I distinctly remember the dinner that changed my life forever.

It was on a cold October night in 2019. I was exhausted from delivering a training hours away from home and was contemplating simply staying home. But something told me to go, so I dragged myself out of the house and made my way to downtown Indianapolis just in time.

I was attending a special dinner preceding the fall meetings of both the Alumni Board (on which I was serving) and the Board of Visitors for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (LFSOP), at which the Distinguished Alumni Award was being presented.

As I entered the room, I spotted my old advisor Pamela Clark and sat beside her. As we caught up, I asked what was new and exciting with the school, and her response was the beginning of an incredible journey. She raved about a new partnership with The Patterson Foundation (TPF) in Sarasota, FL. Together, TPF and LFSOP had created a brand new immersive fellowship exclusively for graduates of the school. She went on to mention there was an informational meeting the next day that I should attend if my schedule allowed. Well, it coincided with the lunch break from my Alumni Board meeting, so I went.

And the rest is history.

Reflecting on my time as a TPF Fellow, I am overcome with joy. I have grown so much as an aspiring leader, nonprofit professional, and, most importantly, a human being. I have strengthened already existing skills, developed new muscles, and undertaken projects I never thought I could do. From helping to design a virtual tour of Patriot Plaza to producing inspiring videos to leading impactful initiatives and high-value special projects to presenting on national panels, I have learned I can tackle absolutely anything and deliver excellence. But how I have changed as a human is even more substantial.

TPF taught me many things about the nonprofit sector, innovation, agility, dwelling in possibility, and so much more. It would take another whole blog to list everything, but above all, it gave me one incredible and important learning: that I belong.

When President/CEO Debra Jacobs first told me I would represent TPF's Digital Access for All initiative as a panelist on a national webinar for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, I was terrified and intimidated. What could I possibly add to a panel addressing the digital divide that included the man who literally coined the term Digital Divide when I had only been working in that arena for six months? Well, as it would turn out, a lot. I found myself adding value through a lens that only I could have offered due to my work at TPF. That was the first time as a nonprofit professional that I knew I belonged.

The confidence I gained from that experience has propelled me to another level as a professional. I used to be referred to as "bench strength" in my previous role. Someone who could step in but primarily worked behind the scenes, even though I excelled when given the chance to lead. After that webinar, I was no longer on the bench. I got my chance to start and hit a home run. I became a mainstay in the lineup. (Sorry for the baseball analogies – I can't help myself!)

Believing in myself to deliver excellence no matter the project or task in front of me allowed me to get outside of my own head and stop worrying about how others might think about me. Instead, I focused solely on the work and how to make it the best it could possibly be. TPF gave me a tremendous gift: the freedom to be myself. For that, I will be forever grateful.

When I can simply be myself, I can bring my entire self to my work and dive in with my whole head and heart. And now, when I walk through the door, all of me shows up.

In January 2022, I began my next chapter as Director of Member Programs for the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance. I bring my sharpened skill set and my unique outlook on philanthropy and the world to this role. I've returned home to Indianapolis, IN, with a wonderful job and the values, approaches, and guiding principles instilled in me by The Patterson Foundation and the many TPFers with whom I have worked. I have always been values-driven, but now, TPF's values are synonymous with my own.

I'll never let go of the lessons I've learned and the innovative ways of working that TPF has embedded deeply into my very core. I promise never to arrive with the answers, just with more thoughtful questions to move us forward and to dwell in possibility always.

Thank you, TPF, for the best months of my life–even amid a global pandemic. I've moved on, but trust me when I say I'll never let go. Onward!

Comments (2)

  • Laurey Stryker

    Laurey Stryker

    10 December 2022 at 07:26 | #

    Your blog made me smile and reflect on our journey together with DA4A.


  • Valarie Law

    Valarie Law

    10 December 2022 at 07:56 | #

    Hello John.

    You have inspired me either further in my journey with TPF. I am honored to have worked with you and as I always state, “Anyone who works at TPF will never be the same”. This is a life-changing experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Thanks so much for sharing.


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