Protea Conversations: Chelsea Kurnick
Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality out-sourced bookkeeping and accounting at an affordable price. Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked. Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.
We selected the name Protea because it is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.
Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.
In March we spent some time with Chelsea Kurnick, the chair of Positive Images (PI). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. This LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station – a closet of free lightly-used clothing. They are proud to offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for people of all ages to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. The vision is a Sonoma County where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.
Chelsea Rose Kurnick is a queer bisexual woman from southern California and has lived in Sonoma County since October 2017. She joined the board of Positive Images in 2018 after volunteering with the organization for about a year. With Jessica Carroll, she co-founded and facilitates the weekly Friday evening LGBTQIA peer support group. Chelsea knew Sonoma County well before moving, as she has worked in the wine industry for nearly 12 years. She spent more than three years doing public relations and digital marketing for a variety of Sonoma County tourism businesses and organizations. Chelsea is currently a development coordinator and film programmer for AVFilm.
Tell us about your journey from wine to marketing to nonprofit development?
I got interested in wine and spirits while working as a server at a fine dining restaurant during college. When I graduated, I decided to pursue my sommelier certificate and another certification from Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). After several years in restaurants and bars, I felt eager for a change of pace, and started exploring what other careers might be available to someone with my specializations. I was lucky to find a PR and marketing agency that specializes in wine and tourism. They were expanding and needed an experienced writer with wine knowledge; my skills proved to be a perfect match. It was an exhilarating job which led me to travel all over the U.S. and, most frequently, to Sonoma Wine Country from my then home in Los Angeles.
I moved to Sonoma County full time on October 1, 2017. When I say that to anyone who lives here, their eyes widen, knowingly, because on October 8, 2017, the most destructive fire in California history (then) swept through Santa Rosa, taking human lives, leveling more than 5% of the homes in our county’s largest city and changing our lives forever.
That tragedy—and a political climate that threatened the rights and safety of queer people in the U.S.—impelled me toward some major life changes. As much as I enjoyed my marketing work, it was the right time for me to change course again. I began organizing arts events in support of causes that matter to me. It turned out that many of the skills I’d acquired in my PR and marketing job came in handy. Today, I work in development at an arts-based nonprofit called AVFilm and am learning new skills every day.
Tell us about your role with Positive Images and how you got involved?
Before I was invited to join PI’s board, I volunteered at our peer support group for youth and young adults. That program is fantastic and impactful — so much so that I wondered why queer and trans adults didn’t have our own peer support group. Together with PI’s Director of Programs Jessica Carroll, we co-founded a weekly adult group in 2018. Four years later, that group is thriving.
In my role as chair of our Board of Directors, I create the agendas and lead PI’s board meetings. I work on donor development, professional development opportunities for the staff and board, and outreach in the community. I am an experienced grant writer, so I also co-create grant and contract proposals for the organization. We’re in a big growth spurt right now, so there are a lot of moving parts to my role at PI.
Why is Positive Images important to you?
Our center is like a home to me and the community I find here are my chosen family. I’m fortunate to also have close relationships with my blood family, but that isn’t the case for many LGBTQIA+ people. Family and societal rejection of queer and trans people results in heightened risk for all sorts of hardships in life–from depression and suicidal ideation to job and housing insecurity and so much more. PI exists to affirm and celebrate LGBTQIA+ people in their identities and exploration thereof. Our trainings reduce stigma and increase empathy and understanding of LGBTQIA+ individuals and issues to foster a safer, more just world for us to exist in, while our direct services reduce feelings of isolation and provide life-saving support for queer and trans people in our community.
What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?
PI is my first board, so learning all of the pieces involved in governance has been a big job and is an ongoing process. I take a lot of continuing education courses in nonprofit leadership and board boot camps. Learning to delegate tasks effectively and to share the work is crucial to successful collaborative work, which doesn’t always come naturally to a person who has done a lot of freelancing and independent projects.
What are your short-term goals of your career and yourself?
This year, professionally, I’m focused on slowing down and working more strategically. Personally, I’m really trying to spend more time away from my phone and computer.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?
In 2019, I took a workshop with the arts & equity consultant Beatrice L. Thomas. Bea presented a binary where they said that a talent is something you’re inherently good at and that gives you energy to do, whereas a skill is something you’ve had to learn and takes energy to do. Many jobs will require you to use a combination of your talents and your skills, but if you find yourself doing work that is mostly skills-based, you’re going to burn out. I reflect on this all the time.
What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out on your career?
I guess this goes back to what I said about my present short-term goals – I wish someone had told me that often investing time upfront to learn something deeply often saves time in the future. Take time to research broader solutions rather than trouble-shooting in a vacuum.
What advice would you give to others to help them be better leaders?
Connect with and learn from others! Are there leaders or organizations you admire? Ask if you can meet with them and pick their brain. Leaders are usually flattered and delighted to share their knowledge with others.
Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space and your role with Positive Images?
Writing and art are still at the center of my life. When I’m not writing grants, I’m writing freelance journalism or poetry. In 2020, I got to teach a community workshop at the Museum of Sonoma County on ekphrasis – responding to a work of art through creative writing.
As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/).
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