Protea Conversations: Jessica Carroll
Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced 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 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 June, we spend some time with Jessica Carroll, the Director of Programs of Positive Images. 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. They are proud to offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people 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.
Jessica Carroll (she/her) grew up in the Roseland community of Santa Rosa. After graduating from UC Davis she started her career in non-profits working with youth and young adults in the foster care system, suicide prevention programs, and mental health treatment. After 12 years away, Jessica returned to Sonoma County and immediately reached out to Positive Images knowing that she had the skills, knowledge, and experience to serve the unique needs of the local LGBTQIA+ community. With positivity, warmth, and excitement Jessica hopes to create space at Positive Images (and the greater Sonoma County) where all LGBTQIA+ folks are accepted, respected, valued, and loved. Outside of PI, you can usually find Jessica and Puppy Frank on the rugby field!
Tell us about your decision and journey to dedicate your career to the non-profit space?
I’m not sure if there was a conscious decision to dedicate my career to the non-profit sector, as much as a lifelong pull toward opportunities where I felt like I could be of service to others. I have always sought out opportunities to be a helper and offer what I could to those around me. As a kid, I watched my mom tirelessly give her time and energy to people and causes she cared deeply about. Caretaking, sharing resources, and offering to others were values ingrained in me as a child and have certainly been the throughline in my career thus far. When I look to the people I love, my community, and this world, I see ways that we can, and should uplift one another. My career in the non-profit sector has always been opportunities to put the values I learned early on into practice.
Tell us about your role with Positive Images and how you got involved?
As the Director of Programs, I work closely with the Board of Directors to guide the organization, support our staff and volunteers, and oversee the programs and offerings to community. I grew up in Sonoma County, but spent over a decade in other parts of the state. When I moved back to Sonoma County in my thirties, there was an immediate opening for a part time administrative assistant at Positive Images. It was not the position I wanted, but I loved the mission, programs, and the heart centered community work, so I applied anyway. I ultimately did not get that job. It was actually the best job rejection I’ve ever had! The people I met were so incredible and the organization so powerful, I knew this was not the last interaction I would have with this organization. I ended up working for a different local agency where I learned a lot and met some wonderful friends and colleagues. About a year later, the chair of the board reached out to me and invited me to apply for the position I am currently in. I’ve been the Director of Programs for four and a half years now and am wildly grateful that things aligned when they did. It was a wonderful lesson in patience, trust, and persistence. The universe does not operate on my timeline, but I’m so glad it didn’t.
Why is Positive Images important to you?
Despite the fact that by the time I was a 15 year old angsty queer kid Positive Images was already in its 10th year in Sonoma County, I had no idea this resource and beautiful community existed in my own back yard. I can only imagine how different my youth and young adult years would have been had I been connected to such affirmation and support. At our heart, PI is a place where we come to feel affirmed and offer affirmation to others. It’s a place to be you, free from judgment or disdain. A place to be wholly authentic, even as you’re still figuring out who that is. Even though I didn’t get connected to these services as a youth, the fact that I now get to help create and nurture a space for young people to get what they so desperately need, is incredibly healing.
What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?
Something that I’ve been meditating on lately is the idea of trauma stewardship. As a leader in our organization, I serve as a steward for the multifaceted trauma the people in our community face. Knowing how to hold, direct, and assuage that trauma is an ever-changing experience. This is true both throughout my career and also personally. Because of the realities of oppression, homophobia, and transphobia, the queer and trans community has and will continue to experience disproportional hardship and trauma. Being able to find support for stewarding that reality has been what makes this hard, yet rewarding work sustainable.
What are your short-term goals of your career and yourself?
My short term goals for my career are very intertwined with my short term goals for Positive Images, as an organization and a community. PI has been operating with a small staff and a very dedicated community of volunteers for decades. I want to continue to nurture and guide the organization as we move into the next chapter of our history. As we look to grow, I’m excited about the mentorship and professional development that will come from serving alongside an experienced executive director. I hope to be developing new and exciting programming to build upon our foundation and bring even more service opportunities for entirely new populations to find connection, strengthen protection, and build community.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?
Queer icon and rapper Lil Nas X said in a speech recently that “its ok to be a little delusional when you’re chasing your dreams,”. We must have the freedom to dream unburdened and unencumbered to imagine the world we need, before we can begin to actualize it. That perspective has helped me to look at things I previously thought impossible and wonder, “well, how could we…? What if we…?” This shift to not judging or immediately shutting down dreams and ideas, even if they are non-traditional or a little out of the ordinary, has allowed me to become more creative in problem solving and solution building. Pushing and bending the realms of possibility has sometimes allowed me to access things I’d never have achieved if I didn’t try.
What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out on your career?
You yourself are your organization’s most valuable resource. The best way to help those around you, is to take care of yourself first. Take care of yourself in every way possible: emotionally, physically, spiritually, and professionally. This work can be draining, emotionally charged, and exhausting. Burnout is real. Find and prioritize balance, joy, and laughter. Be diligent in your personal self-care and hold clear boundaries. Practice affirmations and gratitude. Be tenacious in going after the opportunities you want. Ask for help when you need it!
What advice do you give to others to help them be better leaders?
Be better listeners. As leaders, it’s our job to listen to the people we support (our employees, clients, community) then use our influence and positions of power to help actualize what needs to be done to serve them effectively. Ask those you are serving what they need, and listen to their responses. Be open to and appreciate of feedback from those around you.
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?
On a whim, and with a sense of intentional teenage rebellion, I found myself joining a rugby team when I was 14. We were one of just a handful of high school girls’ rugby teams in the state at that time, as it wasn’t, and still isn’t, a very popular sport in the United States. I had no idea this sport would truly influence so many aspects of my life. Rugby is more than just a game, sport, or athletic endeavor. Rugby, like PI, is community. It was one of the first places I found refuge in affirmation, acceptance, and understanding. Being a part of the community gave me the freedom to be exactly who I was, and for that person to not only be accepted, but celebrated. I’ve played and coached at many different levels over the course of 20 years, finally retiring when our season was interrupted by the pandemic. At every level, every season, teammates become family and the community takes care of one another.
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/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their 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. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people 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. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.
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