Meet Maria Brown!
For the first time since starting Kicking it with Kendall, I turn on my computer camera to tune into a virtual sit down with our staff spotlight, Maria Brown. She joins from her cozy place in Evergreen. Maria has just moved out here from Southern California, where she worked with PATH, a non-profit that provides housing and supportive services to individuals experiencing homelessness. I ask how she’s settling in here in Colorado.
“I really like it,” she begins, “Evergreen is very similar to where I lived in Southern California, so it makes the transition nicer.” We discuss some areas she’s explored and hiked so far, as Evergreen is one of my favorite areas to get away to.
Once we get the lay of the land of recent hikes, we jump right in!
New Home in California
“So where are you from originally?” I asked.
“I’m actually from Texas, originally and went to college out there. I got my degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University. During my senior year, I had visited Southern California and really loved it there. It just felt like home for me, I was so comfortable.
“I had made the decision that that’s where I wanted to move when I graduated, so I found a job before I finished school, and headed out there right after. And I’d been there ever since, until moving out here to Evergreen.”
We started thumbing through a few of the organizations she had worked with in Southern California – there were 20 years between moving out there and coming to Colorado. It was becoming very obvious that Maria has a heart for helping others.
“I started at the site level doing the front-line case management. It wasn’t until later that I had worked my way up into a director role. My first job was a program that would help individuals released from jail find temporary and permanent housing. And it was like, just released. I was picking individuals up from jail oftentimes.”
She progressed into telling me about subsequent organizations and jobs, like A Community of Friends and PATH, both organizations involved in supportive housing.
“Have you always had a heart to help others? It’s one thing to work in a non-profit, which typically addresses social causes, but to work on the front-line, in case management, I imagine it takes a certain heart or motivation,” I ask.
“Yeah, I think I’ve always had a heart for others. Both of my grandmothers were big influences for me growing up. They were always volunteering and instilling in me to give back. They passed on to me the self-giving, others-focused mentality.”
“What have been some of the highlights of working with the various organizations in your job experience? Or what are some of the takeaways?”
“I really enjoy getting to see people achieve success. And that, to me, is a very subjective term. Success can be accomplishing a very small task, or it can be the final push through a persistent barrier. At the end of the day, my goal is to see someone overcome the various obstacles that they face and leverage the services we provide to have a fulfilled life.”
Experience Turns Into Ideas for Improvement
Maria shares that she briefly worked for two years in Texas before returning to PATH for 8 years in the director role. While it was a short amount of time, it seemed to provide the last bit of experience needed to take on the director position.
But one thing that is abundantly clear is that, to her, it’s not about her title.
“I always try to stay grounded. I like visiting the properties and staying close to the people we serve, she explains, “I rarely tell people my title when I’m on property. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m someone far removed from their needs just because I’m ‘Director.’ I started in case management and that’s what I’ve always been passionate about.”
While it’s clear that Maria has a passion for working in the field and giving back, there was something else that was noticeable. She has this sense of focus and direction, even in how our conversation was progressing. There is an air of clarity to each answer that mere passion can’t achieve. Being able to sort through years of experience and organize it into clear, concise thoughts requires another talent; someone who can lead and provide vision.
“So what made you interested in a director-type position?” I asked, out of curiosity.
“I like being able to utilize my experience to create programs and systems change. I’ve been lucky to sit on multiple committees and develop various procedures and curriculums.
“It’s something that I’ve found that I’m good at. Things as small as employee handbooks to more complex content like Resident Retention programs are essential. I’ve been able to be a part of creating the first versions of those in many of the organizations I’ve worked with.”
Adventure in Her Free Time
We’d spent the majority of our time discussing case management and the policies and resources around it. It’s easy to get caught talking about all the in’s and out’s of what we do.
“How do you step away from the intensity of the day job? There’s so much emotion and passion that goes into it, a lot of yourself, I imagine. What do you do in your free time to keep your head clear?” I asked.
“Well, I love the outdoors. I know that seems like a broken record living somewhere like Colorado. But I love hiking, snowshoeing, running, mountain biking, anything that gets me outdoors and enjoying nature.”
I had asked her earlier about some of her favorite things about Southern California and, surprisingly, this came up.
“Most people wouldn’t expect mountains and seasons when you say you live in Southern California. But I was out in the Mountains at Lake Arrowhead. So yes, the commute was not great, but we got 8 feet of snow last winter and I got to snowshoe right out my backyard. And the cost of living out there was much lower. I was lucky enough to be a homeowner.”
Being in Evergreen seems to be an extension of the lifestyle she had in Lake Arrowhead. She shares that anything she can do to stay physically active will help her to step away from the busyness of a workday.
“I’m also pretty introverted, actually. I love getting the chance to just be on my own and read.” When Maria said this, I asked her if she often got outdoors alone or if she was with others.
“I’ll go on hikes with another person or my dog, Ernie, but I have my fair share of outdoor time by myself. Every year I plan a two-week trip to a national park. I’ve been to 35 national parks now. This year I’ll be out near Kentucky and Tennessee, so I’m visiting 5 different national parks while I’m out there. I hope to make it to every national park, eventually!”
That was such an epic annual trip, I thought. To go out alone to 35 different national parks and be there for a couple of weeks at a time, it’s no small feat! And of course, we had to pause and talk about her “little dude,” Ernie, for a couple minutes. She’s had him for a year and is in the process of getting his DNA results back.
“My life motto has always been ‘live your life with no regrets.’ I’ve felt that way in my job experience, taking on new roles and higher positions, but also in my personal life. This trip is something that reflects that motto.”