Each week, #SpanningtheNeed will present an “Inspirational Person of the Week’ and have a “Q & A” with one of its many gifted individuals and/or groups who are willing to go out of their own way to help others. This week’s featured is Karen Conklin from the English Center of Youngstown.
Name: Karen Conklin
Position: Owner/Conklin ConsultingLLC & Executive Director
Organization; The English Center of Youngstown
Bio : Karen is a 1970 graduate of the Williamson School of Business at YSU where I majored in marketing and advertising. She has been serving the non-profit sector since she opted for a job with the Lake to River Girl Scout Council in 1970, putting my Navy and future law career on hold. The Navy and Law quickly took a back seat as she fell in love with the nonprofit world. Karen’s 50 year career has touched every part of the non-profit sector, from children, to the arts, to animals, to PBS and finally the American Red Cross, The English Center and my consulting company. Karen has been honored to serve on the non-profit leadership board at YSU, where she has been a guest lecturer. She has also been on many boards and currently serve on the Animal Welfare League Board and the Eastern Gateway Foundation Board. Never afraid to take on a challenge, on a dare from my sons, who said a woman couldn’t do it. Karen spent 24 years as the only female high school wrestling referee in the State of Ohio.
What made you want to go into this field?
It happened by accident. The job market was tough, I was waiting to go to the Navy Officers Candidate School and then on to law school. I needed money so I took what I thought was a short term entry level job with the Girl Scouts working /recruiting troop leaders. I loved working for a true cause , seeing the difference positive role models can make in the lives of kids and I was hooked.
What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?
I think kindness is so underrated today. Being kind and being honest is the cornerstone to building a team that wants to achieve the shared goals.
What is the biggest professional mistake you made along the way?
Not trusting my gut when hiring staff. Another mistake was throwing away a letter from1970 from a major corporation that I had applied to for a position in their marketing department. I got a letter back saying “ sorry we don’t hire women in this department but you could be considered for a secretarial position. Would love to be able to show that to my kids and other young women in business.
What is the hardest decision you ever had to make in this field?
I have loved every job I have been blessed to have. Weird thing about my career is that since my very first non-profit job I have never applied for another job. I have been recruited to my next position. It’s so crazy that at 75 years young, I am still getting job offers. Working in the animal world is exhausting because you have to make life and death decisions about animals almost daily. Can this dog be saved and at what cost? WIthout a doubt those were some of my hardest days.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently regarding your profession?
When I watch the crime stories on TV or read a good mystery I do wonder what kind of attorney I might have been. If I had to do it again I would be blessed if my career mirrored my life.
What inspires you to do good in our community?
There is so much need not just in our community but in the world. I am inspired by the spirit of volunteerism that I have seen in my organizations. While CEO at the Red Cross my husband became a volunteer. Prior to his retirement he was too focused on his company. I watched volunteering for the Red Cross change him. He would get a call at 2am that there was a house fire and out the door he would go to meet our volunteer disaster team. He would come home smelling like smoke or in tears if he was on site of a fire fatality. It was compassion in action. I grew up in a family that was engaged in the community so I think I just expected everyone to want to help. It is a special feeling of internal gratitude to know that sometimes it only takes a smile to make a difference.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering in our community?
Meeting new people and overcoming those who say “ that can’t be done”. Seeing a plan with goals and objectives become a reality.
What song best describes you or is the soundtrack to your life?
“I will survive” Not because of a bad breakup but because somehow I have survived losing my daughter Alexis when she died at 12.
What is your best accomplishment/experience in life? Watching my children spread their wings in many directions. They are all college educated . Zac is a professional BMX/rider announcer who travels all over the world. Adam is a 20 year Air Force Veteran who now works in the same office for a Defense Contractor, and my daughter Cory is a fitness nut and community volunteer and a fulltime mom in NC. Professionally it would be the successful merger of the Trumbull and Mahoning Chapters of the Red Cross when told it would never work and also raising lots of money for charity.
Who is your role model and Why?
I would have to say my parents who made me work in the local grocery store for 2 days because I stole a sucker. ( I was 10) My Mom was a WWII Veteran, who then drove up Route 7 ( before route 11) to get a college degree at YSU. She went on to be Head of the English Dept. at her high school. She had grit..
If there was one person that you would like to meet, past or present and why?
My father. He was a lawyer and a judge but died of a stroke when he was only 51. Many times when faced with tough work decisions I would have loved his counsel.
A favorite quote that you live by?
On the darkest days, when I feel inadequate, unloved and unworthy, I remember whose daughter I am and I straighten my crown.