Olivia Orr, Coordinator, Coach, Coder & Co-Director

Raised by a family of educators, Oliva Orr seeks to make an impact on social justice through mission-driven work. Olivia shares what she is most passionate about today and reminds us "success looks different on everyone."

When did you first get involved in working with non-profits?

While I was a college student, I spent a couple of summers working with Upward Bound. It was a bit of a whirlwind; I built relationships with the students, planned trips, and assisted with some of the administrative duties. The experience opened my eyes to the professional possibilities within the nonprofit realm. I think my studies in Sociology only further solidified my desire to participate in community-based, socially driven work. I was lucky to land a job at a Boston-based nonprofit called Silver Lining Mentoring after graduation, but eventually, I realized Portland might be a better fit for me, which is how I ended up here.  

Do you think you were born with the innate qualities to help others or did this evolve through travels and life experiences? 

I think that my parents have a lot do with my desire to help others. Both of my parents are educators – my dad is a Forestry Professor and my mom is a Head Start teacher. They raised me to understand the importance of giving back. I’m grateful for my education and everybody I’ve met along the way because of those experiences sort of filled in the gaps. I had to figure out what “giving back” looked like in the real world – how could I make that desire more tangible?

Can you explain what ILAP is and what lead you to be The Operations Coordinator?

ILAP (The Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project) provides free and low-cost immigration information and legal assistance to low-income Maine residents. We believe that everyone should be able to access our legal system regardless of income or background. We provide direct legal aid, conduct educational outreach sessions, and advocate for policy change at the systemic level. My Portland job hunt was mission-driven. I knew that I could use my administrative and development skills in just about any office environment, but I wanted to find someplace that felt like the right fit for me. ILAP’s mission sparked my curiosity, which led me to apply. 

" ILAP  helps Maine's immigrants keep their families together, gain protection from persecution and domestic violence, attain residency and work authorization, and become proud U.S. citizens."

"ILAP helps Maine's immigrants keep their families together, gain protection from persecution and domestic violence, attain residency and work authorization, and become proud U.S. citizens."

What does your job entail?

I started off as the Office and Development Associate. My duties were evenly split between administrative and development work – it was all very straightforward. As time went on and I grew to be more comfortable with our work, I expanded on those duties. I wrote my first grant proposal (which was approved!) and designed new marketing materials. I am now trained to conduct Intake appointments (Intake appointments occur every Friday, by appointment, for all new clients), which gives me a chance to work directly with our clients. I think the title Operations Coordinator is sort of a catch-all for the little things I do here and there. 

How has Trump's immigration bills impacted your mission? 

We’ve certainly felt the impact of the new administration at ILAP. The work that we’re doing is now more important than ever, and we all recognize that. We’re lucky to have so many donors and supporters who have recognized that too. A lot of folks in our communities have chosen to speak up stand proudly with immigrants.


Outside of work, what do you like to do? 

Music is important to me. Portland’s live music scene is amazing, so I try to attend shows when I can! I like hanging out at breweries and exploring new places in Maine. I’ve been learning to code in my spare time over the past couple of years, which has been awesome. I identify as an introverted extrovert, so relaxation is important to me too. My ideal evening is spent cooking dinner and swapping stories with my girlfriend.

What is Lesbians Who Tech and what inspired you to become the Maine Chapter's, City Co-Director? 

Officially speaking, Lesbians Who Tech is a community of queer women in and around tech (and the people who love them). That’s pretty much all I knew when my mentor, Allyson Casey, encouraged me to attend the LWT summit in NYC last fall. Up until then, I had wondered if I was learning to code for nothing. What could I do with those skills? Would there be a place for me in tech if I wanted it? Who could support me along the way? My hesitation was put to rest after attending the summit; words cannot describe my experience. I was blown away by the general badassness and inclusivity of the LWT community. I shared my experience with Allyson and she proposed that we start our own chapter here in Southern Maine. We strongly feel that there are queer women and allies here who are also seeking community and want to support one another. Our first meetup was held in January, which was a resounding success! Stay tuned for upcoming events.

How important do you think building mindful technology is today?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can connect my love for social justice with my building passion for tech. I think sometimes people hear the word “tech” and recoil because it seems inaccessible to them. What I’ve learned through LWT is that tech takes many forms. 

You can build something by programming, sure, but you can also use technology to design, communicate, and teach. I think that tech is supposed to benefit everyone, but when you have a sector that’s largely led by straight white men, you’re going to see some bias in the outcomes that are produced. If more underrepresented folks (women, LGBT people, people of color, etc.) were encouraged to carve out spaces for themselves in tech, I think typically marginalized communities would be positively impacted. 

What is one thing not many people know about you? 

I love movie scores. No, I am obsessed with movie scores. I think I have over 2,000 songs in my music library from different TV shows and movies. 

Olivia Orr  as Gary Coleman, and  Shawn Reardon  as Nicky in AVENUE Q at LYRIC MUSIC THEATER!  Photo:  Brandon Pullen Photography

Olivia Orr as Gary Coleman, and Shawn Reardon as Nicky in AVENUE Q at LYRIC MUSIC THEATER! Photo: Brandon Pullen Photography

When did you start skiing and how long have you been assistant coaching with Portland Nordic?

I’ve been cross country skiing since I was about seven. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has a tremendous amount of lake effect snow (I think it’s something like 218” on average per year), so getting involved with skiing was pretty much a no-brainer. I skied competitively through high school and into my first year of college, but I sort of burnt out along the way and decided to try other things. When I heard about Portland Nordic late last year I wanted to get involved. It felt like the right time to get back into something that had defined me for quite some time but in a different capacity. I’m grateful the lead coaches let me on board! Middle schoolers are hilariously awesome and they work hard out there. 

What are you most passionate about today?

Recently I’ve been feeling an intense enthusiasm around things I’ve enjoyed in the past, but strayed away from over the years. I’m really lucky that I was encouraged to try so many different activities as a kid. Because of that, I can sort of jump around and dive into different things when the timing is right. I loved dedicated myself to that over the past couple of months. Now I’m looking forward to getting back into coding with more regularity since the ski season is wrapping up. There are a lot of things in this world that make me happy, and I like not knowing what will draw me in 6 months down the line, or a year from now.

Olivia recently launched her  personal portfolio and wesbite . 

Olivia recently launched her personal portfolio and wesbite

What is one message I can repeatedly share with the world on your behalf? 

I spend a lot of time reminding myself that 

success looks different on everybody.

Sometimes I feel successful when my stress level is super low. Other times I measure my success by the number of items I’ve checked off on a to-do list. Sometimes I feel accomplished because I’ve gone to the grocery store on a Sunday instead of waiting until Monday. I think that’s what I’m drawn to Mindbosa, to be honest! It makes you realize that your goals can be flexible and your measure of success is your own.

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities"

-Album Dumbledore

In one word describe yourself:



To Connect with Olivia: 

Website: || Email: || LinkedIn: Olivia Orr || Facebook || Instagram

Would you like to learn about Mindbosa? 

Would you like to become part of our community? 

Topher Stephenson, Marketer, Musician & Portland Ambassador

Topher has been recently promoted to the VP of Marketing at Atlantic National Trust in addition to being the Volunteer Marketing Director for PROPEL, a non-profit whose mission is "to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community." Through networking, celebrating small businesses, and introducing newcomers to Maine, Topher is committed to Portland and its future.  

When did you first get involved in marketing?

There were a few experiences in college that helped shape my perception of marketing early on. I had my first real experience when my friend and I both quit our summer jobs to start a house painting company. We were both excited to get out of our comfort zones and try something new, but the downside was we hadn't lined up any business before quitting our other jobs. I kind of thought we should build a quick website and make a Facebook page before doing anything else & my partner thought we should just hit the pavement, we ended up doing the latter. We made a flyer and went door to door for 2 weeks straight until we had a summer worth of work lined up - I don't think I became an expert salesman in that 2 week stretch, but it definitely taught me the value of hustle when it comes to bringing money in the door for a small business. 

After that some friends and I started up a blog to cover the Penn State music scene (State In The Real) which introduced me to social media as a marketing tool (and later on how putting too many eggs in the social media basket is a mistake) - It also kind of forced me to learn how to leverage relationships with different businesses and student groups I knew to form partnerships and help promote the website. Working with the blog ultimately landed me an internship with Red Bull where I got a better understanding of how a big brand handles marketing - IE the necessity of having boots on the ground in your target markets to strengthen brand awareness and the importance of working with local thought-leaders to get your message out.

Part of the  State In The Real  Team circa 2012

Part of the State In The Real Team circa 2012

What would you say inspires you? 

I'm inspired by people that strive to be the best at what they do. It's super easy to get bogged down in day-to-day minutia and lose sight of the big picture things like "How can I stay ahead of the curve?" or "How can I focus on the projects that generate results and weed out the ones that don't" - Especially because there is never a definitive answer to those kinds of questions. But when I meet people who are continuously trying to keep themselves on the cutting edge in their field and improving their craft, I find that really inspirational.

Can you give us a brief history of your education and work history? 

I got my Bachelors of Science in Health Policy & Administration from Penn State in 2012. Up until I started my current job my work history is a big mish-mash because I was doing a lot at once to get as much experience as possible. 

My last year at Penn State I worked for Red Bull as a Student Brand Rep and I was running State In the Real (which at the time was comprised of 20+ people/volunteers). When I graduated I kept interning with Red Bull part-time, took on 2 more part-time internships and started up a collegiate marketing company with some friends until Red Bull brought me up to Maine for a full-time internship. Eventually, I started working with Mainely SEO doing Social Media and Search Engine Optimization in Portland while I did some marketing consulting in my spare time. I started consulting with Atlantic about 4 years ago until they brought me on full time to manage their real estate marketing program. As of November 2017, I've taken on more marketing and communications projects in addition to the real estate marketing.

What role does music play in your life?

Not nearly enough of one lately but music is both a creative outlet and a stress reliever. Depending on what the project is, music can actually turn into its very own form of stress but I've been lucky enough to stay away from that for the past few years. I'm not putting nearly as much time into music as I'd like lately, but I was lucky enough to do some vocals on 2 albums that were released in 2017, one from my friend Harry Zobel and one from local rapper Myles Bullen. I'm working on some new tracks with local producer & beatboxer Ben Toppi, but with both of us having busy schedules it will probably have a while until we have a finished product.

The Sublime rendition of Marley Medley as performed by Topher Stephenson.

What do you like to do outside of work and music that directly impacts your career? 

My favorite things to do outside of work are hiking and taking advantage of Portland's awesome food & beer - Unfortunately, neither of those things really impact my career. I'm of the mind that people should do less business networking on the golf course and do more in front of Food Trucks.

Other than eating and hiking, I sit as Marketing Chair on the Board of Directors for PROPEL, an organization dedicated to making Portland a place where Young Professionals can thrive. It doesn't play into my job every day but the connections I've made through PROPEL have come in handy in on many occasions. We have a very talented board and I consider myself lucky to work with them. 

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. What would you say are yours?

Once in an interview, I was asked - "What is your superpower?" I think I was too early in my career to have a good answer at that point, but I know what it is now  - Above all else, I'm resourceful. I think a lot of the value that I've added to my job over the past 4 years comes from digging in and finding marketing opportunities that other people in the industry have no idea even exist, or just haven't thought to use for real estate. 

The less that people are using an effective marketing tool, the more valuable it can be.

I'd say my biggest weakness is that I often try to do everything/ get everything done at once. Sometimes I'll have a Sunday completely free and want to work on a hobby, but instead of working on 1 hobby I'll play guitar for 20 minutes, have a quick workout, take 5 photos and read half a chapter of book - I feel well rounded at the end but it's not really a good practice if you want to excel at anything. I recently listened to a great podcast featuring Derek Sivers where he mentions the concept that we can all do everything we want to do, but only if we can get used to the idea of doing those things over the course of a lifetime and not all at once. I think this is something that Generation Y struggles with as a whole, but considering how time-poor we are it is something we really need to accept and it's something I plan to be mindful of in 2018.

How do you measure the impact of PROPEL'S success and continued growth?  

As the Marketing Chair and coming from a digital marketing background I gravitate towards numbers - It's awesome to see that our email subscribers have gone up 25% in the past year and that we have over 100 people signed up to be Maine Ambassadors, and it's always a great feeling when we sell out a Networking Event. But I think that I get real a feel for PROPEL's impact by the anecdotal things you can't measure, like when someone tells you they made an important connection at an event, or better yet that they made an introduction that helped them land a job interview - Those kinds of stories make me feel like we're living up to our mission. 

"  PROPEL strives to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community."

"PROPEL strives to enrich Maine’s economy by developing an environment and culture where young professionals can thrive in Maine’s growing business community."

Similarly, we're in the process of launching Phase 2 of the Maine Ambassador Program, ultimately the app will allow people who are visiting or just moved to Maine to connect with established Mainers (the Ambassadors) so that they can take them out for a cup of coffee and show them the area. It will be good to see new Mainers begin to use the app, but what I'm really excited for is to hear the feedback from them after they've made a connection and get an idea of how well we're helping them acclimate to the area.

What advice would you give to people deciding whether to live and work in Maine?

If you haven't been to Maine, book your ticket - It is worth a trip whether you decide to live here or not. While you're here, definitely take some time to hit the usual tourist attractions, but consider making use of the Maine Ambassador Program - It's an awesome way to meet someone local from the area who can tell you what it's like to live here, take you to some of the hotspots that your average tourist won't know about, and show you what living here is all about. The project was originally spearheaded by Chris Lee, PROPEL's previous President, and is run by Eric Collins - They've both done an excellent job getting us where we are.

If Topher's photo's alone aren't reason enough to move to Maine, I don't know what is! 

What is something people will be surprised to know about you?

A friend told me the other day that when he thinks of people who are good networkers, I'm one of the first people that come to mind. Fortunately, he's never actually seen me in action - The surprise is that for someone who sits on the board of an organization that regularly throws networking events, I'm shockingly bad at networking by all standards. But I've definitely noticed that the more I do it the better I get - Maybe I'll start using Mindbosa to give myself an incentive to keep it up. 

What is one "can't live without it" app you use? 

I travel a lot to NY and PA to see family and friends so that means lots of 5+ hour drives, I'd be toast without the Podcasts app. On that same note, if Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss both quit doing their podcasts I think I'd need to start buying more plane tickets because driving would be out. Other than that - Anytime I run out of room on my phone and need to make room to take pictures (happens pretty frequently), the only apps I can never bring myself to delete are Instagram, Spotify, Waze and the Tabs & Chords app from Ultimate Guitar.

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

This changes frequently, but right now it is this video. Sometimes waking up early requires tough love. 

In one word describe yourself: 

En route.

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"New  #drone  new  #selfie ." via Topher's  Instagram

"New #drone new #selfie." via Topher's Instagram

To Connect w/ Topher & PROPEL: 


Instagram: @tophernow || @propelportland


Katie Rutherford, Director of Development at Frannie Peabody Center

It is clear to me, Katie was born an advocate. Her words resonate with me. 
I asked Katie what message she would like me to share on her behalf: “Always try harder to consider and understand the challenges that other people face.  Be kinder to each other, but never stop fighting oppression, injustice, and inequality. 
Also, please remember to accept science.  It’s real.” 

When did you first get involved in working with non-profits? 

I was on a Student Athletic Advisory Committee in college that coordinated service projects for all the athletes.  At the same time, I was majoring in anthropology and taking a course on international development.  I was very fortunate to have an athletic scholarship that allowed me to travel around the country and meet so many different people.  I think all those things happening simultaneously made me realize I wanted a career in the non-profit sector working with people. 

Do you think you were born with the innate qualities to help others or did this evolve over time through travels and life experiences? 

I was brought up in an environment that taught us to stand up for what we believe in, particularly when those moments and movements involve inequality and injustice. I think my experiences have shaped and been shaped by those values, and certainly taught me a great deal along the way.  I think those lessons and the people I have met have given me strength and little more volume in my voice when it comes to working for organizations that help others.  

What lead you to your current position at Frannie Peabody Center? 

I had been living in South Africa for four years running a small community-based non-profit organization that I started in a tiny village on the coast.  When it became too difficult to sustain myself and the organization, I had to make the difficult decision to move back to the States.  One of the issues that really stuck with me after leaving was HIV/AIDS.  When I started looking for jobs in the non-profit sector,  I wanted to really narrow my focus on that issue.  Maine had been my home base while living overseas because my sister, niece, and nephew were all here.  When I saw the job of Development Director come up at Frannie Peabody Center,  I jumped at the chance – it seemed a little too good to be true in the logistical sense; working in the field I was interested in while also being able to be so close to my family.  More than five years later, here I am. I feel very fortunate that I was able to figure out exactly what I was passionate about and have the resources, privilege, and support to call it work. 

Scenes from the 2017 Southern Maine AIDS Walk - Photos By Maine Running & Faces Maine by Maine Magazine || The 2018 Southern Maine Aids Walk/5k Run will be held 5/5/18. Eary bird registration will be available HERE on 2/1/18.

Katie is passionate - passionate about her work, about advocacy, about that state of the world. She puts 200% of herself into everything she does. I wish I could bottle her passion and share it with everyone!
— Donna Galluzzo, Executive Director at Frannie Peabody Center

Can you explain what FPC is and what being The Director of Development includes? 

Frannie Peabody Center is Maine’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS services organization.  We provide direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the form of medical case management, housing assistance, and behavioral health counseling, and we also provide free HIV and Hepatitis C counseling, testing, referral, and outreach services.  We have an extensive history and compelling legacy with Frannie Peabody.  She was a grandmother – in her eighties in the early 1980’s when she lost her grandson to AIDS.  Never one to sit on the sidelines, she was an outspoken and unexpected advocate for those affected by HIV/AIDS at a time when many people would refuse to acknowledge the challenges and urgency of the issue. She rallied people together and was a transformative leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Maine. One of the things I admire most about her, having only experienced the stories second-hand, is how she coupled a very compassionate and loving spirit with being an incredibly strong and determined fighter.  I think that’s something that has carried on at the agency because of her.  Being the development director is traditionally about fundraising – that includes grant writing, events, maintaining the social media and web platforms, responding to state and federal proposal requests, and donor relations.  However, being a small agency under 20 staff members, we really operate as a team.  Non-profits are never working with excess capacity, that’s for sure, so we all jump in where we can across programs and projects. We celebrate the success together, and we feel the hits together. It doesn’t make it easy, but I think it makes us a stronger agency as a whole.

Frances W. Peabody   (April 18, 1903 – June 26, 2001), known as  Frannie , was an  HIV / AIDS  activist. Her work as an activist began at the age of 80 when her eldest grandchild was diagnosed with AIDS and continued for 18 years until her death in 2001. - Via  Wikipedia

Frances W. Peabody (April 18, 1903 – June 26, 2001), known as Frannie, was an HIV/AIDS activist. Her work as an activist began at the age of 80 when her eldest grandchild was diagnosed with AIDS and continued for 18 years until her death in 2001. - Via Wikipedia

What are your thoughts on state & federal funding cuts on healthcare in general, but specifically HIV/AIDS Testing and Prevention Programs? Has this affected you? 

I think the outlook for social services has taken a devastating blow, especially over the past twelve months.  Funding & policies that negatively impact immigration, housing, education, climate, and so on, have a huge impact on health, and all these factors play a critical role in living healthy with HIV/AIDS as well as preventing transmission.  As a low incidence state, Maine has been dealing with cuts to HIV/AIDS funding for many years in line with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy shifting funds to areas of higher incidence.  From a national and global perspective, of course, we want resources to be focused in a strategic way on the areas that are hit the hardest by the epidemic.  But locally, we know the people that are facing overwhelming challenges every day, so it’s difficult not to get frustrated when resources are pulled away. When it comes to prevention, we’re talking about lowering infection rates and making sure people have the knowledge and tools to protect themselves.  So when these programs are effective, the data often illustrates a decreased need.  The problem with this perspective is that the need is very much still there even when new infections are not necessarily on the rise.  The most obvious and very recent example of this is when the closure of syringe exchange programs in Scott County, Indiana led to an HIV outbreak in 2015. As we continue to see the effects of a growing opioid epidemic in Maine, limited access to HIV prevention services also remains a concern.  HIV/AIDS can be managed as a chronic disease thanks to some incredible developments, but that does not mean it should be dismissed and overlooked. The stigma, fear, and ignorance that was so prevalent in the 80’s is still very much a reality for a lot of people today. As with any public health issue, we have to remain committed to evidence-based strategies, looking at the interconnectedness of different barriers, identifying and addressing disparities across communities.  We have to treat people with respect and understanding, and not become complacent. 

In honor of #GivingTuesday, CFCWEAR (Catalyst For Change -- clothing that creates change) collaborated and donated 100% of profits from BRAVE shirts to the Frannie Peabody Center.

What is one challenge and lesson you've learned from your role(s) in leadership?

One thing that I continue to face is that sometimes no matter how hard you work, you will not win every battle.  I grew up thinking that as long as I worked hard enough, nothing was out of reach.  And sure, you will come up against the “you can’t do that, you’re too [insert condescending insult here]”, but I was taught I could do anything I put my mind to. My sister and I have a bit of a joke that the second you tell one of us we can’t do something, well, then, we’ll definitely do it. That kind of determination will definitely carry you through some trying times, but in the tumultuous waves of legislative policy, executive power, money, medicine, and the occasional “not a chance in hell”, you have to accept some failure.  Not to rain on my childhood parade, but I think that lesson helps with getting back up and holding on to even more hope and fire as you face the next challenge.  

What is one invaluable resource that has helped in the sustainability of FPC?

The resiliency of our staff and clients is what has kept Frannie Peabody Center going for over thirty years.  It’s a pretty amazing place to walk into every day, knowing that you are surrounded by people who are determined, compassionate, and incredibly capable.  

I would be remiss to not mention our supporters who have been with us every step of the way – whether through advocacy or fundraising. Because of so many strong individuals that came before us, many of whom are no longer with us, we have federal funding for housing, case management, prevention services, and effective medication for those living with HIV/AIDS. It’s easy to get bogged down by red tape and funding cuts, but I try to remind myself that we are very lucky to have access to those resources.

What do you like to do outside of work that contributes to your career? 

Listen to a lot of NPR, and run. (the NPR to stay current, the running to blow off steam and think of a plan after hearing about all the bad news on NPR)

What is your proudest personal and professional accomplishment? 

I’m proud that I’ve always tried to put my all into everything, both personally and professionally.

Katie is generous with her heart, her time and her mind. She is present and accountable in a very purposeful way.
One word to describe Katie: Nimble
— Anne Rutherford, Katie's Sister

I'd like to share one message with the world on your behalf, what should I share? 

Always try harder to consider and understand the challenges that other people face.  Be kinder to each other, but never stop fighting oppression, injustice, and inequality. 

Also, please remember to accept science.  It’s real.

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

Not so much a quote but a philosophy and quality – Ubuntu.


Loosely translated, it means “I am because we are”.  It’s a concept that was used as a founding principle in post-apartheid South Africa that focuses on the interconnectedness of people.  It’s something I’ve carried with me for a long time and thought about a lot.  Desmond Tutu explains it as “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.” I think if more people took the time to read about and strive for ubuntu, there would be much less division, and much more understanding and accountability.  When you see yourself as part of the whole of humanity, you can’t ignore issues or turn a blind eye.  It helps in understanding that you are made up of all the good and bad that we see around us and forces us to recognize that our actions have ripple effects.

In one word describe yourself: 



To Connect w/ Katie & 


Upcoming Events: 


Heather Davis - Executive Director of LearningWorks

What is LearningWorks?

LearningWorks is an education nonprofit in Portland, Maine. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. Our mission is to reimagine learning through innovative programs that help children, adults, and families realize their potential and build thriving communities. We offer five free programs for people who fall outside of traditional education structures. Those include an afterschool program for elementary school students, a community service program for young people facing disciplinary action at school or in trouble with the law, an English language program for New Mainers, an alternative high school program for kids who have dropped out of local schools, and an AmeriCorps program that provides 100 volunteers to struggling schools.

How did you first get involved in working with non-profits? 

My first nonprofit job was at an Audubon Society in Santa Fe, New Mexico! I helped out in the office and worked with kids in an environmental education summer camp program. 

At what point did you realize your passion for education would become a career path? 

After I finished college, I landed a job working as a writing teacher in an afterschool program in Harlem. I fell in love with teaching, with alternative education programs, and with the concept of using my career to serve a community and advance social justice. I was hooked from that point on and have stayed in education nonprofits and classrooms ever since.

What do you like to do outside of work that contributes to your career? 

I like to spend time with my family, be in nature, and read and write. I think all of those things help me learn, grow, and reflect on myself, my work, and my community, which is a source of strength when I’m on the job.

Can you tell us about your most favorite projects?

At LearningWorks, one of our programs is called Service Works. Service Works connects kids who are in trouble in some way – at school, or with the law – with meaningful community service opportunities that help make amends for their behavior and give them a safe, supportive space to reflect on what’s happened and what they’d like to change going forward. The team that runs this project at LearningWorks is really great at coming up with creative and beneficial community partnerships to make this program happen. They do everything from removing graffiti from public buildings and harvesting seaweed for community gardens to serving free community meals at local schools. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time with the program at Wayside Food Programs and during a trip to help another nonprofit (Furniture Friends) accept and organize furniture donations for needy families. So much good comes of this work for everyone involved, it always gives me a boost of hope and happiness when I check in with this program.

I’ve also really enjoyed working on our 50 Stories Project to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. We’re partnering with local photographers to tell 50 stories about current and former staff, students, donors, volunteers, and partners who have made LearningWorks what it is today. It’s been so moving to meet all the subjects and learn their stories and the generosity of the photographers and other folks helping this project out has been truly inspiring.

50 STORIES PROJECT   || "We are excited to announce our 50 Stories project! This project will tell the stories of 50 current and former LearningWorks students, clients, staff, and volunteers who have been and continue to be an inspiration to us. We are extremely fortunate to have teamed up with local photographers who are generously donating their talent to this project and to the individuals who have enthusiastically agreed to share their stories. We hope you enjoy this journey as we honor our past and invite you to be part of our next 50 years!" 

50 STORIES PROJECT || "We are excited to announce our 50 Stories project! This project will tell the stories of 50 current and former LearningWorks students, clients, staff, and volunteers who have been and continue to be an inspiration to us. We are extremely fortunate to have teamed up with local photographers who are generously donating their talent to this project and to the individuals who have enthusiastically agreed to share their stories. We hope you enjoy this journey as we honor our past and invite you to be part of our next 50 years!" 

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote? 

This might sound crazy, but here goes. Honestly, the quote that I always come back to is one from a documentary project my friend Molly did with young people at The Telling Room when we worked there together. She helped a bunch of students go out on the street with audio recorders to ask strangers one question and use the answers to tell a story. One group of students asked people if they believed in Bigfoot. The responses were hilarious and moving. One man went on at length and talked about how learning about myths and legends like Bigfoot opens us up to learning about the world around us. He said, “Grab it and grasp it with energy. Be like astronauts of the world. Be astronauts of the forest and the sea.” I always come back to him saying it because it captures ideas that I like a lot. I loved the spontaneous poetry of it and wish that we could all speak that way more often. I loved the idea of being enthusiastic, diving into things, being creative, being bold, exploring, and leading.

In one word, describe yourself:



To Connect w/ LearningWorks:

Websites:  || Learning Works 50th Anniversary

Facebook: @LearningWrks || Instagram: @learningworksmaine

Email Heather:

Staci Olson - Program Director of Girls on the Run-Maine

What is Girls on the Run?

GOTR is a unique life skills development program. Volunteer coaches lead teams through interactive lessons that include dynamic discussions, fun activities and creative running games. Throughout the 10 week season season the girls make new friends, learn new skills, build their confidence and celebrate what makes them unique in a safe and supportive environment.

What inspired you to become the Program Director for Girls on the Run?

I first got involved with GOTR in the winter of 2012 when a Steering Committee was formed to bring Girls on the Run to Maine. At that time, Maine was one of a small group of states that did not have a council so a group of volunteers worked together to make it happen. I worked as a volunteer for about a year and was able to help build the foundation of the council. In my role as Program Director I now help communities start teams in their area, recruit, train and support the coaches, visit with the teams throughout the season, and help to plan the Celebratory 5k at the end of the season. This season we have 700 girls at 38 sites across Maine with over 200 volunteer coaches. We look forward to continuing our growth and reaching more girls!

Working for Girls on the Run has had a significant impact on my life. The work that I do is so fulfilling because I have such a strong connection to the mission of our program of empowering girls and helping them to grow and reach their goals. I also feel so grateful to the amazing co-workers and volunteers that I get to work with each season. 

What is one challenge and one lesson you've learned from your experience as Program Director?

One challenge that I have faced is that every community and every team is different so what might work well for one site, might be completely different at another, so we have to build connections with all of our coaches to make sure that they get the support that they need.

One lesson that I have learned actually stems from one of our core values which is to "assume positive intent." We are all involved because we want to have a positive influence on the girls and though logistically sometimes things don't always go according to plan, we should assume that their are good intentions behind the actions.

What are your top two GOTR memories?

I have so many amazing memories but there are a few standouts.

I was visiting with a team in Western Maine and as I was completing some laps with one girl, we were having fun and chatting and then unprompted she looked at me directly in the eye and said "Thank you for bringing this program to my school. I love being a part of it and I am so proud of myself." We know the program is having an impact but to hear a 9 year old girl share her sincere gratitude was a special moment.

The other top memory is one that I have seen multiple times at our 5k events At the end of the 10 weeks, the girls participate in an untimed, celebratory 5k. When the girls enter the final finish line chute they typically get a burst of speed. I love watching that moment when they see their goal in sight. They hear the cheers and support and fly through that finish line. The look in their eyes is one of joy and inspiration and I can never get enough of it!

What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote?

"The only requirement of having a dream is believing in it." - Molly Barker

Molly Barker founded Girls on the Run in North Carolina in 1996 with one team of girls. Since then the organization has grown to serve girls in all 50 states and more than 1 million girls have participated. She is a true inspiration to me by demonstrating that one person really can make a difference. For many years I was unsure where I was headed in terms of a career path and the moment I first learned about GOTR was a truly life changing experience for me - I knew this was something I had to be involved in. Because of Molly's initial effort, she has given me (and so many other woman), a place in this world to have an impact and to be a part of the mission of inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident.

In one word, describe yourself::


Run with us in support of the 710 girls participating in the Spring 2017 season! OR sign-up to volunteer!

Run with us in support of the 710 girls participating in the Spring 2017 season! OR sign-up to volunteer!

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