Hiring For Good Ep. 6 Mya Chamberlin

Mya Chamberlin

Tune in to the latest episode of Hiring For Good Podcast featuring Mya Chamberlin, Executive Director of Friendly House, Inc. Discover how leadership shapes not just companies, but entire communities and societies. Join us as we explore the transformative power of leadership and its impact on creating equitable spaces for all.

About Friendly House: Friendly House provides programs and services for everyone, from preschoolers to older adults. All of our services are offered for free or on a sliding fee scale, to ensure a welcoming and equitable space for all.

Mya Chamberlin (Executive Director of Friendly House) Linkedin:   / mya-chamberlin-490439251  

Friendly House Website: https://fhpdx.org/

Tanis Morris: Director of Business Development at Acumen Executive Search Email: tanis@acumenexecutivesearch.com

Suzanne Hanifin: President at Acumen Executive Search Email: suzanne@acumenexecutivesearch.com

Acumen Executive Search, Portland, Oregon, is proud to present the Hiring For Good Podcast. Join us as we examine the transformative power of leadership. Through discussions with impactful leaders, we explore hiring for longevity, hiring to elevate organizational operations and mindset, and how the effects of exceptional leadership extend far beyond the walls of the workplace. Follow Acumen Executive Search to be notified of new episodes.

Hiring for Good Podcast Transcript

0:00 today we are so excited to have at hiring for good Mya Chamberlain Mya is

0:06 the Executive Director for The Friendly House and she has such a unique story to

0:13 share so we’re going to just kind of jump in and turn this conversation over

0:18 to you and we’ll probably ask a whole bunch of questions while you’re telling the story and thank you so much for

0:25 having me I really appreciate being here yeah so why don’t we kick it off to really get a good understanding of you

0:31 and your background and life at the friendly house so my co-workers will

0:38 will not think highly of me if I don’t correct you we’re Friendly House not The Friendly House this is a big point of

0:45 contention at work so yeah I actually uh was born and raised in Northwest

0:50 Portland right where Friendly House is located and attended preschool there um

0:57 and we are a 94-year-old organization um established in that area

1:04 been around a long time so Friendly House for me was just part of the place

1:10 that I walked by every day from home and school even after I graduated uh

1:17 preschool um and I grew up in that neighborhood and it was it was the place

1:23 that our our parents would let us hang out like if we were if it was getting dark and we were still

1:38 out like if you were at Friendly House that’s ok but anywhere else you need to come home

So it it was it was a great place and we still uh a lot of my peers are still connected to Friendly House in my ways

But um I didn’t know what I wanted to do I I you know after school just trying to figure myself out and um was living

In Northwest still and went in to see if I could volunteer I had volunteered with Friendly House as a teenager and came

Back and and thought well I need to figure something out and I wanted to work with kids so my former

Preschool teacher was still there Glenda and so I went to talk to Glenda to see if she had any volunteer positions

She didn’t at the time and sent me to the afterschool program which we still have many years later

2:30 um but I went up there and the director of the program was like yeah we we’re

2:35 short staffed which is not an unusual story um so here’s your badge and and

2:42 jump in and within a few hours towards the end of the day he offered me a

2:48 position in the after-school program and and there I was back working with uh School-agers in our after school program

2:55 so we have about 120 kids each day from Chapman Elementary

3:00 um and so that was great I I did that for a couple of years we have our summer

3:06 camp that runs in between the school years um and then eventually I fell in

3:14 love with a coworker and um we left Friendly House for a

3:20 while and had our daughter um when she was two we separated and both of us went

3:28 back to Friendly House and different positions I came back in our working in our senior program um and he

3:35 was working in the preschool we maintain an excellent relationship but our daughter then started preschool there

3:42 and I was working as a case manager in our senior program and I think that was when for me um I had found my place um I

3:54 worked with older adults um as a case manager we provide support and services

4:00 case management information and referral um transportation coordination

4:05 for older adults who are living independently on the west side of Multnomah County um and then we have another

4:13 program called Elder Pride Services which provides those same services but specifically for lesbian gay bisexual

4:20 and transgender Elder adults who are living independently within Multnomah County so um I did that for a couple of years

4:28 and then and got promoted to be the manager of that program um and over time kind of took on

4:36 our our social service programming which included at the time a transitional housing program for

4:42 families um and just kind of kept you know being available for

4:48 opportunities when they came up and sort of fell into um a variety of positions

4:56 and um you know 20 years later I I am thrilled and honored to be the Executive

5:02 Director of Friendly House and I’d like to add if anybody it well let me back up

5:09 growing up also in Portland I was not aware of Friendly House I even went to

5:15 Lincoln High School which is you know right there you know but what an amazing

5:22 service and to be around 90 plus years and when I did the tour there there’s a

5:29 gym they have classes it was senior citizens the classrooms for the you know

5:35 Littles um one of the neighborhood schools it was a rainy day was using the

5:41 gym because it was either better or play outside or not have any exercise I mean

5:47 it it was amazing to see how this has grown in a neighborhood

5:54 within Northwest Portland and all everything that you took gone especially

6:00 during Covid and matching how our city is changing and

6:08 then you change what needs and services you offer and so that’s our our whole

6:14 mission is about building community and we do that through a variety of ways right we um and and one of our core

6:22 tenants is about responding to the needs of a changing neighborhood or a changing

6:27 community um I think you know we were talking about Co that’s such a stark

6:32 example of something that happened so quickly none of us saw coming um but

6:39 kind of overnight we were able to keep all of our staff employed and started

6:44 doing emergence delivering emergency food boxes to older adults and neighbors set

6:50 up um drop box locations for toilet paper

6:56 hand sanitizer uh canned foods and you know staff who had been working with children

7:02 just two weeks before were going around and emptying these donation bins and taking them out to people that we were

7:08 hearing needed additional support and so it was you know that was a very specific

7:14 example but I think one of the things about our longevity is the ability to

7:20 transition over time and so anybody who’s been around Northwest Portland for any length of time knows it looks really

7:25 different now than it did 20 years ago or 40 years ago or 90 years ago wow um

7:32 and you know we were founded as a settlement house and for people who are familiar with settlement houses there’s

7:38 some problematic history there you know at the time it was really

7:44 about um helping people to to assimilate into Community um and I think you know

7:52 90 years later we’re really working on taking the pieces of settlement house

7:58 tradition that that still work um and and and a significant piece of that is

8:04 our ability to stay flexible and nimble and respond to changing needs and it is

8:10 not about assimilation anymore but about creating a sense of belonging and purpose and reciprocity and um and

8:18 that’s I think just just what community is well that’s so interesting I think as

8:23 a as a leader it’s a different model to kind of grow up within the organization

8:29 and have these you know themes or sort of cultural elements of the organization that you either hold on to or um you

8:38 know do away with if if if need be what other formative leadership experiences I

8:44 mean co Covid is obviously a very specific example but you know when you think

8:50 about yourself as the leader of this body now uh what other formative

8:56 experiences have you had that have shaped the way that you run your organization and the way that you build

9:01 your teams um you know in our industry which is you

9:09 know notoriously low rates we’re we’re looking at other ways to excuse me to

9:15 compensate people to make people feel valued appreciated for their work um

9:22 and I think that was certainly something that for me as a young case manager I

9:27 felt like I knew coming into Friendly House um and and my predecessor I always

9:34 felt like my voice mattered I felt like even though I was you know low on the the food chain as it were uh I I could

9:42 go to her and talk to her about what was going on in my personal life or um you

9:47 know I had an idea about something we could do differently and and it was always taken seriously and um I remember

9:56 that that was a huge draw to me to be at Friendly House and to stay there um for as long as I did because I wanted to be

10:03 a part of something that mattered um and I think if there’s anything I can carry

10:10 from kind of when when I was understanding the importance of that is

10:16 really making sure that we’re giving voice not only to our staff but to a low-income family that’s being served by

10:22 preschool or an older adult who’s having their independence taken from them and

10:30 and but just really remembering that we’re we’re all we’re all here doing the very best we can with the tools that we

10:36 have and really taking people seriously um listening to ideas and and really

10:44 figuring out how and when it’s appropriate to incorporate them yeah absolutely and it’s

10:51 interesting that we learn from others but we also have this sense of values internally within ourselves and we do

10:59 project that as leaders so when you’re looking at motivating and

11:05 directing walk us through some of of how what you bring to the

11:12 table um that’s a great question I I wish our team was here to answer that

11:22 um you know I think what I value the most in in art

11:29 team is their cooperation their intuition their desire to to be live and

11:37 be the values that we are are looking to encompass you know

11:44 and like our leadership team for for example um I am the newest at my

11:50 position of anybody at the table so um you know if it weren’t for our

11:57 leadership team I’m not sure that would be in this position right now um I am a new Executive Director I didn’t have any

12:05 sort of um schooling to to help take me

12:10 here it was really my experiences my willingness to learn and and um my

12:17 desire to be a part of community I I never was ambitious enough to say oh

12:24 someday I’m I want to be the Executive Director um and I don’t know that the

12:30 part of the culture at Friendly House is

12:35 um you know I don’t I don’t feel like an expert on anything I feel like our teams

12:42 definitely experts in their field and I have infinite faith in their abilities

12:48 and so when I came into this position I think one of my anxieties was this sense

12:54 that I had to know everything uh and

13:00 the the realization over time that I I couldn’t know or learn everything there

13:07 was no way and you saw something different because again you

13:13 were there as an employee and when your

13:18 long-term ED retired after 35 years they did bring an outsider in that’s right

13:25 how was that transition because yeah so I mean I think as as I was telling you I

13:32 I had always thought I would apply for the ED position and I knew that that my

13:38 mentor was leaving um but just before her retirement we very unexpectedly lost

13:45 my 19-year-old daughter and um and my father was dying also at the time so I I

13:50 knew that I wasn’t in any position to to be what the organization needed at that

13:57 point and so uh the board brought in uh somebody new and

14:03 um I think it it it wasn’t the right fit for a variety of reasons and it was also

14:10 during Covid and I I try to think about what that must have been like for her to learn this organization where you have

14:16 all of your staff or leadership staff have been there forever you haven’t even set foot in the building yet you know

14:23 that was an impossible position for her um but I think also it just for a number

14:28 of reasons it wasn’t a great fit but what it did for our teams was I mean it bonded us in a way that I don’t think

14:35 anybody expected um and It ultimately um when

14:44 when she left that position um I you know it had was a year later and you know I had done some of my

14:51 own healing um and it felt like why why

14:56 not you know I I was going to be able mmhm hopefully to to to do better than than

15:03 the last go and so it was maybe the push that I needed

15:09 um but I think having come up through Friendly House that certainly my core

15:15 values um as an individual had been shaped by this organization so there was

15:21 really no question of alignment of of purpose yeah I thought it was really interesting because we asked you about

15:28 what your personal values are and it was hard for you to differentiate your own

15:34 from the organizations which is I think probably the most perfect example of a

15:39 leader who’s in alignment you know I mean that if you’re if you’re so congruent in what you hope for and what

15:46 your vision is of the way that you work um I I would imagine that

15:51 was you couldn’t have a more supportive environment to step into and then right

15:57 you know it sounds too you’ve spoken about agency you know listening and

16:02 caring about others and it sounds like you were extended a lot of agency in your role absolutely I mean I think I

16:10 had opportunities to try new things in ways that I wouldn’t I don’t think I

16:16 would have found in other positions I um and I hope I hope that that’s what we

16:23 are still doing for staff that are coming in um we tend to be a training

16:29 ground for folks you know the the because of the nature of of

16:34 nonprofit pay which is embarrassing at times and something that we’re working

16:39 on constantly um but people come in and get a lot of experience and so you know

16:45 when we’re when we’re looking at bringing new people in we’re really looking at people who are motivated want

16:50 to learn believe in the values and have good intuition and what their job was

16:58 before does doesn’t matter as much as that they’re willing to be there eager to learn and have have a good sense

17:06 of right and wrong and and and believing in the community mission and we say that

17:12 all the time that a lot of organizations hire for skill set yeah what’s their

17:18 experience do they have the right degree do you know and it’s very specific but

17:23 we also see you fire on fit yeah so if there’s not that alignment between goals

17:29 and values it doesn’t matter what somebody’s skill set is I fully believe

17:36 that I fully believe that I would rather take a chance on somebody exploring

17:41 something that they’re really excited about than somebody that been doing it for 20 years and might know exactly what

17:48 to do but dealing with burnout or or you know whatever it might be and you know

17:54 it’s an investment um and we recognize that but I think

17:59 most of the time it’s it’s really worthwhile absolutely and then I think

18:05 it’s interesting you talk about being a training ground because that in itself also is a

18:13 different mindset of I’m going to hire this person and they’re going to be here for 20 years yeah you know and um and to

18:20 look at that and really then develop that person to take those skills

18:26 somewhere else and I think this is an area you know you and I were talking about this and I think this is an area

18:33 that we can be working on I think we’ve always sort of thought of ourselves as a

18:38 training ground but I think that there are opportunities to be a lot more intentional about that um and also just

18:45 recognizing that I think people don’t necessarily stay committed to the same

18:51 job or same organization in the same way that they did 20 years ago you know that’s not a a feather in anyone’s cap

18:59 in the way it may maybe was once people move on and I think um a lot of

19:06 organizations are trying to figure out how how to address that and particularly

19:11 in nonprofit or when you’re working with government contracts that may you know

19:16 they’re very complex and um and how do you how do you be more efficient in

19:23 getting someone trained up sooner because we for a case manager for example it could

19:29 a year before they feel ready to go out on their own and and and do the work and particularly for someone who’s really

19:36 green um but but what are the pieces that we need to put in place to help

19:41 them feel good about their work sooner and um you know make it less complex and

19:49 unfortunately when it when it comes to government contracts we have limited influence on that but um you know how do

19:57 we really embrace this and something that we have been thinking about and talking about more as an

20:03 organization I’m curious because it’s it’s just a little bit of a different paradigm if you sort of when you’re

20:11 bringing talent onto your team or when you you know start a new endeavor you have to have in the back of your mind

20:18 that this person may not be here for for a very long time and so you want to

20:25 support their own growth but you also need to accomplish you know objectives at your organization

20:31 so how does that change the hiring paradigm or or the you know the intentionality you bring to who you hire

20:38 I think we’re still sorting that out to be really candid I think we started to

20:43 see some of that pre-pandemic but post-pandemic it’s been very clear that

20:50 um you know mo many people are are not this is not going to be a life career

20:56 for them and so again kind of figuring out how to balance the needs of

21:02 accomplishing what what we’re set out to do recognizing that it’s going to be um

21:09 it may be a shorter time with this person so part of it is making sure that that our um you know everything has to

21:17 be written down and I think like in nonprofit We have we we tend to store a

21:23 lot of institutional knowledge in people and it and it can you can risk losing

21:28 culture that way and so one of the things that we’re really looking at is how do you how do you build certain

21:34 things into job descriptions that maybe you hadn’t thought to include before and

21:40 and that’s a it’s a double-edged sword right because one of the beauties of being at a place like Friendly House is

21:46 having some flexibility to bring in your own interests and ideas and being able

21:52 to show your strengths and make your job a little bit your own vers versus making

21:59 sure that you have everything that needs to be covered in a single job description and um I think we’re really

22:07 kind of still exploring what that looks like um you know right after the

22:13 pandemic and we were getting three and four people for every job description

22:19 that went out and it was very very slim pickings for a while you know people

22:25 were able to make almost as much flipping burgers as they were like taking on huge responsibility for

22:32 children or older adults or houseless family and friends um

22:39 so I think we’re yeah we’re still still working through that some yeah well I I

22:45 love that you’re you know very openly vulnerable as a leader because I think that’s such a sign of strength

22:52 personally it’s it’s um pretty inspiring oh absolutely and again it shapes not

22:58 just what does the next 90 years look like at your organization but you’re

23:03 affecting every single person that comes into that door and you’re intentionally saying we will train we will grow you we

23:12 will work with you and when you were talking I was thinking how awesome

23:17 because you have you’re allowing people to give their opinions you can be

23:23 creative and think of things differently that some organization

23:29 this is the way we do it because we’ve always done it yeah you have that innate

23:35 culture that you are going to flex and change I think some some folks coming in

23:42 would still say oh we’ve done you know that’s what they hear we’ve done it this way for 90 years you know it’s um it’s

23:49 not perfect uh but we have tried a lot also in 90 years and there is still you

23:56 know a ton of institutional know know at least particularly on our leadership team um and so finding that flex point

24:07 between people who have you know coming in new saying oh why don’t you try this

24:14 versus the person who’s been there 30 years saying well we did that once and

24:19 it didn’t work and recognizing that it’s a different time you know it it could work now and and um kind of massaging

24:27 that balance is something that we’re constantly playing with and talking

24:32about and um transparency is another issue I think again during during covid

24:39 everybody sort of went into their own silos and people know no longer knew

24:45 what what one one part of the organization was doing and another um right now we’re at a point of like

24:53 really trying to be more transparent provide more information

24:59 in more different styles than we ever have before

25:05 um but that thing of like transparency openness to change

25:11 um I would say that partly it’s new leadership right like I’m coming in with

25:17 I do things very differently from my predecessor um who was wonderful and I

25:23 um she was she was an extraordinary mentor to me but we’re also very

25:28 different people and so partly it’s me figuring out my lane um partly it’s the

25:34 organization recovering from a major upheaval um and and I think we’re we’re

25:41 working together to to figure these things out and so on your leadership

25:47 team it sounds like you’ve been very stable there very very and I think then

25:53 that helps you create this is my Lane this is my my world and if you were

26:00 looking at bringing in somebody at that leadership position where would your

26:07 values and your your experience lie would you want to bring in somebody’s

26:12 super experience grow that talent yeah

26:17 so excuse me we go back and forth about that too like what one of the things is

26:23 wanting to bring somebody up right we have we have all of these line staff or

26:29 program managers who are doing really great work and and wanting to create opportunities for them to step into

26:34 leadership I think the other thing that we look at is the majority of our leadership team right now are folks who

26:41 have come up through Friendly House and um

26:46 and we don’t between all of us we don’t have a ton of outside experience besides

26:52 Friendly House um and that was sort of one of the only concern I had about

27:00 coming into this position was does Friendly House need new blood right now you know is this the right time for that

27:06 um and we tried it you know I I feel good about the fact that we did try that before I stepped in but I think at the

27:13 leadership team level that’s kind of the next time we’re going to be tested and it it will be a couple of factors is do

27:20 we have somebody ready to come in because that’s that’s kind of our our

27:25 values and that’s very likely what we would do if that were opportunity um but it limits us as far

27:32 as as kind of understanding trends and other practices in other organization so

27:38 I think we have to be really mindful about keeping ourselves everyone on our leadership out there you know visiting

27:45 other places meeting new Executive Directors um you know sitting in on

27:50 trainings and um you know keeping those things in the forefront because we we

27:56 can get tunnel vision you’ve been on such a journey I mean it’s really fascinating and I I um am

28:04 enjoying learning from you right now if you were able to go back in time

28:11 and offer your younger self advice about leadership what would that advice

28:19 be so I was very insecure like I had a ton

28:26 of um oh what is it called uh self-doubt well yes

28:32 that that works too because I mean partly because I didn’t

28:37 have specific education to be there and concern that it was you

28:44 know was it my history there that was helping me to move forward and it wasn’t

28:50 until I realized that even if it was my history that wasn’t a bad thing that

28:56 that to learn to to embrace that um that my history with the organization

29:04 is valuable just like everybody else’s and um I would also tell myself that I I

29:11 didn’t have to know everything to be a good leader or a good supervisor and to

29:19 trust the people around me um that I am supported by Extraordinary People

29:27 every day and not only just good managers and but the the most amazing

29:34 people I know and these are the people who have gotten through me through some of the hardest times in my life

29:40 personally we you know whether or not HR says it’s a good idea we tend to be

29:46 friends we’ve all grown up together in many ways um

29:52 and that is a gives a lot of grace both ways you know and

30:00 um so I yeah I think I would remind my younger self of those things and um and

30:09 that leadership is as much about putting your faith in the right people as it is

30:14 being the right person you know wow and I think that’s the perfect segue you

30:20 know this podcast is called hiring for good and good has so many different connotations to it whether it’s

30:27 retention good for the community good for the person what does hiring for good mean to

30:34 you you guys I saw this question and it has just been rattling around in my head

30:39 for a week um it means it means a lot I I love the title of your podcast

30:48 um I mean it’s kind of all of it right

30:53 like I again I have this deeply held fundamental belief that

31:00 every human being walking the face of the earth is doing the very best they can with the tools that they have um

31:10 and it doesn’t mean everybody is the best employee or the right fit um but

31:19 taking the time I you know oh God I I have really been swimming in this question

31:26 um hiring is a bit of a crapshoot right like we have this little bit of time to

31:32 get to know somebody we’re all sort of trying to sell each other on each other

31:39 um and it’s very hard to kind of be authentic in those in those moments and

31:45 I think when you find those people who are willing in an interview to be

31:52 vulnerable or to talk about you know that question is what what are your

31:57 strengths and weaknesses and that person who will really say like here’s what I’m really good at here’s where I’m going to

32:04 need help like those are the things that I key into

32:11 um and I just think if we can again keeping our values and our

32:17 community building mission like our responsibility is just to bring community in and that includes staff who

32:26 are Community or managers who are Community or

32:31 Taichi uh practicers or pickle ball players um and that the more that we can

32:39 bring in folks who are authentic and honest and full of integrity and a

32:46 willingness to learn and a willingness to engage that that that’s just good for

32:51 everybody all the way around well that’s beautiful I know it thank you so much it

32:58 is really just an honor to have these conversations and I feel like every time

33:03 I walk away with new insight about what it means to lead and um the different

33:10 energy and vision people bring to their work thank you thank you Mya it has

33:15 been wonderful thank you so much for having me I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you guys it’s

33:22 our pleasure thanks for joining us today at Hiring for Good if you were inspired by

33:27 our conversation don’t forget to like Follow and Subscribe wherever you get your podcast and if you want to learn

33:33 more about our Executive Search Services check us out at Hiring for Good

33:39 or our company website Acumen Executive Search thanks so much and

33:45 don’t forget to join us next time for another in-depth conversation about transformational leadership until then

33:50 have fun