Alumni Spotlight: Jhae Thompson, Horton’s Kids
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Horton’s Kids is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on empowering children growing up in one of the city’s most underserved communities. They provide academic resources as well as support for health and basic needs to alter the life trajectory of children in the Wellington Park neighborhood. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumna Jhae Thompson, Deputy Director at Horton’s Kids, about her experiences working in the nonprofit sector and her time in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL): Why did you want to work in the nonprofit sector?
Jhae Thompson: It was an accident, actually. It wasn’t something that I intentionally sought out. I don’t think I really even recognized that the nonprofit space afforded a career path. After spending about five years in the corporate sector, I realized that I wanted to have more of an impact in my work. I was working in corporate full-time and I started working in a nonprofit part-time about 10 years ago and that is where I started to get additional nonprofit experience. I just continued to follow the path once I started doing that working for a group home in NW Washington DC.
CPNL: What is the most fulfilling part of your current role?
Jhae Thompson: I definitely enjoy working with the kids. That is a huge part of the work. Even though I’m not 100% client-facing or direct service, all of the decisions that I make affect the children and the families that we serve in the community that I work in. A part of my work that I really enjoy – because I spent five years working for D.C. public schools – is the agility that we have to make any necessary changes or course corrections in real time. I don’t have to wait for another budget cycle or another school year – if something needs to happen, we can be very agile and make the changes we need to make.
CPNL: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jhae Thompson: Seeing kids that I’ve worked with over the last 10 years and seeing that they are doing well. That feels very much like an accomplishment. Within the last 30 days I had two different young people, both in their 20s now, who saw me and stopped me. One was like “I know you!” The other one said, “you worked at my school.” That means a lot to me because it means that I left an impact on them in some way. I think that’s what this is about. It’s about the relationships and it’s also about being supportive and providing opportunities even if it’s only for a short time.
CPNL: What was your biggest takeaway from the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program?
Jhae Thompson: My biggest takeaway is just how, even in the same space, how varying and different nonprofits can be structured. There is creativity in the nonprofit space in terms of how many different ways and sectors that nonprofits can serve people.
CPNL: How did the certificate program challenge you?
Jhae Thompson: When there was a lot of group work, it pushed me because my style in terms of work is more of a “take the information, take a minute, process, bring it back.” What it did require was pushing me outside of my comfort zone and push me to feel confident enough to share, even if my response or answer wasn’t necessarily fully thought out. The program pushed me to be more in the moment and have thoughts and ideas in real time.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Jhae Thompson: When you work in the nonprofit space you learn while doing. What the Certificate Program allowed me to do is to take a step back and get a lot of the foundational information for why we do things from a structural perspective with regard to the board, or a deeper insight into fundraising. It has put me in a position to have a better understanding of all the various functions and requirements of the nonprofit space. Even though I found myself in the nonprofit space accidentally, I now feel more competent and confident. It’s a space that I want to continue to thrive professionally.
CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?
Jhae Thompson: It’s really important to be fully engaged as much as possible. I also think it’s important for candidates to know where the alignment is between their organization and their roles and responsibilities within their organization.