Catherine Girves: Nonprofit Woman Leader Creating a Better Central Ohio

Community Shares of Mid Ohio is taking the month of March to highlight the women leading our member charities for making a difference in the community as part of Women's History Month. 

Catherine Girves, Executive Director of Yay Bikes!Head shot of Catherine Girves, Executive Director of Yay Bikes!

How long have you been in your current position?

3 years

How did you decide to pursue a career in the nonprofit field?

I grew up in a small business, and loved working there with my family until the day it closed. But public service is the work I've always felt called to do. My attention drifts to the types of endeavors the market is not thinking about or where profit should not be a motivator. Both my parents modeled the importance of helping others and I've volunteered in one organization or another since middle school. In 2003, a dear friend challenged me to quit my job and start a nonprofit. He told me, “The very worst thing that will happen is you'll lose your house. If that happens your family will move in with my family and start over.” I took the terrifying and deeply liberating leap of faith, and have been in nonprofit work since then. It is moving to watch people embrace opportunities for transformational change. It energizes me to see folks inspired to donate, volunteer, and spread the word about projects that make the world a better place and bring deeper meaning to their lives. This is incredibly satisfying work.

What do you see as the barriers, obstacles, and/or challenges? How did you or how do you recommend that these be overcome?

Understanding and appropriately valuing the resources it takes to create real and lasting change. Often, the work of nonprofits involves motivating individuals to change their behavior to something completely outside their frame of reference in an environment that does not support that change. Think about the moments in your life where you successfully made and maintained a difficult change. I bet there was a person in the background cheering for you, offering needed information - someone you could tell was wishing for your success. In nonprofits, the day-to-day success comes from supporting people as they transform their own lives in existing environments, while steadily working to improve the environment. Pamphlets, web sites, and classes, are all great tools when helping people imagine and want change. Helping people make and maintain change, requires an accessible, relevant human touch. At Yay Bikes!, we ask people who are already bike-curious to travel by bike to a places most folks travel by car. There are dozens of reasons this is good idea both for interested individuals and the larger community, (including those who will never ride a bike). But even with all those good reasons, even when the desire is there, it is still really hard to make change in something as simple as a mode of travel. At Yay Bikes!, we understand that behavior change can be difficult when attempted in isolation. We know the value of meaningful relationships where people can access useful advice in real-time from people who care about them. We also know the value of investing in the professionals who shape the environment - the people who decide how roads are designed, and those who write, enforce and adjudicate the law that governs road users. The work that transforms individuals and communities is labor intensive. Nonprofit leaders and those that fund them must embrace that fact that and invest accordingly.

How do you plan to help the next generations?

I help the next generation, (and consequently myself and other folks in my generation), by pursuing meaningful relationships with young people and young adults. There are so many ways we get divided from one another in this culture by age, and it starts so early! Most fourth graders think it is cool to have a 5th grader for a friend and less cool to have a 3rd grader for a friend. It often takes intentionality to have meaningful relationships with people outside of segregated age bands, and I am intentional about pursuing those relationships. 

Would you encourage the young women in your life to pursue a career in nonprofit? Why or why not?

My advice for all people is to pursue the work you feel called to do in the world. But I am also aware of the ways in which sexism and internalized sexism encourage women to enter "helping" professions. It is particularly important for women to examine why we feel pulled in one direction or another and make sure that voice is coming from a genuine place. If a young woman is pursuing a career with a nonprofit because it needs to be done and no one else is prioritizing it, that is NOT a good reason. There will always be more work to do in the world than there is time to do it. I want all people, women in particular, to do the work that makes our hearts sing. That does not mean it will be easy, or always joyful, but if it makes your heart sing, pursue it. We need to feed our own souls in addition to feeding the larger community through our work.

Your best piece of advice for women leaders, now or in the future is:

Women are often encouraged and trained to take care of others. And it does make sense for people to take care of each other, it is inherently human thing to care about other people. But is absolutely key, particularly at this point in history, and in this part of the world, for women to do the work they feel called to do. Not because it is good for others (though that will likely be true) but because it is good for our own souls to be true to ourselves.

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