Passion in Our Voices
Whitney Morrison is the Co-Founder of Makegooders, a Winnipeg non-profit that’s collecting pre-loved toy donations to make joy-giving gifts for kids in need.
On a spring morning, fueled with coffee and surrounded by her garden, Whitney joined Shift’s Founder, Meg, to share how leaving her international job in corporate insurance for a non-profit sector career brought her home to her passion…
Meg: Tell me about your work. What roles do you have in your career?
Whitney: I started a new position with United Way Winnipeg in early June. I am a Partnership Development Manager, which means I work as part of the Donor Relations and Resource Development team to implement and manage annual campaign workplace giving initiatives. In 2018 I was a United Way Winnipeg Sponsored Executive, and I loved the experience so much that I wanted to go back when there was a permanent full-time opening. In between United Way jobs, I worked for Local Investment Toward Employment, or LITE, an organization that provides small grants to non-profits that have a social enterprise arm, such as a thrift store or catering service, and that’s how they offset the need to raise funds. Fewer and fewer people are donating, so it’s a real challenge. But non-profits are getting really smart and really ingenious.
Meg: You said you’re new to your position. What spurred you to make a change?
Whitney: My daughter was four when I made my career transition. We were living in Montreal previously, before that in Colombia, and now we’re in Winnipeg. I was working from home in corporate insurance consulting and I remember thinking, “I need to get out of my house. I’ve lived in Winnipeg for three years. We are staying now. We’re done moving all over the place.” My husband is the Director of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. He is in a field he has clearly been passionate about from day one. I loved my job but I wanted to have a career I could admire, a career I could really love the way my husband does.
Meg: What steps did you take to transition to a career you love?
Whitney: I started thinking about what I did in my free time, when I wasn’t parenting and working. I was reading, volunteering, learning about social justice issues. This is clearly where my passion lies, when I have spare time. I started by dipping my toe in by signing up to be a board member of an organization and developing internal policies. That felt really, really good.
Then, a year ago, I decided to quit the corporate job I had been in for eleven years. It was very, very scary. But it was absolutely the right choice to make. I threw myself into courses with Volunteer Manitoba. I wanted to have a solid foundation if I was going to start over in a radically different career. I certainly have a lot of transferable skills, but it’s a different language and certainly a different culture. I signed up to do the United Way’s Sponsored Executive Program. Honestly, that was one of the highlights of my life. I was very lucky to be hired at LITE as soon as that ended, and now have the opportunity to return to United Way.
Meg: You’ve also personally started a non-profit organization, Makegooders. What inspired you to start this work?
Whitney: My good girlfriend and Co-Founder of Makegooders, Maria Polishchuk, and I wanted to do something together on our own that we could really be proud of and take ownership of. It was after Christmas that we knew what we wanted to do. At the time, I had taken my daughter to return some things at the mall and we stopped into the Lego store. She wanted to get this beautiful Frozen Lego set. I told her, “It was just Christmas, why don’t we go home first and go through your toys to see what we can give away?” And sure enough, we had a ton of those Christmas treat bags leftover. She filled one up and I made good on my promise, we went back and got the Lego set.
Then I thought, this is a pretty neat idea. When we’re doing the usually getting rid of old toys, how do I know they’re really going to folks who need them? I thought about all the connections Maria and I had made through working with United Way, and that we could put together these treat bags and deliver them to non-profit organizations that definitely work directly with children in need.
Our goal is to make it really easy on parents. If you’ve got a lot of stuff, all you need to do is bag it up. We pick it up from you. Once we have the stock, we have girls’ nights to get together, chat, get to know each other, and pack these really darling bags. We’ve done 170 bags so far; 50 to the Immigrant Centre and 50 to the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, 50 to Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, and 20 to Norwest Coop on Alexander. Right now my basement and my sunroom are completely overflowing with this stuff, which is fantastic!
Meg: Tell me about your family. What is family life like for you?
Whitney: It’s tough. It’s particularly tough in our case because we don’t have extended family living nearby that we can rely on. I’m upfront with my employer that I am the parent of record and that’s exactly where I want to be. If my daughter is sick, I will be the one to pick her up. It’s a challenge, half-day kindergarten is also a challenge. I wish I had some kind of answer, some kind of model of how you do it well, but we don’t.
Meg: I don’t think anyone has that perfect model. It’s not a reality. What have you found to be most helpful for you in addressing these challenges?
Whitney: I was speaking with my daughter’s former daycare teachers yesterday to thank them for how instrumental they have been in loving my kid and helping me out as a parent, because for sure I couldn’t do this without them.
What’s been very nice as well is signing up my daughter for activities, because once she gets comfortable that’s a great place for me to relax. She can make new friends and she still sees me. I’m still present and cheering her on, but I have a chance to breathe for a bit.
Meg: What career advice would you give to other new parents?
Whitney: I don’t have advice for working parents, it’s more that there’s going to be one more thing you have to consider, here’s one more thing that you have to do.
I walked into things with a pretty deep sense of naivety when I was back in corporate. It made sense to me that my work has value, I’ve been a great employee for many, many years and I’ll continue to be a great employee. Now I’m at a point in my life where at times I’m going to need some days to take care of my kid. If you’re in a management position, if what I just said makes sense to you, then embody that, live that with your employees. You don’t want to run the risk of blowing through some really great talent because they’re at a particular stage in their life where they might need to actually use their vacation days once in a while. Now seeing what it’s like in non-profit I realize it is so much more welcoming and accepting of families and accepting of being a working mother.
Meg: What strength has motherhood given you that has become a career asset?
Whitney: Nothing scares me anymore! I am not intimidated by change. I still want to do my research, take the courses, be ready to jump in and do the work required. Over-preparedness is my middle name. But I think you can prepare and prepare and prepare, but if you are still very scared to make that leap it’s going to be that much harder for you to make it. I would say for sure being a parent has made me, if not fearless, then less resistant to change.
Meg: Could you share your thoughts on what career wellness means to you?
Whitney: The past year has really been focused on getting back to and finding my passion. Having been with my husband for ten years, I’ve seen how he always knew what he wanted to do. It’s really galvanizing to share your home and life with somebody who’s so passion driven. When you realize you’re not as passion driven, that translates to a sense of career unease. I am used to working crazy long hours, it doesn’t bother me, I like working. But to be working such long hours in something that doesn’t inspire me, that’s not career wellness. It would be very challenging for me to have the current job I have if I didn’t have such a stable earning partner. But it also feels good because I put a lot of work into our family and our lives. I also feel that I deserve to be following my passion.
Meg: What are you looking forward to in your career? What’s your vision for the future?
Whitney: A long time ago a mentor told me that she was a life-long student. She had worn many different hats and had many different rungs in the career ladder. She told me that no matter what, throughout it all she was always a life-long student. That’s where I’m at as well. This is the next huge year of learning. My whole world has been dramatically expanded. I’m constantly meeting new people and learning about new organizations. The educational value of those conversations is huge. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn.
Meg: How can folks get involved with Makegooders?
Whitney: If you are doing spring cleaning please hit us up, you can find us on Facebook or Instagram and Makegooders.org. Send us a message through any of those channels and we can pick up stuff for you. If you want to come volunteer, help us pack a bag, we would love it.
A warm thank you to Whitney for sharing her multi-faceted career story with us!
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