Why do you do what you do? What continually motivates you to stay in this work?
I continue to work in the nonprofit sector because of the reward of clearly seeing the local impact of the work that I do on a day-to-day basis. Because of the constant interaction with students, families, and other community members who participate in programs and provide feedback and become supporters or volunteers themselves, you have a constant reminder of why that work is important and the difference it makes in the community. Most days, my best moments are getting feedback from people who've benefited from a program I've helped support or hearing an update from a student I've worked with in the past about how their experience in a program has helped them be more successful or more prepared for their next step in higher education or professional life.
What factors allow you to succeed in your role?
Being a part of teams with committed coworkers and board members has been incredibly important in allowing me to be successful in my role. As with any organization, the nonprofits I've been a part of have experienced periods of uncertainty and challenge; because of the mission-drive nature of the work, it's still important to try and continue to deliver services to community members who depend on your work every day. Being able to call on coworkers to assist with projects, come up with solutions to unexpected challenges, or get support and motivation after a particularly tough day has been crucial for my success.
I've also been fortunate enough to work with many supervisors and mentors who have given me the space, resources, and support to continually look for opportunities to learn new skills and take advantage of external professional development opportunities. The knowledge and skills I've been able to bring back from talking to new contacts at different organizations allowed me to offer new solutions to make my own agency more efficient and effective.
What does being a strong community partner mean to you? How do you live that out through your work?
I think being a strong community partner is centered around being collaborative and supportive of the work of others whenever possible. Even in situations where you may be doing similar work to other people, by helping to make them better or offering information about resources and opportunities, you are ultimately helping yourself and other people will take notice of that. In my work, I try to demonstrate that value by being intentional about providing help to others whenever possible, even if in short-sighted terms, they may appear to be a rival in terms of applying for grant funding or doing similar community-based work. In my coaching work with students in the Braven program, I try to highlight one of their core values, which is "Go Together, Go Further"; being a strong partner means realizing that by helping others, you are helping yourself and the larger community.
Jeff Key is a lifelong resident of New Jersey and currently lives in New Brunswick. He attended Princeton University and is also a graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law. For the past 12 years, he has worked with educational non-profits focused on providing resources for college access and high-quality academic programming to students across New Jersey. He is currently the Director of Operations for Project U.S.E., a nonprofit that provides experiential education programs such as boat building, urban gardening, and wilderness courses to young adults throughout New Jersey.
He is a proud AmeriCorps alumni and currently volunteers as a leadership coach for Braven, a nonprofit providing high-quality leadership coaching and professional development for first generation college students to increase the pool of diverse leaders in the workplace. He is also involved with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) providing support to chapters nationwide as a NationBuilder Integration Coordinator and Network Engagement Associate, and as an active board member for the New Jersey chapter (YNPN-NJ). In his free time, he enjoys attending concerts, playing sports, trivia, karaoke, and taking road trips.