Monday, June 15, 2015

My Experience With LA Fellows by Jen Johnson, Cohort 11

This special guest post is from a recent graduate of the program, Jen Johnson. She volunteered to speak at one of our recent orientations to let prospective applicants know how the program can change lives. Jen agreed to let us post her story here.

Why I applied to LA Fellows
        I applied to LA Fellows because I was at an impasse career-wise.  I was burned out and a little lost. I had been pursuing acting during the day and waiting tables at night for about 7 years.  I was making great money and enjoying my life, for the most part.
         Then I had a milestone birthday. My friends and family began asking me what my long term plan was and when I was going to get a "real job."  I started to get really down on myself.
        I suddenly wanted something more out of my  work  life. One night at the restaurant, a gentleman at one of my tables ordered swordfish and he didn't get the tartar sauce that was supposed to come with it.  He went off on me.  He lost his temper and was yelling at me so loudly that other tables were staring, trying to figure out what the commotion was about.  As I stood there being berated by this stranger, I thought, "Wow.  With all the things in the world to get upset over, this guy chooses to become irate over some missing fish sauce. There are people starving to death, wars being fought, and this guy is directing pure rage towards me over a condiment. I need a new job."
              I was looking for contacts on LinkedIn one December afternoon when I saw the page for LA Fellows and decided to check it out.

What I gained from the experience
           I was reminded of the things I do well. One of the first exercises the Fellows were asked to do is list the things we were best at.  I stared at that blank page for quite a while. I couldn’t think of
one thing to write on that list.  It had been a long time since I had a job that I was passionate about, where my skills and talents were nurtured.  And an even longer time since I had a job where my natural abilities rose to the top.
         Over the course of the next 9 weeks, I heard a lot of the same sentiments from the Fellows in my cohort.  Comments were made about being burned out, not wanting to return to the same line of work they once belonged to, not being appreciated for what they had to offer.  I found myself countering their statements and giving them positive feedback. It got me out of myself and I finally remembered what it felt like to be confident and to contribute to the workplace dialogue. I remembered the things that made me ME at work.

The benefits of being in Cohort 11
        The instructors were great. Of course they expected us to be professional, but they created a space for us to be real. We didn't have to put on a brave face if we weren't feeling brave. A lot of times, we were frustrated, emotionally spent and lost. Allison, Mary and our instructors created a safe space for us to be heard and be honest.
        Without this crucial first step, I don't think the growth that occurred would have been possible.
        With the support of our Fellow members of Cohort 11, a sense of camaraderie grew.  Through the classroom instruction and dialogue, we got to know each other and were able to point out one another's strengths.  Talents long since forgotten about rose to the top, brought to our attention by our peers in Cohort 11.

Where I volunteered/ what I got out of the experience
        I volunteered at Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind, or TLC for the Blind for short.  TLC for the Blind was started in 1975 by a group of families who had relatives living with being blind and/ or deaf, and some also had developmental disabilities.  The usual course of action for people with these circumstances was to be institutionalized. But a group of relatives got together and decided to create a better way for their loved ones to live- enabling them to create lives full of dignity and independence.
        I liked the idea of a group of people banding together to improve the lives of the people they loved.  They didn't wait for something to happen; they took action.  40 years later, TLC remains the only facility of its kind of the San Fernando Valley.   I thought, "This is the kind of place I'd like to spend 100 hours volunteering."
        My boss at TLC allowed me to work independently- which is something I value.  I didn't even know that about myself until LA Fellows. My boss also gave me the opportunity to write a grant. I applied for a grant to get a shade structure for the playground at TLC. It felt so empowering to have the opportunity to potentially affect the lives of hundreds of children, who wouldn't be able to play outside without the grant and a shade structure.
        I could not have had a better volunteer experience!

How LA Fellows helped me move forward
Jen (right) with her WorkSorce case manager,
Candis Noel from JVS in West Hollywood
          I also got a job out of the LA Fellows experience!  A week before speaking at this orientation, I was offered a position as a Grants Coordinator at a very well-known and respected nonprofit.  I will be writing reports to wealthy donors who have the capacity to help people who need it; people who may be in a similar position as I was in just 6 months ago. I'm sort of like Robin Hood!

          LA Fellows helped me redefine my sense of purpose in the world.  I couldn't have imagined that after 3 months as an LA Fellow, I would find a job, let alone one that incorporates so many of my passions and talents in a way that is going to help people who need it!  I cannot encourage you enough to apply to this program.  LA Fellows will not just change YOUR life- it will change the lives of individuals in your cohort, in your community- and beyond.


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  3. Congratulations, Jen! You are truly an inspiration! Being a Fellow Cohort, I watched you grow within the program, and knew you were destined to go far! I am proud to have shared the LA Fellows experience with you, as we have all taken away personal success stories, and fond memories! You are one of the bright, shiny pennies touched upon by our instructors! Wishing you continued success in your future career path! : )