out of view. I enjoy visualizing a happy experience and thinking about it from start to finish: the best meal from salad to dessert especially a pint of my favorite ice cream, the first time falling in love and embracing that person. Whenever I can, I close my eyes and meditate, pray, or think a kind thought.
— Joanne E. Howard, Ph.D., Illinois Institute of Technology

Learning to value my personal time has been the best way for me to stay positive and energetic while working in the nonprofit sector. For me, relaxing and recharging can be as simple as saying “no” or taking time off. I know I’m not at my best when I’m stressed and exhausted, and I’m not doing anyone any favors if the quality of my work depreciates as a result. Knowing when to take a break and step away makes me a better me – personally and professionally. It’s easy to feel guilty about declining a meeting or taking a vacation, but sometimes you gotta do you.
— Carlos A. Trejo, Marillac St. Vincent Family Services

For me, mindfulness apps have been a lifesaver in terms of helping to create a calm space in my day. Even if I only have a few minutes for a guided meditation, that’s usually enough to help me find some peace of mind.
— Erika Gryniewicz, Heartland Alliance

Like many of my colleagues, it can be a real challenge to find time to unwind.  Thanks to my Mom, I grew up learning how to cook and, especially, enjoy preparing dinner now for an always enthusiastic, supportive and appreciative husband – no matter what’s on the table! Is there anything more fulfilling than sharing time with friends and family over delicious, homemade food?  I think that’s what compels me to strive so hard at Care for Real to ensure our clients have the same opportunity.
— Lyle Allen, Care for Real

It’s now your turn to share. What do you do to relax, recharge, and return to action with renewed spirit?

(Real) Thoughts on Wellness

abstract art watercolor painting human meditating calm peace design hand drawn

Guest post by Jemilah Senter

A lot of people, myself included, subscribe to the notion that to love and care for others, we must first love and care for ourselves. Yet in practice, it seems that many of us, particularly in the mission-driven sector, can be rather neglectful when it comes to focusing on self-care, likely because we expend so much effort in caring for and supporting others.

Imagine that you are speaking with a client who you know could benefit from some words of encouragement. However, at that moment you are personally feeling quite negative, stressed, and otherwise not particularly positive. How difficult it is for you to make (fake) your way through that conversation? Think about how much easier that conversation would be if you felt positive and encouraged in your own skin. I think most would agree that it is much easier to project—to authentically project—positivity when you yourself are feeling positive.  

In theory it seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, it takes a lot of intentional thought, discipline, time, and often change. In other words, you must commit to self-care, and you must act on that commitment. 

To help my overall well-being, I eat (relatively) healthy and I exercise (somewhat) regularly. I have a membership at a fitness club but when I can’t make it I don’t beat myself up about it. Instead I try to get active in another way. Sometimes that’s finding a workout on YouTube that fits the amount of time I can spend. Other times I may take a walk, and other times I simply let it go with the knowledge that missing a workout or two here and there isn’t going to put me in the grave. 

I also strive to maintain work-life balance. In my role, the work is literally never ending, I can’t think of a time that I’ve been truly “caught up” with nothing to do at work. But I know that to be well, I can’t regularly bring work home or let my growing to-do list give me anxiety and keep me up at night. The work will be there, but if I let the stress pile on, I may not. So, I do what I can, attempt to prioritize, manage expectations, and accept that I can’t do it all. 

Finally, and probably most importantly, I live by the mantra “work hard, play twice as hard”. For me, that means spending time with friends and family, devoting thought and energy to my hobbies, and volunteering to make a difference for others outside of work.

Jemilah Senter is Director of Marketing and Communications at Illinois Action for Children, a nonprofit working to ensure that every child in Illinois — particularly those in need — have access to the resources to succeed in school and in life. Jemilah can be reached at