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Liberal Arts Week: On Helping Others for a Living

Written by Madalynn Hitchcock as part of the series of event coverage for Liberal Arts Week.

When asked what she does for a living, Brittany Yelverton will say that she is a “confidence builder.” Yelverton works for the Girls’ Empowerment Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young girls and giving them the skills necessary to thrive. Through her chosen career path, Yelverton is using the skills learned from her English degree to give back to her community.

As a featured event during Liberal Arts Week, Liberal Arts Council hosted a discussion panel on October 24, 2017. The panel consisted of three professionals, each of whom pursued liberal arts degrees and went on to work in the nonprofit sector in Austin. With over 6,000 nonprofits, the city boasts the highest number of organizations per capita in the Southwest. Education, the arts, homelessness, the environment and social inequality are among the many causes advocated for on a daily basis.

As nonprofit employees hail from a variety of backgrounds, it comes as no surprise that liberal arts graduates, who may find themselves in a diasporic career state, thrive in these organizations.

Collin Acock of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ+ serving organization, had pursued liberal arts, fine arts and mechanical engineering during his schooling. Gabriella McDonald of Texas Appleseed, an organization dedicated to promoting social and economic justice in Texas, earned Bachelor’s degrees in government and psychology as well as a Master’s in sports management.

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“On Helping Others for a Living” panel

A liberal arts education provided these professionals with the skills necessary to succeeding at a nonprofit: reading and writing, critical thinking and research ability. Strong communication skills, specifically persuasion and storytelling, are crucial. Accounting, money management and event planning also cannot be overlooked.

At the core of a job in the nonprofit field, though, is a passion for the issue that the organization addresses.

This passion is the driving force behind the work that the 400,000+ nonprofit employees in Texas perform each day.

Students who are interested in working in the nonprofit sector should do their research early. Volunteering or interning with a nonprofit is a clear gateway to working with one, but taking the time to educate yourself about the issues facing your community is key. This field values relationship building.

If you come across a leader in the nonprofit community whose message resonates with you: reach out.

“If you can identify a mentor at this age, you are a million steps ahead,” Yelverton said.

When asked about the effect of the Trump administration on the nonprofit sector in the coming years, the panel revealed mixed feelings. On the one hand, social issues in the country are receiving far more attention than in past years, and citizens are eager to help. For a business model that relies heavily on volunteerism, this awareness is crucial.

Acock and Yelverton, who work with immigrant families and transgender youth respectively, foresee challenges posed by changes in policy and legislation.

In the nonprofit field, it often seems as though there are never enough hands to help.

As the need for the services of Equality Texas, Girls Empowerment Network and Texas Appleseed increase, ensuring that everyone receives adequate help will be a challenge.

“All of this is to say: that’s okay,” McDonald said. “We’re not going to stop fighting.”

Images by Madalynn Hitchcock

 

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