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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm. With me is my good friend and co-host Susan White, a national HR consultant. Our topic today is standing in the gap in the workspace, and our guest today is Derrin Slack. While on a college mission trip to Botswana, Africa, Derrin experienced the power of giving back to others and wondered how his life would have been different had he been exposed to service at a younger age. This led to the founding of ProAct and what it is today. With a strong background in nonprofit management and research, training, and leadership, Derrin acts as the conduit between the needs of the community and the individuals, partners, sponsors, and students that engage with ProAct. Under his leadership, the organization has engaged over 25,000 boys and girls, community leaders, and business professionals to value intentional community engagement, appreciate diversity and equity as an integral part of their lives. He has trained all over Indianapolis and in such countries as Ireland, Ethiopia, Mali, Mexico, and the UK, and many cities in the United States. ProAct currently has over 12,000 youth involved in their programs and 4,500 adult volunteers.
Welcome, Derrin, to our show.
Thanks for having me.
Could you share with our audience your founder story?
Sure. Yes. So, ProAct was founded in 2010, and we are…and we were founded as a pioneering service learning organization in Indianapolis, Indiana. And two years prior to that, I had the experience of a lifetime to go on a mission trip to Botswana, Africa that changed my life. And my story is, as a kid, I physically couldn’t talk sometimes, because I have a stuttering problem, and it still persists until this day. And I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t build relationships, I really couldn’t engage with anyone, because I was so afraid to share myself because of the way I talked. And so I grew up with very low self-esteem because of that, because I was teased and made fun of, but there are a few adults in my life who really saw me and saw that I had potential because I always excelled in academics. And so, a few teachers saw that I had pretty decent athletic ability, and they got me involved in sports. And I played football, basketball, ran track at Lawrence North, and then went on to Wabash College to play football and run track. Well, in college, I had this experience where my football coach had a crazy idea to send 20 football players on a mission trip to Botswana, Africa. He said, we want to send 20 players to Botswana, and we want to share the gospel and teach American sports to Botswana children and prisoners. And I told my coach no. At first.
Get yourself somebody else.
Yeah, where I was in my walk with my faith, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the gospel, I couldn’t afford the trip, and then as a stutterer, I didn’t feel comfortable going and speaking in front of people on another continent. And so he takes my no and calls me up a couple weeks later, he says, Derrin, I want you to pack your bags and get your passport, because the trip’s all paid for.
Yeah. Oh my gosh.
That took away all my excuses. All my excuses were taken away. And so I go on this trip and…and our task was each of us was assigned a story to share in front of these groups of villagers, prisoners, and schoolchildren in Botswana. And when I was practicing that story, I couldn’t get through it because I was…I had such high anxiety. But as soon as I get in front of first group of villagers to share my story, there’s no stutter at all. And it was this large group of people, and…and I told this story without a stammer. And it was the first time my life I heard a voice say “Derrin, you didn’t make your mouth. I did.” And so that sparked a passion to seek out every opportunity I could to serve. And so after that, I never said no again. I went…I’ve been to Ethiopia and Somalia, South Africa, Israel, Ireland. I’ve been all over the world serving other people. And it wasn’t the act of service that was changing me. It was the people. It was the relationships. So I was finding myself through other people. And so I had the thought, what if I had this experience at a younger age? How would my life be different? And I sought out after college to work for an organization that intentionally engaged marginalized youth in community service the way that ProAct does, and there was nothing out there like that. And you had your National Honor Societies, your Key Clubs, Rotaracts, and all these different groups that target kids that don’t look like me, or target kids that are excelling in some area of their life that they’re just doing service to make themselves look good for college or work, but nothing out there that really taught intentional leadership through service. And so I saw an opportunity 10 years ago to start the organization that I never had as a kid. And we started with 12 kids, and now we serve over 10,000 people a year.
So that’s, that’s the story.
Yeah. Did you do it right out of college, started this?
I did. Yeah. Actually, in college is when I started…is when we incorporated. And then after college is when we started to work with our youth.
Wow, that is amazing. Really. Congratulations to you. And so good for the community. Man.
Yeah. Thank you.
Derrin, do you remember a time maybe where a personal or professional goal did not pan out?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, about three years ago, ProAct was serving 2,000 people a year at that point. So we’re seven years in, we’re serving 2,000 people, and then in 2018, we ballooned to serving over 10,000 people a year. And that type of growth…it grew fivefold in one year’s time, and ProAct almost failed because of it. And so the goals we had set before us, even though we excelled programmatically behind the scenes and operationally, it was a challenge. Right? And at the time, I was going through things personally, as a leader, that I wouldn’t let anybody in on professionally. And so that…that almost cost the organization and cost me my career reputation, because I made some mistakes that that I wasn’t proud of that’s outside of my character, because I was too prideful. And so when you asked me that question, like, did…did a goal not pan out? Well, the goal and my life’s purpose is to pursue what I do through ProAct, and…and that…and that was the first time I was ready to give up. Right? Because it was so hard.
Are you willing to share what what you did to turn it around?
Yeah, to turn it around? Well, I had to humble myself and come to the end of myself. I mean, that experience and…and the mistakes I made, I had my entire board exit en masse. And so the saving grace was that we were recruiting a board member at this time who said, Derrin, I’m not giving up on you. And there was a headline in the IBJ that almost…that cost…that almost cost me…cost me my reputation. But this one gentleman who said, I’m not giving up on you, was enough for me to say, well, this guy who has every reason to walk away, he’s not going to give up on me. Why am I going to give up on myself, or thinking about it?
So to turn it around, I knew I needed to be in a position of learning. And so one of our board members that we recruited around this time agreed to step in as CEO, and I stepped down as CEO of ProAct. And for the past year and a half, he’s been leading the organization and really helping teach me how to manage an organization at this level. And so turning around was just really look at myself in the mirror and say, man, as far as I’m concerned, the problem is me.
That’s great leadership. Oh, my gosh, that’s…what a…what a difficult leadership lesson to learn. And then to, as you say, humble yourself and say, you know, well, it’s more about what I want to do, it’s not who’s doing it. That’s beautiful.
Right. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I had to really come to terms with who I was and really discover, okay, so why, under immense stress, did I react the way I did? And then, so I had to do a lot of personal unpacking, and then I realized, hey, if the organization is going to grow, then I have to grow. Right?
And so that’s what I embarked on. Embarked on…on defining myself and redefining myself, rather, which then, in turn, redefined the organization, and we’re better for it.
And are you…are you on a path eventually to replace the CEO, or what’s the strategic plan moving forward?
That’s a great question. You know, we’re looking right now for a director of operations, because our plan right now is by the end of this year, that Pitt Thompson, our current CEO, will transition back onto the board, and he’ll be our board chair, and then I’ll be back into the CEO seat while we onboard this director of operations, and so we’ll build out our central management team from there and start replicating our model into other communities outside of Indianapolis.
Very nice. And great vulnerability to…to reflect and pause and say, hey, maybe…maybe it’s time for someone else to lead for a while. I’ll learn from them and step back in. So.
Yeah, the best decision I ever made.
Good for you. And throughout this process of founding and growing ProAct, what have you learned about managing diverse teams?
I learned, I mean, you hit the nail on the head when you said vulnerability. And so we are a people first organization. And so we…we value people and value relationships, and we cannot do that effectively if we aren’t intentional. And the way that we’re intentional is being vulnerable. And so we’ve learned over the past decade, like, someone asked me recently, Derrin, hey, what is it that ProAct does better than anyone else? Well, it’s learn. Like, we are a learning organization. And the…the greatest lesson that I’ve learned in managing a diverse team is the power of vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, and when we build trust by risking ourselves, then that makes all the difference. It encourages someone else to start to open up, and we start to open doors, start to open hearts, and start open minds. And then we start to make change. And so we start to realize that on a deep level, on an intrinsic, deep level, if we go deep with people, it doesn’t matter who you look like or where you come from, or who you are, rather, and what you look like. It matters if…that we see people as people. And so we’ve learned with our diverse team and managing diverse populations, is that if we are comfortable enough to be be uncomfortable, to go vulnerable and to be vulnerable, then we can start to change hearts. No matter what.
Yeah. Well said.
So tell me a little bit about your workspace. You know, we’re the JoyPowered® Workspace and it’s…. How large is your team of people? Tell us a little bit about them. How you look for your talent? How do you retain this value set of constant learning and vulnerability?
Yeah, so our team is up to eight people right now. And we are…and we’re a organization who prides itself, our mission is to stand in the gap for vulnerable populations while empowering youth to actively transform their communities. And so that phrase, “stand in the gap,” really resonates with a lot of people. And so the way we source talent is, people love the spirit behind ProAct. They…they love how open we are, they love how fun we are, and how engaging that we can make our work. And our work entails…our space, if you will, entails us breaking down the silos between diverse sectors. So we break down the silos between schools, businesses, and nonprofits, and we facilitate all the communication that happens between those groups. And so we’re able to help groups cross social, racial, economic boundaries that way. But the way that we guide our internal management, we borrow the philosophy of Alan Mulally, right, who used to be a an executive of Ford and responsible for turning them around. So on my desk, I have these 10 rules here that really guide our work. So it’s people first, everyone is included, compelling vision, clear performance, goals, one plan, facts and data, propose a find a way attitude, respect, listen, help and appreciate each other, and emotional resilience – or trust the process, if you will – and then have fun and enjoy the journey and each other. And so those guide everything we do, these 10 principles, and our cadence of our check-in meetings really help enforce that and reinforce that, those values and guiding principles, if you will.
Those are 10 great ones.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you.
They sure are. And I love it that you just keep those right on your desk and keep them in front of you and be visible. So.
Yeah, it’s on everyone’s desk, as well as on a big poster board in our office. So no one can ever forget.
Nice. So Derrin, if our listeners would like to learn more about you as a speaker or learn more about Indy ProAct, how can they reach you?
Yes, so you can reach us online. So we’re on all social media platforms at ProActIndy. And then our website is proactindy.org. Then email me. Yeah, we’re very responsive. So email me at Derrin – D-E-R-R-I-N – at proactindy.org. We’ll be sure to get back with you to talk about partnerships.
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. You have a great message, a great personal journey of your own, and love those values. So.
JoDee and Susan, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.
I wish you all the best. Future success.
Thank you. Take care.
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We look forward to hearing from you.
So listeners, if you’re looking for a way to give back to your community, either personally or as an employer, we have some research that was done by the nationalservice.gov that gives us some ideas. JoDee, let’s go through those.
So the first one, of course, might be a little obvious, but just making a donation. Right? If you don’t have time to volunteer, donate to a nonprofit of your choice.
So the second one is a little more specific, nationalservice.gov really promotes donating or volunteering safely with food banks and pantries. Certainly, in times of economic crisis in your community, food banks and pantries are so important. And that might be a really good one for your employees to get excited about going to do together.
Yeah, I love it. Number three, deliver meals or groceries to those who are vulnerable. Maybe seniors or those in a higher risk category, you might just reach out to a neighbor or family member or someone you know, or consider contacting your local Meals on Wheels.
Number four, help a school. Check with your area school system to see if they need volunteers, maybe to distribute food or to really help support education.
Yeah, I love it. Number five – I just did this one – is giving blood. Blood donations have decreased dramatically, I think mostly because of the fear of the process of donating blood. I can tell you, I did it a month or so ago, and I felt extremely safe in donations.
Thank you for doing that, JoDee. Number six on the list is become a medical volunteer. Maybe you’ve always had a desire to help in the healthcare field, but your normal work hasn’t allowed for that during pandemic or other times. Getting some training and registering your availability with a national VOAD is a really great opportunity.
Yeah. Number seven is a pretty specific one also, but to consider donating medical supplies or equipment. If you happen to have any of those as a company or organization or individually, you can email FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center at nbeoc at fema dot dhs dot gov. We’ll have that in our show notes, as well.
Number eight, stay in touch. So if there’s something going on in your community that…maybe it’s a hurricane, maybe it’s a power outage, maybe it is COVID-19 or other pandemics, check on your neighbors, your friends, your family, and maybe for…as an employer, you really encourage that and send that message to your employees. And maybe if you have some technology that they can employ that you’re willing to let them do that, make it available.
Number nine, serve in your community in a variety of ways. Many states are identifying local volunteer opportunities, so visit your State Service Commission website for details. I checked ours out in Indiana, and I couldn’t believe the number of opportunities requested to volunteer. Some very simple, some very intensive, some you could just do for a couple of hours and some of you could commit to ongoing, on a long-term basis.
Wow. I’m gonna check that out. Thank you. And the, number 10 on the list is volunteer from home. And get creative personally and then also promote within your workplace. How can you do volunteer work from sitting in the safety of your home? There is a website called allforgood.org – that’s A-L-L F-O-R G-O-O-D dot org – for service ideas. JoDee, you were the one who discovered this. What did you find when you went to that website?
Yeah, once again, I was so surprised I’d never heard of this before. But I typed in Carmel, Indiana, where I live, and there were hundreds of activities that I could do for home, there is an option to filter by virtual projects that I literally could do all from home. But even others…for example, one was to go around to stores every week and pick up shoes.
To help those…to working at the city park, to sitting with someone in hospice. So all kinds of things to do, and many family opportunities as well, which I thought was awesome.
I think many of these volunteer also…opportunities also can enable our opportunities for diversity and inclusion, as we might be working with and/or serving different populations than we typically engage with or are involved with. So it’s an opportunity for us to hear the stories and learn about other people’s journeys. So I encourage you to pick one or two of those and set a goal for when you’ll make it happen. And as Susan mentioned, too, as an organization to encourage or share some of these resources with your employees.
So JoDee, our question from a listener today is, “How has the global pandemic changed company cultures?”
Yeah, I thought this was an interesting question. And honestly, from some of the people I’m talking to, from some of the articles I’m reading, I think it’s like most things about culture – it’s all over the place. But I get a sense from some organizations that it’s even better. That they’re communicating, obviously, differently, they’re meeting differently, but I think some organizations have taken this as an opportunity to be more intentional about communications about…not just, you know, I think it’s easy when we’re live to walk by people and have that water cooler talk, but not really, maybe, connect with people one-on-one. And so I think being on Zoom, and sort of equalizing everyone, sometimes, maybe, too, when part of our workspace is in the office and part of them are out of the office…. Now everybody’s out of the office, so it’s become the great equalizer in terms of that most people are all working independently, right?
Yeah, I like that concept.
I think some cultures, too, though, have…have struggled, because they’re not being intentional. So, you know, once again, the same concept would apply if we were back in February. Some organizations are very intentional about their culture, some are not, and now we’re just being intentional or not intentional in a different way. So what are your thoughts?
Interestingly, I was talking to an HR generalist yesterday and we were deep diving on employee recognition programs, and…and she said, “You know, Susan, ours has gotten so much better since the pandemic,” and I said, “You’re kidding me! It’s getting better?” And she said, yeah, the reason is, is that our managers and supervisors are so stressed, and they’re always the ones in this particular company who does the nominations, that they…we were getting, like, one or two nominations every quarter. She says we’re getting 10 times that amount, because people realize, I think, managers and supervisors, that they’re not going to get a chance to bump into so-and-so in the hallway, or they’re not going to have all that, you know, face time, that they’re really spending quality time thinking about individuals, how to recognize them. They’re just thrilled. They’ve also pivoted, at this particular company, the employee recognition program meant that everybody that quarter who won got, like, a $5 gift card to Starbucks or to where…whoever, and they have the time now and they’ve got the technology, so the HR Generalist reaches out to every award winner and says, you’ve got $5 to spend. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but honestly, if someone goes to give me $5 gift card, I’d be thrilled.
I’ll take it.
And they let the person pick, what are you interested in? And she says it’s just really keeping…I think it’s infused their employee recognition program in a way that they didn’t anticipate. So at least one good story from post-pandemic.
I love it. Of course, we encourage all of our listeners to be thinking about that question for your own organization. How has the global pandemic changed your culture, and what are you doing to keep it strong, keep people engaged, and being intentional about it?
Listeners, if you are doing something particularly interesting at your company or something you just want to share, let us know, and we’ll tell our the rest of our listeners, because we do love sharing best practices.
Love it. In our in the news segment, I read an article in SHRM Magazine In September where they addressed whether employers are required to reimburse for work-related expenses when the expenses drop the employee’s earnings below minimum wage. Because the Covid-19 pandemic has employees of all levels working remotely, employers will need to keep a close eye on those earning near minimum wage to ensure the costs of working from home are not cutting into their required minimum earnings. Several states do require employers to reimburse employees for necessary business-related expenses, and so employer…employers should refer to the state law in their area where the employee is working to determine the specific obligations for reimbursement. As an example, California requires employers to reimburse employees when they’re required to use their personal cell phones, even if there is no increased cost to the employee. I had no idea about that.
You gotta love California.
Yeah, yep. But a written policy outlining expense reimbursement for telecommuting arrangements is recommended. Especially if you have employees working in multiple states, you may choose to tailor a different policy for each state or incorporate the most generous requirements into a single policy. Some common telecommuting expenses that might be covered by your state law might include cell phones, internet data, plan charges, office supplies, or other services or equipment that are necessary for their job.
I think to have a JoyPowered® workspace, it makes all the sense in the world to really have honest talks with your employees. If they’re working from home, never have done it before, there’s probably some startup costs for them. And talk about it, figure out what you as an employer can do. Most of my clients are giving kind of a work at home dollar amount and letting the people decide, you know, what do you want to buy? You know, paper for your printer, is it pens, is it notebooks, what is it? So I’ve seen that work pretty effectively.
Yeah, states outside of California.
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