The world of non-profit is an incredible place with some of the most generous and selfless people we have ever had the chance to meet. One of these inspiring people is Jake Weber, the Executive Director of FamilyWorks, a Seattle based family resource center and food bank. Since before 1995 FamilyWorks has been serving its community through learning initiatives and volunteerism opportunities. As the leader of this organization Jake Weber is entirely hands-on, from working with food bank vendors to attending fund raising events. As a leader in her community Jake knows how to inspire the organization staff and get nearly 300 volunteers excited about their work! (Plus she’s not afraid to get onstage and sing her heart out!). We are so thrilled to introduce Jake Weber!
Name: Jake Weber
Education: B.S. in Music Therapy and Master’s degree in Social Work from University of Washington
Explore: FamilyWorks Seattle / United Way / Seattle Works / VolunteerMatch / Idealist
Carpe Juvenis: How would you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Jake Weber: I would say it’s about exploring as much as possible. Some things you fall into but for the most part you just can’t be afraid of doing different things. Some things will be more interesting and exciting, but just say yes. Just go for it. Follow your passions.
CJ: You majored in Music Therapy. How did you discover that passion and decide to pursue it for your undergraduate degree?
JW: Music has always been a very strong passion of mine, along with helping people. I always knew I wanted to help people and then I realized, “Wow you can combine music with therapy,” and that rang so true. And there was part of me that wondered if I was good enough at music or good enough with helping people. But I did it, and I did enjoy it. And although I discovered that it wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to be doing forever, the process of doing it brought me many different places and I don’t regret a minute of it.
CJ: How would you suggest discovering passions if you don’t know what those are yet?
JW: Don’t be afraid of failure. Kids might think “I’m not good at this so I’m not going to try.” The fear of failure prevents a lot of people from doing things. So if you even have the slightest interest in something go for it, and look to work with someone who has experience. They can share their skills in a way that makes sense to you. They can share their passion, which can help your fire get lit by someone else’s enthusiasm for something—even shadowing somebody for a short period of time. If we’re talking about the non-profit world, there are a lot of volunteering opportunities. It’s about getting out there, and there are a million opportunities for that.
CJ: Can you elaborate on your experience with earning your Master’s degree in Social Work from the UW? Would you do it again if you had the choice?
JW: In the non-profit world, experience and training matters a great deal What I discovered in doing music therapy was that I liked training staff in the nursing homes to be able to use music on a much broader level than just me using it on an individual basis. In following social work, and wanting to learn more about social justice and all the systems at play, I wanted to use that body of knowledge and philosophy in my work. So I really enjoyed studying social work—with a focus on community development, and getting a chance to work in different organizations, it really helps to work with various people and various jobs.
CJ: You did your Master’s at UW, did that influence your decision to stay in the area?
JW: Well I grew up on the east coast and spent many years there and did a back and forth from coast to coast, in term of my studies. But once I did my Master’s here I knew I was re- planted.
CJ: What sparked your love of community outreach and how did you get involved with Family Works?
JW: When I was at my former job we started a family support center. And what I learned about family resource centers was that the model was very appealing to me. It was very empowering, and it was based on partnerships in the community – everyone coming together so we could help all families and all participants thrive. I helped start that there, and then was asked to be on the board of this emerging family center. At the time food banks were pretty new to me, but it made a lot of sense to combine programs that provide nutrition for you physically, and combined with other programs that provide sustenance for you in other social, emotional, economic and strengthening ways.
CJ: In your experience what factors and traits allow you to love your job?
JW: I love the range of connections with people working together to strengthen the community – the Board, the community members, participants of the center, staff, volunteers, the City, Churches, Schools other organizations. It’s a powerful thing when all of these forces act together for the greater good. Perhaps it is my love of people and people power and mobilizing those forces that make my job so rewarding.
CJ: What does a day in your life look like at Family Works?
JW: As the executive director in a small organization I engage in a very broad range of things you have to do to run an organization. Such as program and partnership development, fundraising, managing staff, writing grants, , getting customer input, collecting food at the farmers market, (the list could go on) and did I mention fundraising?
CJ: What can people do now to set themselves up for success in the non-profit world?
JW: What we really need now from young people are for them to bring new and interesting ideas to the table and engage their circle of contacts in causes that they believe in. All organizations need resources to further their mission. In terms of getting into the field, talk to people doing work that you find interesting, ask to shadow them, read about best practices, current trends and then get your hands dirty!
CJ: If kids want to get involved with their community but aren’t sure how, what would be the easiest way to do so?
JW: There are so many local organizations to get involved with and volunteer programs at each organization. Find a service area that appeals to you and their website should guide you to volunteer opportunities. Don’t get discouraged, sometimes it takes time to nail down a position.
CJ: How do you handle the difficult days at your job?
JW: Some days you just do what you can and feel like you haven’t made a dent. There’s a book written called Trauma Stewardship, and describes this classic feeling across the board with people in this helping field—they never feel like they’re doing enough. This sets you up for not only dissatisfaction and stress. I like to talk to people who use the program and remind myself of the impact we actually do have on people.
CJ: How do you like to spend your fee time?
JW: I really like being outside, riding my bike and hiking, especially with friends and family members I play in a band and that brings me incredible joy and actually relieves a lot of stress. I sing, play guitar in a swing/country/bluegrass group called The Wiretappers. . It’s important to have something outside of your work that’s pure happiness. Even though I love my job but there’s also a lot of responsibility and stress that’s a part of that, so having something else that’s a passion combined with creative self expression is important to me. Exercise in general is really important and keeps me full of energy.
CJ: How do you ever combat stage fright or self-doubt?
JW: If there’s something that you really enjoy, not everyone is going to like you or love what you’re doing. And I wasn’t like that when I was younger, and was a bit more afraid of what people thought, but if you feel strongly about what you’re doing and enjoy doing it, and you will find the people who also appreciate it. Just enjoy it as much as you can!
CJ: What is your favorite book?
CJ: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
JW: I would probably say travel, get out there and experience the world in that way and be fearless. Just follow anything that even vaguely resembles interest. If you don’t know what the passion thing is, you’ve got to follow your interests. Find people you admire, talk to them about what they like about their work and that could trigger some other ideas for what you could be interested in. Don’t let anybody else tell you or guide what you think might should be your path. Just go for it.