Coming from the foster care system in Chicago, I was accustomed to having to fight my way to be heard and having frequent setbacks. Because of the system, I could have easily been lost in the shuffle, like so many kids are. And then, thanks to the support of my college (yes, I fought my way to college), I got funding to support my research and launched my nonprofit, Resilient Me. Starting my nonprofit required a new level of resiliency and ability to be heard. As a first-generation entrepreneur, I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, a perpetual cycle of stalwart determination mixed with the inability to progress.
SVPAZ has assisted me in getting off of the hamster wheel and into finally making a significant impact in our community. I learned about SVPAZ from a Vitalyst consultant, Nancy Grace. She told me I had the perfect pitch and passion for SVPAZ’s Fast Pitch program.
I began to do my research on the Fast Pitch program and thought that it would be a great opportunity to win some grant money (best case scenario) or at the very least increase awareness about our small start-up nonprofit via the YouTube videos that SVPAZ is famous for posting. Little did I know, I had only scratched the surface of SVPAZ.
Being in the room with so many experienced executives from other organizations was inspiring and intimidating. Once I got to know them personally, there was a huge sense of connectedness because we were all on similar journey and we began to rely on each other for support and encouragement.
I am not a natural speaker or writer and the first thing SVPAZ’s Fast Pitch program taught me is how to write my story in a compelling, concise, meaningful way. There were emotional lows and highs during my speech editing process for Fast Pitch. At times, it was difficult to get feedback from not only my mentors, but also feedback mentors. The process forced me to sit down and really understand what our organization does so I could communicate it more effectively. The process helped me have a clearer vision of what exactly we offer to our participants. More importantly, I gained confidence in myself during the process.
During each round of practice pitches, I had to force myself to eat. I no longer had the limiting thinking of only increasing awareness for our organization. I wanted to make it to the stage because I believed I could and I had others who believed in me as well. I lost a lot of sleep wondering if I would make it to finals. I joined a local Toastmasters Club to improve the way I speak and present. I even hired a speech coach to help me enunciate and lose my Southside Chicago accent.
After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the finals! I won two amazing awards: Mentors Choice (thank you to all the mentors who voted for me) and the Kiita Award. I often tell people what an amazing experience SVPAZ was for me. I have made some meaningful, lasting personal relationships. My board members have increased – in numbers, participation, and support. The second largest impact SVPAZ has had on me after teaching me how to tell my story is, their vital role in my transition from working a full-time job to being the full-time Executive Director for my nonprofit ResilientMe. Because of the SVPAZ Partner connections and staff involvement, I continue to be supported and engaged; most recently, I was part of a Foster Care panel discussion for SVPAZ Partners and friends, giving me yet another platform to share and impact.
Without Vitalyst introducing me to SVPAZ and SVPAZ connecting me with local business leaders who want to partner with smaller organization like mine to make the world a better place, I would still be on the hamster wheel. As the 2017 Fast Pitch program kicks off, I wish all the semi-finalists luck and recommend they heed the advice of their peers and mentors. Even if you don’t make it to the stage, Fast Pitch is a door-opener! Remain resilient!
Naketa Ross is the epitome of resiliency. Her story is one of overcoming the odds. She developed a research and evidenced based program, ResilientMe, to help youth in foster care successfully prepare for adulthood. Growing up in foster care can be challenging at best. ResilientMe engages, educates and empowers youth to successfully transition into adulthood. Naketa is a member of Valley Leadership class 38 and is active in her community.