10 Questions with Sophie McMillian - Program Director, Rebuilding Together of the Triangle

What does a typical day look like for you?

One of the aspects of my job that I love is that there is no “typical day” - the flexibility, unpredictability, and lack of the mundane is one of the many things that has continuously kept me excited during the past 4+ years with Rebuilding Together of the Triangle. My not-so-typical-days could entail: managing a group of volunteers to complete repairs on a home for a low-income Triangle homeowner, completing program reporting, writing grants, meeting with potential partners and/or funders, facilitating staff meetings, meeting with our amazing board of directors, moving large piles of lumber, etc.

With all of the pluses having no “typical day” brings, I have learned that I need stability in my life. To keep any sense of groundedness, I start every day with a cup of coffee and 15 minutes of reading on my porch. This quiet time allows me to remind myself to be mindful in my surroundings and to be grateful for what and whom I have in life.

What are you working on right now?

At work: Rebuilding Together of the Triangle (RTT) has a waiting list of up to 5 years. 5 YEARS. My constant focus at work is on how to provide more and better programming to our clients - in hopes of not only reducing our waiting list, but completing more in depth repairs for families to be safer & healthier at home. At the moment, RTT has an amazing opportunity through a grant with Duke Energy to provide HVAC system repairs/replacements, weatherization services, electrical upgrades, and energy efficient repairs. The grant expires at the end of the year and we are tasked with utilizing as much funding as we possibly can. It’s a good, yet extremely challenging problem to have.

Between work, my board tenure on YNPN Triangle NC, my family, and spending time with my partner, I don’t have much time for much else. BUT, I have been slowly renovating my home that I purchased 2 years ago - my task for this spring is to spruce up the exterior with a new roof, guttering, fresh paint on the deck, and adding shutters for a little color pop.

What was your path to get where you are today?

HA! The word path has a connotation of being straight or leading to a predescribed end, my resume would argue that I took a winding journey to where I am today. I started working in the for-profit world when I was 14. Since that time, I have done a lot of a lot, here’s a small sampling: I was a welder, sold cell phones, managed 2 offices of a tax business, managed a fish processing plant in Sitka AK, owned a small business, provided handy-woman services for those needing home repairs, helped facilitate a focus group for military families, managed an accounting department and the list goes on...

After years of working in the for-profit world and putting myself through college (over the course of 8 years), I finally graduated with highest honors, earning a BA in Sociology from UNC-CH in 2011. While studying at UNC-CH, I volunteered regularly and decided I wanted to pursue a career in non-profits. I learned about an AmeriCorps program with Rebuilding Together that could use my unique set of skills: customer service, passion for helping people, program/office management, and construction experience. I applied thinking it would be a good opportunity to get my feet wet in the world of nonprofits and could do something else after the 11 month term was over. I had NO idea what I was getting into, but quickly drank the Kool-Aid. I got hooked. Hooked to the work, hooked on the people, and hooked making a difference in someone else’s life.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I have had to learn hard lessons about celebrating the wins and not focusing on the loses. Since I am the director of a program with a 5 year waiting list, I have to take time to celebrate the people I do help, instead of focusing on those I cannot help - yet. It is a daily lesson I learn and one I am grateful to the support of my teammates to help each other through.

How do you effectively balance your time?

I don’t. It’s hard. Anyone who tells you differently, is lying to you (and probably themselves). I’ve learned to be myself, to surround myself with people who uplift me, to be transparent in my flaws, to try to be honest and true in everything I do, to communicate when I foresee I’m going to fail, to ask for forgiveness when I inevitably do fail, and to be quick to forgive (including forgiving myself) when others or I stumble.

What are five tools you use on a regular basis?

Amazon Prime - For music, for food, for videos
Google Calendar - How I keep from disappointing others by missing deadlines or important events
Mobile email - The only way I can keep up with communications
Actual tools - To fix stuff
Excel - I couldn’t live without spreadsheets, and who doesn’t love a good Excel Table, am I right?!?

What is the best career advice you have been given?

Fight for what you love and don’t settle for anything else. Period.

Who or what inspires you?

The Rebuilding Together of the Triangle team and the Board of Directors of YNPN Trianlge NC. Both groups show passion and drive for helping others that is unmatched by anyone else I have encountered so far in my life. I am in constant awe and gratitude for both.

Why do you do what you do?

I love it, even when it is hard and I want to quit.

Who should we interview next?

Kim Shaw - Executive Director, The Volunteer Center of Durham
Trudy Smith - Executive Director, Executive Service Corps
Christine Casey - Senior Major Gifts Officer, Transitions LifeCare (formerly Hospice of Wake County)

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