Gator Career Chat: Building Your Future Through Community Involvement (event recap & recording)

In this workshop, panelists discussed how getting involved in the community offers networking opportunities and a chance to build skills that extend beyond the classroom while making a difference in the lives of our neighbors here in Gainesville. They shared from their personal experiences how community involvement can shape your path toward a lifetime of meaningful contributions and career success. Nonprofit leader Lesley Banis, Vice President of Community Engagement, Community Foundation of North Central Florida; UF alum Sophie Press, Assistant Manager, NSO Individual Giving, National Symphony Orchestra, The Kennedy Center; and current UF senior Carpenter Mooney, biology and nutritional sciences major and pre-med student, shared their insights on how connecting with the Greater Gainesville community can be a catalyst for personal development and career advancement at UF.

Nonprofit Experiences and Community Involvement

Carpenter, Lesley, and Sophie shared their personal and professional backgrounds, including their experiences with nonprofits. Lesley emphasized the importance of community involvement, noting that she graduated in 2007 and struggled to find a job. However, her nonprofit connections helped her secure a job within eight months. She also mentioned her work with nonprofits in Alachua County, including a 10-year tenure with a nonprofit dedicated to building a children’s hospital in Gainesville. Sophie recounted her experiences as an assistant manager for individual giving with the National Symphony Orchestra, her involvement with the Community Foundation, and her work with nonprofits in Gainesville. David, a senior at the University of Florida, discussed his volunteer work with Young Life and Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nonprofit that builds beds for low-income families.

Volunteering’s Impact on Personal Growth

Carpenter shared his personal experiences with volunteering and how it helped him develop interpersonal skills such as active listening and breaking down barriers in uncomfortable situations. He emphasized the importance of putting oneself out there, even in situations where one might not have much in common with others. Sophie also spoke about her experience with volunteering at a local crisis hotline, which taught her valuable skills in active listening and building trust with strangers. She highlighted the importance of these skills in her current role at the Kennedy Center. Both Carpenter and Sophie attributed their success and personal growth to their experiences with volunteering and community involvement.

Community Involvement’s Impact on Career Paths

Sophie shared her personal experience with community involvement and its impact on her career in the nonprofit sector. She spoke about her recent appointment to the Board of Capital Hill Arts Workshop, a nonprofit focused on community building through the arts. She emphasized the importance of community involvement in shaping one’s career path and how it can create a virtuous cycle. Lesley agreed with Sophie’s points and highlighted the importance of networking in community involvement. She also mentioned a website called The Philanthropy Hub, which provides valuable information about local nonprofits. Sophie further emphasized the transferable skills gained from nonprofit work, regardless of the specific career path someone chooses.

Networking and Community Involvement

Carpenter, Sophie, and Lesley discussed the importance and benefits of networking and community involvement. Carpenter shared his experiences of how connections he made helped him navigate his career. Sophie, who works at the Kennedy Center, emphasized the value of finding genuine interests in people and the importance of setting networking goals. Both Carpenter and Sophie highlighted the idea of “planned happenstance”, where being proactive in putting oneself in situations opens up unexpected opportunities. They also stressed the significance of working for something bigger than oneself, which can bring personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

Nonprofit Work: Advice for Students

The panelists provided advice for students interested in getting involved in nonprofit work. Lesley suggested reaching out to local community foundations to connect with organizations and potential mentors. She also recommended staying informed about relevant news via newsletters and blogs to gain knowledge and confidence. Carpenter encouraged students to fully commit to their interests and explore them before making a decision. He also emphasized that nonprofits often need help and assured students that connections can be made on both sides.

By David Adams
David Adams Assistant Director for Career Pathways – Business, Public Service, and Tourism