We are honored to feature Natalie Vega O’Neil, President and CEO, of Junior Achievement of Washington. Junior Achievement, a national organization, with 106 areas across the United States, is dedicated to providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to take ownership of their economic success, plan for their future, and make the right choices in all areas of their life. And Junior Achievement in Washington is making a difference! In 2018-2019 alone, they reached 69,190 students in over 2,500 classrooms. With over 5,000 volunteers, JA of WA’s impact is helping shape our youth’s future and fulfilling their mission: to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.
Another Source has partnered with Junior Achievement of Washington over the last two years, assisting with a number of critical hires including the Vice President of Program & Evaluation and the Director of Communications.
Natalie is an innovative and dynamic Latinx leader steeped in early childhood development, educational programs, fundraising, and strategic leadership. She has had a successful career developing and implementing child and family programs across the country. A passionate advocate for marginalized, underserved, and vulnerable communities, Natalie has worked as an executive in the nonprofit sector for almost two decades. As a long-time collaborator with Another Source, Natalie provides beneficial insight to the non-profit sector.
What has been the most significant transition for your team during this pandemic?
Without doubt transitioning from an in-person, on-site business to a virtual one. We have had to pivot quickly to meet all our stakeholders where they are at, and for now, that is at home. Though school buildings are closed, students are still learning. The team at JA continues to support students, parents, and teachers by providing access to learning experiences in the form of self-directed resources via a digital/virtual environment.
Assuming you and your team are working remotely, what’s one unforeseen benefit and one unforeseen negative?
The benefit is that we can see potential new areas of growth and business development, particularly in the area of virtual training. A negative would be the inherent risk of losing connectivity with the team. However, we have been working very hard to have meaningful connections and increase communication at all levels. We’ve had birthday celebrations, work training sessions, quizzes, yoga, and bingo, all virtually.
How do you see your organization changing in light of this pandemic?
Ultimately, we foresee us becoming more flexible. While all old ways of working won’t be fully redundant, we are beginning to see the possibility of what might be out of what needs to be right now. We are asking questions at all levels in the organization about what we want the future to look like at JA. The way we are required to work now will have a significant influence on how we will continue to work in the future.
What is your process in determining essential positions at your organization?
The staff at JA are incredible. Their commitment and dedication to the organization is nothing short of remarkable. However, at a time like this, difficult decisions have to be made. In doing so, there needs to be careful consideration of all of the functional tasks and relationships between them to determine who is best placed and capable of ensuring the operation of the essential functions in the organization.
And, while there is a need to have what is needed now, you cannot lose sight of where you want to be in the future. We have the right people. Supporting and retaining them is critical at this time. It is also of the utmost importance that we are mindful of the humanity of those affected by our determinations.
What advice would you give to applicants that are beginning an unplanned job search?
Take this unforeseen event and consider it as an opportunity to find what it is you love to do. What was it that you liked or disliked about your old job? Try to get some insight into where you would like to be in your career. Consider a temporary position as needs must, but use the time to imagine your ideal position and what it might take to get there. Update your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Reach out to your network and perhaps consider any training that might be advantageous in any new position.
What’s a critical lesson you learned about yourself and/or about your team in the last six weeks?
That we are infinitely more nimble, agile, creative, and innovative than we could have possibly known.