LOVE MONDAY: Featuring Kim Emch
At Painted Turtle Partners, we believe that every individual should be able to fully utilize their interests, skills and experience in a work setting that they will enjoy. In our weekly post, “Love Monday”, we will be highlighting individuals that have made a major career change and now love what they do. This week, you will gain insight from Kim Emch who went from corporate training in the banking industry to starting her own non-profit organization, SON Ministries. Learn what career changes she made and how she got there.
What was your past career(s) and what are you doing now?
I spent the bulk of my career in the banking industry at Huntington. I worked my way to corporate trainer and loved being a corporate trainer and teaching adults. It thrilled me to watch the lightbulb go off when I could provide them with an understanding that helped them do their job better.
After my second child was born, I chose to take a season at home to raise my two children. My final corporate training position was in the commercial loan department which I understood but my heart did not go pitter patter about. I promised myself that when I came back to the work world I would teach something that I was passionate about.
In June of 2007, I started the Hilliard Free Lunch Summer Camp for Kids program. We served 2376 lunches that summer and recruited 250 volunteers. That has grown into an entire nonprofit called “Serving Our Neighbors (SON) Ministries” established March 2009. Year-round, we partner with children and families facing poverty in a suburban setting and help them take steps out of poverty while mobilizing the community to serve our neighbor. I’m the Founder and Executive Director with the staff of 6 employed year-round and 29 seasonal employees. We have taught 15 other communities how to do what we do to help families facing poverty who live in the suburban setting take steps out of poverty.
Was there a point when you just knew that you wanted and needed to go for this new opportunity? Can you describe that moment? What pushed you to move forward?
Absolutely! After being home with my children for four years, I took a position working part time at my church connecting members to service when my youngest child was in preschool. On March 3 of 2007, I was at a Christian retreat and I prayed asking the Holy Spirit to light my heart on fire in a whole new way. I’ve been a Christian since middle school but I had never prayed like that. That evening I didn’t feel any different …the next day I didn’t feel any different …by Monday I went back to my life and forgot about it. However, 11 days later, a coworker showed me a Columbus Dispatch article telling me that every year she read an article regarding suburban poverty and every year she made a few phone calls. No one called her back, and she moved on with her life. This year, she said the entire time she was reading it, she saw my face in her mind. She was confident that I was supposed to read the article. The article explained how poverty in the US was moving to the first ring suburbs and that there were children who got a free or reduced lunch during the school year but went without it in the summer. It listed Hilliard, my town, where I live work and my children go to school. I’d never heard about this before (children in poverty in the suburbs or free summer lunch programs). I was shocked. I had absolutely no idea but I told her if she learned more I would be interested in what she found out. From that day till today my life has taken a 180° turn! Two weeks after that, I ended up calling the school district to ask just how many children are getting a free or reduced lunch in Hilliard city schools? The gentleman called me back saying good news Kim it’s only 14.7%, it’s 2158 children. The reality sunk in, these were children – not statistics – with faces and names, in my school district, Hilliard Ohio, who are facing poverty and receiving a free or reduced lunch in the school year but were going without in the summer. I remember sobbing at my wooden desk in my house where I was working part time for a Upper Arlington Lutheran Church (UALC). I felt God calling me in that moment to love, serve and feed the children facing poverty in my town (body, mind and spirit) and to bring the community with me to serve our neighbor. I can honestly say I’ve never looked back. I began with a part-time job at UALC, doing this full time on the side for free as a volunteer.
For the entire year of 2008, I went anywhere people would listen to me (small and large nonprofits) explaining what I was doing and asking if they would have a heart to take my ministry under their umbrella. I talked to nearly 100 people and they all said about the same thing ‘this is so unique – suburban poverty – we don’t know how you’re doing this – you need to start a nonprofit, you need a board and staff and when you’re ready I’ll help you’. That whole year the ministry was growing, and I was praying for wisdom. After talking to nearly 100 people over the course of 52 weeks who said nearly the exact same thing to me, I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. So in January 2009, I began the paperwork to start a nonprofit-something I never thought I would do. I’m not the kind of person who said “I want to run my own business”. I know lots of people do but I was never one of them. It was scary because in 2009 the country was going through a recession so it made absolutely no sense to start a nonprofit. But I knew that this is what God was calling me to do. Very quickly I felt affirmed. In 21 days we got our 501(c)(3) approval back from the IRS which is record timing. (I’m told it normally takes 6 to 12 months.)
What helped to prepare you for this career change?
Ironically, I think every single piece of education and job experience I had prior has led me exactly to this point. In college, I was a completely confused undecided major until they forced me to choose a major at the end of my sophomore year. I chose economics because it was easy for me and everyone else thought it was hard. I chose sociology because I was fascinated by it and public speaking because I love to do it. I use those three things as an Executive Director of a nonprofit every day! I volunteered and served with my local church since I was in middle school and every experience I had prepared me for leading this volunteer based nonprofit. Even my time in banking has helped me as I understand business income statements and balance sheets and the work world. In our nonprofit, we work with churches and businesses and civic organizations so all of my past experience helps me relate to all of those groups when I work with them on the other side.
What have been the biggest struggles and/or hurdles that you have encountered with this change? What are you doing to overcome them?
I think the biggest struggle is fear of the unknown. When I started this ministry, serving lunch in 2007, I had no idea it was going to turn into the founding and directing of a nonprofit. I’ve said many times if I had known that, I might have done some things differently. But then again I might not have done any of it at all – out of fear. So I guess it happened as it needed to happen.
Part of my job is to fundraise and seek donations for the work we do. I had no background in this area. I’ve come to learn that it’s not about the money it’s about the relationships and inviting people to be a part of something amazing. I’ve also had to overcome my self-talk telling me ‘what do you think you’re doing you don’t know how to do this!’ Because while that has been true at times, I am an eternal learner always willing to try new things. Also, the children and families that we serve do not have a voice. I have the honor to be their voice and to tell their stories and that gives me the courage to do things I’ve never done before, to ask boldly, to invite readily and to never give up.
If you were to offer one piece of advice to individuals that are contemplating making a major career change, what would it be?
I would tell a person to follow your heart. Life is too short to do something you don’t love. Find a job that makes a difference, that you would literally pay someone to let you do. Ask yourself what’s your passion and what would you do for free. And find a way to do that to make a living. Be willing to adjust your living if that doesn’t pay as well. The fulfillment will be worth more than money ever could be worth.