Respect and a Sense of Reciprocity
I once swore to myself never to become an Executive Director again. This was after I moved to San Diego from Des Moines, IA, in 2012, after a grueling merger of my small nonprofit AIDS service organization with our local federally qualified health center. I took over the role of Executive Director 10 years after growing up at The AIDS Project of Central Iowa, my first real job out of college. I had worked my way from frontline staff to the top, and the news in 2010 about Iowa’s drastic cut in its federal HIV funding broke my heart and lit a fire to make sure our services at The Project would not disappear. Merger was the smart and practical option and it did in fact save The Project. But the process was one experience I hoped never to repeat. They don’t tell you how lonely it is to be an Executive Director. There’s not really a person you can call who understands the frustration of a lagging board, the fear of funding cuts, the stress of layoffs, and the culmination of all of the responsibility piled on your shoulders unless they’ve worn those shoes. I left Iowa with that loneliness and needed a year and a half of just being a mom and meditating by the ocean to recover.
I went back into the workforce in 2014 doing an easy management job in HIV services for a local clinic a mile away from my house in North County. But to be honest, I missed the responsibility, the ability to act nimbly and make impactful decisions without having to wade through red tape. I missed being a source of inspiration and mentorship for those new to the field. So when the opportunity arose to apply for an ED role at Christie’s Place, I applied and got the job. It was not without trepidation. I mentioned the loneliness, and the agency needed repair both in its morale and reputation. Luckily, I found Fieldstone Leadership Network through an invitation to their Executive Learning Group (ELG). It was there I met eight AMAZING nonprofit CEOs/Executive Directors who helped me grow as a leader and foster a community of support with each other. Ted, Brandon, Nancy, Cat, Elly, Jamie, and Wendy – I don’t know if I could have made it through the first year at the helm of Christie’s Place without your support. Oh yeah, did I mention we survived COVID?? It was through Fieldstone’s ELG that I formed a bond with Janine Mason, Mary Corbett, and Tom Hall. Their patience and guidance with our ELG was steadfast despite the storm of uncertainties as we tried to wade through physical, emotional, and mental survival of COVID. I will never forget my ELG partners. I will forever cherish our time together, and I hope they know they can always reach out if ever they need anything.
I found other offerings through Fieldstone Leadership Network that were game-changers. The Equity Journey training series was one of the first trainings I experienced in that true hybrid learning format. Little did we know this would be the standard for many trainings moving forward. The Equity Journey, a 3-month series about racial equity, social justice, and our responsibility as nonprofit leaders, was so important and timely that I sent all my staff at Christie’s Place to the training.
In the fall of 2020, I also applied for Executive Coaching through Fieldstone, to further provide guidance on how to tackle some serious challenges I was facing as an Executive Director. In 2021, I met my coach, Sue Schaffner, who helped me grow not only as a leader, but also thrive in my personal life. Coaching with Sue provided me with the support and clarity needed to make instrumental decisions about Christie’s Place that has fostered an incredible amount of growth in our programming, staffing, and funding that I can now build on for the future. Sue helped me recognize my vision for the agency, and her encouragement provided the safety of growing my confidence and trust in myself. In turn, I have now become an Executive Coach for Fieldstone and hope that I can have a similar impact on nonprofit leaders in San Diego.
Fieldstone Leadership Network truly is a community. There is respect and a sense of reciprocity that I’ve not found elsewhere in San Diego. I feel blessed and am so very proud to be part of its incredible network, and I look forward to the future of this amazing organization!
Rhea Van Brocklin, CEO, Christie’s Place
Rhea Van Brocklin is the Executive Director of Christie’s Place, whose mission is to empower women, children, families and individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS to take charge of their health and wellness. Rhea is a graduate of Fieldstone’s 2020 Executive Learning Group, The Equity Journey training series, and the Executive Coaching program. She is currently a new Executive Coach for Fieldstone and is looking forward to reciprocating the support she has gained from Fieldstone with nonprofit leaders in San Diego.
Each week during our 40th anniversary year, a member of our Network will share what Fieldstone means to them and how being a part of this learning and leadership community has impacted them and the work they do to serve the community.
If you have a story you would like to contribute to our collection, please contact Janine Mason.