So much of our everyday lives are filled with seemingly insignificant interactions and events that have no effect on the scheme of our overall lives. Or do they? Could eavesdropping on a conversation as you stand in line to purchase an overpriced coffee, missing a train, or even enrolling in an obscure calligraphy class- a la Steve Jobs- actually all be important pieces of a much larger puzzle?
For Katie Green the answer is yes. After witnessing a friend’s sister suffer from an eating disorder, engage in self-mutilation, and attempt suicide as a reaction to being abused, Katie was moved to understand how trauma and abuse pervade all aspects of a person’s existence and began volunteering at shelters for children, adolescents and women while she was still a teenager.
Katie was amazed by the capacity each individual had for rehabilitation and growth as well as the profound effect helping others had on her. This was an understanding that would continue to shape the course of her fifteen-year career with various international volunteer organizations. HINT: her current organization- I’m not supposed to disclose- rhymes with, Fleas Snore.
While Katie’s inspiring work has spanned projects as diverse as creating a job skills training and personal growth curriculum for over 60 out-of-school adolescents in the Eastern Caribbean, to assisting a team of Nigerian and American doctors and scientists in developing a program for the care, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, she’s never lost sight of what she learned from working in the trauma centers: people can and do heal and we all inherently have what they need to thrive!
This understanding has allowed her to lead with the assumption that young people are a valuable resource – as opposed to group that needs to be fixed, mitigated, or controlled. Building from this idea, Katie currently partners with leaders at the local level to design programs that develop life, employment, and civic action skills in young people so they can transform their opportunities in 70 different countries.
Katie Green is a woman who has fearlessly followed her heart all over the planet. While mapping out solutions to complex issues, Katie’s no stranger to a challenge. However, it’s her recent move to from Washington DC to Poughkeepsie, NY – in the name of love- she admits is her biggest challenge yet. In the quiet calm of upstate New York, she is revealing her authenticity as she is strips back the layers of what it really means for a woman to “have it all”, and discovering that the greatest secrets really are hidden in the most unlikely places. Now that’s WOW!
Name: Katie Green
Occupation: Work international volunteering organization, supporting youth empowerment and youth volunteering/service programs
Hometown: East Aurora, NY
Current city of residence: Poughkeepsie, NY
Ordinary Magic: If you were at a cocktail party and were asked to explain what you do in three sentences or less, what would you say?
KG: I work for a well-known international volunteering organization. I help support our amazing staff and volunteers all over the world as they work to prepare and engage young people to be leaders in their own development and that of their communities.
Ordinary Magic: What inspired you to head in that direction?
KG: In my late teens/ early twenties I started working with adolescents, especially girls, first through the lens of supporting individuals that had been subject to difficult circumstances, abuse, poverty, etc.. I always thought I would eventually be a psychologist and work with adolescent girls. I was fascinated by the capacity I witnessed in young people to change their own lives and to grow. My experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in my twenties working with out-of-school teens on a small Caribbean island led me to believe that systematic inequalities had a more profound impact on the young people with whom I worked than individual circumstances. I went to grad school for economics and international development, and worked on employment and economic issues, as well as other contextual factors, such as the impact of war, displacement, or HIV/AIDS on young people with several organizations both in the U.S. and in various countries.
During this time I was exposed to strength-based approaches to development, which comes at issues with the starting assumption that all people already possess enormous strengths, capacities and assets, both internally and in their environments. Coming at an issue or into a new context with this assumption, and asking questions from this point of view changes the nature of everything that follows. Rather than a “problem to be solved,” young people become this incredible source of energy, new ideas and possibilities. They are typically open to new ways of doing things and not constrained by past ideas or patterns. As a tangible manifestation of this approach, I also became very interested in the field of service, service learning, and volunteering movements. Specifically, I was fascinated with how the act of helping someone else is transformative for the person involved. I am also interested about the effects of collective action- being part of something greater than yourself.
Looking back, I recognize that through my work I have always been working out trying to learn about myself. That said, for the last 8 years, I have been lucky enough to have my dream job of working with committed, caring, and passionate young people, volunteers, and adult allies all over the world to develop programs that aim to empower and engage young people to become the architects of their own lives, and in turn, leaders of their own communities.
Ordinary Magic: What is your accomplishment that you are most proud of to date?
KG: I think it has been when I have seen my work leave me and take on a life of its own. I was the primary author a how-to guide for volunteers, called the V2 Volunteerism Action Guide. It walks a youth group through the steps of figuring out something they would like to change or improve in their lives or in their communities, then work together to learn, engage others, and to accomplish their goal. It has been translated into at least five languages now, and when I have visited countries meeting young people or received stories and photos from volunteers about the ways in which young people have used the guide to jumpstart their own growth, it delights and inspires me. I love that their success belongs entirely to the young people who use it and no longer has anything to do with me. Right now I am working on girls leadership camp model that I am really excited about.
Ordinary Magic: What has the biggest turning point been in your life so far?
KG: Moving from Washington, DC to Poughkeepsie, NY. Over the course of about 6 months I went from being a very career driven, urban, single mother to suddenly becoming a married, work-from-home, suburban wife and co-parent. During this time, my father also passed away. While I loved my husband very much, (and still do), and made this choice consciously, I had a very difficult time owning my decision and not living with some regret- which was a unique feeling. I felt like I sold my career aspirations out and gave up a life that I had built on my own and of which I was very proud. In retrospect I think I created this opportunity to slow myself down, to step off the rails, and to make myself examine how I am in the world and the path I will choose. I have two daughters, ten years old and ten months old that are little mirrors for me. If I am busy, distracted and exhausted, so are they. If I am content, attentive and present, they light up. This is undeniable. Trying to do everything doesn’t lead me to do them very well. I would like to do less, with more intention. That is what I think this transition in my life and moving out of D.C. has been about.
Ordinary Magic: What is your greatest passion?
KG: I don’t know yet. There are lots of things that inspire me: music, art, young people, transitions, change, making connections with people who are completely different from me… however, I feel like I am only recently beginning to allow myself to be a creative, unabashed pursuer of that which I am passionate. I do like trying to figure it out though. All sorts of interesting things happen along the way.
Ordinary Magic: What words of wisdom would you give your twenty-year old self?
KG: Trust yourself. (Ah- it sounds so simple and easy!).I would tell myself that you are wiser than you think! All the things that seem like they are wasting time: being with your friends, laughing, listening to music, contemplating the world- this all matters very much! The man you meet- the one that after knowing him for all of ten seconds, you think you could marry- you just might! The friendships, the beliefs, the values- they all matter. You won’t outgrow them. You think they are good and true and you aren’t wrong.
Ordinary Magic: What was the last book you read?
KG: The Runaway Bunny. I love it when they have a nice carrot at the end.
Ordinary Magic: What is your personal philosophy?
KG: I am working on being the beginner! I am trying to let go of my self-imposed judgments and ideas of what I “should” be. I also want to let the freak flag fly.
Ordinary Magic: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
KG: I have one friend who has always been the “Go For It” voice in my ear. I have never regretted listening to him.
Ordinary Magic: If you could be anywhere in the world right now doing anything, what would it be?
KG: I frequently find myself in rather unexpected corners of the planet, and I am so grateful I have had those opportunities. I have met some of the most amazing and remarkable people who have taught me a great deal. However, at the risk of the cliché, there is nowhere I would rather be than with my family, making dinner, being together.
Ordinary Magic: What do you have gratitude for in this moment?
KG: Again, the cliché- but without a doubt, I am most grateful for my amazing, beautiful, and healthy daughters who are teaching me how to be in the world and my husband who is teaching me that all good things are possible.
Ordinary Magic: Do you have a Life Motto?
KG: I have never been one much for motto’s. Although, the Marianne Williamson poem always makes me tear up a little bit. It starts:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?…”
….That, and I ask myself what Mike Watt would do. It keeps me authentic. ☺