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My Life As a Pauper Princess

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Nonprofit work is not volunteer work. At least not in my case. Though, coming from my background, it sure feels like it sometimes.

I grew up in Voorhees, N.J., where parking between a Jag and a Hummer happens more often than tying your shoes. My parents both trekked through medical school and took their places amongst the high wagers, bought the obligatory BMW, four-bedroom house, and a vehicle for each teenage driver. My two sisters and I had First World woes: broken straighteners, bird poop on the windshield, and dry patches in the front lawn.

I think only the rich have the luxury of picking majors like English and Philosophy. The rest go straight for the winners: marketing, business management, and biology. My parents gave a weak smile when I declared my English major, because of course, I had to go to school for 4 years to study a language I had known since I was three. Common sense, naturally.

Mom and Dad still had hope though. Two negatives make a positive, so of course, two doctors could make a lawyer. Unfortunately, I had this overwhelming passion for writing, not blood sucking, so the big bucks were out in that aspect, and waiting for my best-selling novel could take awhile.

So because I was so sure of my uncertainty career-wise, and since every 19 year old should have a career path, I picked up my pole and bundle, and went internship hunting the summer after my freshman year.

Editorial internships were about as frequent as a vegetarian at a pig roast, but nonprofits had the red carpet set out for any and all interns. I tacked on a few, and became an expert coffee maker and envelope stuffer. But, hidden beyond my secretarial work, I picked up on small skills and talents, and my passion for nonprofit work started to grow.

By my junior year, it had turned into a communicable disease. By that time, I had racked up internship and volunteer positions with more than four organizations, and moved far beyond cream and sugar to grant writing and event planning.

I watched friends who graduated in 2009 search futilely for jobs, so grad school seemed like the only viable option. I bought the books, studied the most meaningless vocabulary words ever seen in any form of written language other than GRE Prep Books, and signed up for my test.

The fun part about the GRE computer test is that your scores are reported to you minutes after finishing the exam. No more waiting anxiously, ladies and gentlemen.

My father did not appreciate the tearful phone call in which I cursed off the English language for creating words not applicable in "real life", and apologized for scoring twice as well on the math section as the English.

"What did I pay $120,000 for you to study?" my dad asked. My mature self responded in an age appropriate manner; I hung up.

Grad school was off the table. So, my job became applying for jobs. In six months, I sent out over 250 resumes and cover letters. "Part Time Editor", "Editorial Assistant" "Administrative Assistant in Development", "Development Assistant", etc. I even applied to be a manager for a fast food chain. Money is money. Out of those, I had twelve interviews.

Finally, I landed a position as Development Coordinator for Community Women's Education Project, a nonprofit in Kensington that provides educational enrichment for underserved women and children..

Unsurprisingly, mom and dad gave me a smile, a pat on the back, and cut the cord.  Now, nonprofit work is not volunteer work. But, taking a look at my salary, it sure looks like it.

Nonprofits pay their employees enough to survive, but survival does not mean weekly shopping sprees, luxury vehicles, or manicures. More like, thrift store coupons, bus tickets, and nail clippers.

Today, I walked around Kensington handing out flyers to CWEP's neighbors about an event I am planning for the fall. I fell through the steps in one home, had to hold my breath in another, and couldn't find a single toy in the home of a mother with 3 children.

First world woes seem years away sometimes in Kensington.

So when I head home to my apartment in Roxborough, I take my coupons and clearance clothes and smile a little bit.

 

Heather Goldsmith is a writer and non-profit worker who lives in Philadelphia.

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