WHO IS KATHLEEN CRONAN?
Kathleen Cronan is Executive Director of Earthlinks, a Denver, Colorado non-profit organization that provides a paid-work program offering low-income and homeless people an opportunity to learn skills and create eco-friendly products, which are sold to support the program. She has extensive experience working with Denver’s nonprofit community, both as a volunteer and in various leadership roles, and in addition, has practiced law for more than 30 years in the Denver area.
You can connect with Kathleen here:
IN TOR 018 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Earthlinks, a local Denver initiative to engage the homeless in productive activities and community conversations.
- Kathleen’s reasons for her pet peeve with pushing a business mindset into the nonprofit world as it can be dangerously simplistic; particularly when it comes to the complex personal problem of homelessness.
- Her philosophy of staying small, persevere despite the hard odds of long lasting help, and trying her best to place people into equal levels
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Social justice
- Self worth
- Community integration
- Business language and mindset
- Support networks
- Denver, CO
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Becoming director of Earthlinks
Always interested in social justice issues.
Law practitioner, 30 years close to social issues, disenfranchised.
Her son committed suicide at 19. “It opened an opportunity for me to think about nonprofit work.“
Directed a Denver based homelessness nonprofit for 3 years.
’09 lead Earthlink.
17 years, servicing the homeless, making them build products for sale. Very small. Difficult for some people, set of rules are not easy to follow by them.
Products work as introduction to engage in talks about the people behind them. Labor is valuable. Talks highlight the mission, sometimes drive donation.
“It’s about all of us together.“
Sales force is voluntary, they organize home sales.
“There is some embarrassment attached.” People feel judged for being homeless.
“We’re maxed out“. About 70 people on staff a year. “We have seen a lot more requests.“
Business focus for nonprofits
Nonprofits have larger challenges. Businesses are left alone as long as there are profits, while harsher demands are imposed on nonprofits. Paradoxically talks about applying a business mindset to nonprofits proliferate.
Homeless people face more than one challenge when it comes to job enrollment and integration to society. It’s not just skills, or psychological assistance, or sanitation.
They do lack a support network which might be related to their issues. “We rely on each other constantly.“
Those kinds of outcomes have never been the focus of businesses. “I agree nonprofits need to be organized and move forward, but I resent [the push towards a business perspective].“
“We never know how far the ripples go.“
“We try to find a sense of community in highly disenfranchised people.“
People often come to Earthlinks with a complete feeling of worthlessness.
Earthlinks work on those ideas of worth, the value of skill and creativity, finding things to do that make people feel good.
There are behavioral issues, but ways to sort it out. “One man could not sit through a meeting. But he had amazing composting skills. So he is valued by his contribution.“
The rest of the community is invited, it’s an opportunity to have all participants on a conversation on equal levels.
“I fail pretty much every day.“
People do different things at the workshop. A person was working on jewelry, guided by an expert volunteer. But inventory was not moving. Kathleen asks them to stop. A woman gets upset, felt hurt and left and did not come back for weeks. “I said I was sorry.“
There are some good stories but there are lots of cases in which being on the activities made no difference. “There is always fear towards the disadvantaged.” But once volunteers allow themselves to engage and see each other as equal, work flows.
“Keep your mouth shut.” Listen and learn.
“Open up, be able to have conversations about hard issues,” even if this delays practical solutions
“Understand processes and how to design them.“
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
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