July 13, 2015 | by Dawn Hicks

BoardStaffEdited.jpgI was first introduced to Umoja and its work ten years ago via a conversation with Lila Leff, the organization’s founder. While my career led me to a different path at the time, I am extremely grateful to have become a part of the Umoja family ten years later. I can hardly believe I just completed my first month. Before I joined Umoja, I was a school administrator for many years. I knew it was time for me to make a transition to further my professional and personal growth. While I was deciding to make the transition, I made a list of essentials I needed from a new organization. Reflecting on my list, it is exceedingly clear that I belong at Umoja. Here are the top five things that Umoja has from my essentials list that continue to keep me inspired:

1.  A clear purpose and mission. Umoja truly believes in creating the necessary conditions for all students to achieve postsecondary success. Every decision Umoja makes intentionally ties back to that mission.

2.  A challenging work environment. Anyone who has worked in education knows that it is hard work. Schools and young people are dynamic and their needs are constantly evolving and changing. It takes skill and perseverance to keep up with these needs. Umoja’s staff is up to the challenge and is relentless in doing whatever it takes to benefit students and schools.

3.  Strong leadership. I met Umoja’s CEO and Directors during my interviewing stage and was blown away by their intentionality, dedication, and expertise. They have so many varied talents. It became clear as I engaged in school visits over the last month that the same level of leadership weaves throughout the Partnership Specialists who support our Seminar classes and the Restorative Justice Specialists who support our Peace Rooms in our schools. In short, leadership exists everywhere at Umoja and people excel at doing what they do.

4.  A like-minded staff. I was lucky that my very first day at Umoja was an all day staff retreat where we reflected on the successes of the past school year and outlined areas of growth. Afterwards, we continued to build team by going bowling (who gets to go bowling on their first day of work?!). I felt welcomed immediately and have felt that way ever since.  I am certain it’s because everyone at Umoja is skilled and genuinely passionate about using their talents to help all young people succeed.

5.  A high value on relationships. Umoja values purposeful and intentional relationships with everyone.  From students, to administrators, to teachers, to each other, Umoja knows that the work can only be done well when a true partnership exists and relationships are fostered. This has become evident in every interaction and has been extremely refreshing.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice to join this amazing organization.  If this is what I have experienced after only one month, I am excited to see what lies ahead.