Friday, July 31, 2009

5 Questions for Matt Friedman, Executive Assistant

5 Questions is our ongoing feature where we introduce you to the people who make Brandywine Counseling run, spotlighting a different staff member with each installment. After interviewing about three dozen staff members over the last two years, I figured it was time to turn the spotlight on myself.

Name: Matt Friedman
Job: Assistant to the Executive Director
Time with BCI: 8 years

1. Tell us what you do at BCI.
My title is Executive Assistant, but I like to tell people I’m the fundraising and communications guy. So that means I write the grants, as well as our newsletter, and content for our Web site, and of course this blog. I’m also responsible for donor relations, and I do a lot of our volunteer recruitment. Then I also do some data collection to monitor how we’re doing at getting people in the door and keeping them engaged once they’re here. And, I do some behind the scenes stuff in meetings with our management team, work with our Board of Directors, and do some internal communications for the rest of our staff. So, I really wear a lot of hats. I like the variety and there’s always something to keep me busy!

2. Why did you decide to work in addiction treatment?
A lot of the staff I’ve interviewed for this series have said it wasn’t something they planned, and that’s true for me too. It was a big change from my original field of engineering. I had kind of stumbled into grant writing, just out of school and working for a research and development company. I found I didn’t make such a great engineer, but I made a pretty good grant writer. And at the same time, I was doing some volunteer work mentoring kids, which I really enjoyed. So eventually I put two and two together and decided I should go work for a nonprofit.

I wanted to work for a kids’ organization at first, but I expanded my search, because it’s hard to break into the non-profit field, especially in a role like this, which is so specialized. So when the opportunity came up with BCI, I had to consider it in spite of being new to addiction. I’m a lifelong Delawarean, and I knew nothing about the extent of the problem and the need for the services BCI provides. I talked a little in a recent post about the biases I came in with, and what a leap of faith it was to be able to see myself doing this kind of work. But luckily, I did make that leap, and that was nearly 8 years ago. I think it’s been what I was looking for, in terms of being able to put many different skills to use, and also have that sense of satisfaction, knowing you’re helping change lives right here in your own community.

As someone who’s made the transition from the for-profit to the non-profit arena, I can tell you while it’s not easy to get your foot in the door, if it’s what you really want to do, you should go for it. If you’re coming from a different field like I did, you have to show that your skills are transferable. Things like writing, organizational skills, creativity. Along with that, just show you have a real desire to work for a service organization. Definitely volunteer, or intern if you can, to get a feel for the day to day flow and decide if it’s right for you. So, be persistent, sell your strengths, and know what you want to get out of it.

3. What would people be surprised to know about your job?
That I’m probably the least knowledgeable about addiction of anyone here, even with all I’ve learned over the years. I don’t have a clinical background, so I rely a lot on my coworkers to explain the nuts and bolts of things to me. And I have picked up a lot, but I’ll still give people a blank look when they start talking about IOP’s, and UTO’s, and CRF’s. I know enough to do my job. But every grant we write is really a team effort.

Sometimes having an “outsider” perspective works to my advantage. When I’m explaining a concept in a grant, I’m making sure I can understand it myself. And when I’m writing an article, too, I can approach it as someone outside the organization would. That’s become a little harder over time as I’ve become more of an insider, but in general it still surprises me to hear the realities of daily life for our clients, and their experience going through the channels to get help.

4. Tell us your favorite client success story.
I don’t think I could pick a favorite story. Every time I get to interview a client and tell their story, it’s very rewarding for me. I think I enjoy that part of my job the most. It’s a responsibility I take seriously. It takes courage whenever someone decides to share their story, so I want to honor the realness of what they tell me, but also package it in a way that will resonate with the reader. I really consider it a privilege to be a messenger of life-affirming stories. There are so many here at BCI, and the more we tell, the more I think the public will relate to what we do and see its value.

The story I just did, A Life Saved by Inches, was incredible, mainly because of how close the person was to being dead, and because he survived, he got the chance to get help, and ultimately a new lease on life. But what was also great about that story was, I didn’t even know before I did the interview, that he came to us through our brand-new hospital outreach program. I had set out to highlight the co-occurring disorders therapy at our outpatient program, how this had helped the client work through mental illness, and the work his counselor did with him. But it was an added bonus to be able to mention the Christiana Care project, and the work of the outreach worker, and show that was a success. So it ended up being a wonderful human story, but also a real-life example of a continuum of care. We had someone go from the emergency room to our door, and to successful completion of the program.

5. You can tell a lot about a person from their office. Tell us what you have in your office.
My office is neat and uncluttered. I’m very organized and try to keep only what I absolutely need. Sometimes people give me things to store, which kind of throws a wrench into that approach. I have two tripods, for instance. Anyone need a tripod?

I’m not that good of a decorator, so I have a lot of room on the walls I don’t know what to do with. I have two of Dr. Glick’s travel photos that I won at one of our silent auctions a few years ago. I have plants, because I have two windows and they do well here. I have my rug to add a splash of color. I have some song lyrics on my wall dealing with addiction. One is Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and the other is “My Old Addiction,” which was written by David Wilcox and covered by k.d. lang. I put those up when I first started here, because I was new to addiction and the best way to understand it was through music. Knowing what I know now, I’ve found those two songs are still a pretty accurate picture of reality.

And then on my bookcase, I have some trays from the post office for next time we do a mailing, some books on fundraising, lots of binders from trainings I’ve been to, and some souvenirs from all our NIATx work – baseball cap, coffee mug, Swiss cheese pencil topper. That’s from Wisconsin!

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