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Working at a Nonprofit: Journalist Is Moved by its Mission

career change elaine purchase purposeful living Apr 15, 2009
alcoholic father with kid

by Elaine Purchase

photo by LauritaM

Elaine Purchase hears a small voice that calls her to help the most vulnerable—drug-exposed and medically fragile infants

For me, the still small voice always comes late at night when the rest of the family is in bed and I’m finishing up that one last thing from the day’s work. The voice is probably there at other times, but my life has tended to be the noisy kind that drowns out quiet callings.

I’ve worked all my life in the fast-paced, adrenalin-driven world of journalism, first as a newspaper writer, then as a television reporter and finally as a documentary producer. On top of that, my husband and I are parents to four boisterous boys, all born within the space of a little over two years.

Amid all that calamity, the still small voice has had a lot of competition. Still, I have heard it at times. It sent me to Guatemala once, at the height of that country’s violence against its own indigenous people, to report on a brave group of international aid workers helping the children there. Another time, the voice sent me to Bosnia, again against a background of war and cruelty, to tell the story of children as the prime targets in today’s ethnic conflicts.

On this particular night, though, the still small voice had an assignment that would set me on the path to an encore career. For more than a decade, I had been involved with an extraordinary nonprofit called Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC). It is the only center in the country that provides specialized, 24-hour care for newborns withdrawing from drugs their mothers took during pregnancy.

I first learned about PICC’s pioneering work when I filmed there as part of a documentary on crack babies in the early ’90s. The babies there were such a compelling cause that I stayed involved over the years, working on video projects and informational materials for the center.

I was finishing up some videos for the center in 2004 when Barbara Drennen, the executive director, and I got to talking. Barbara is the founder of PICC and one of the most inspiring human beings I have ever met. We were talking about how quickly the years of raising children and building careers had flown.

I asked Barbara what she had left to accomplish before she retired, and she told me that she would like to build a permanent new home for PICC. Up to this time, PICC had operated out of a rented building that had become both too old and too small for the center’s needs.

‘What Did I Know About Working at a Nonprofit?’

As I sat there, late at night, at my computer, the conversation kept running through my head. The still small voice said, “This is what you’re meant to do.” My skeptical voice said, “Are you crazy? What do I know about nonprofits, construction or capital campaigns?” The still small voice was not taking excuses. I opened my email and wrote to Barbara, “I want to help you build your center.” Just like that, my life changed.

I am currently development director for Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent, Wash. The capital campaign Barbara Drennen and I launched in 2004 resulted in the completion of an expanded, beautiful new home for PICC and its babies for many decades to come.

The $4 million building opened in 2006, doubling the center’s previous capacity. In addition to managing the capital campaign, I have expanded PICC’s fundraising base with grant writing, special events and now a new planned giving campaign.

Thanks to my encore career, I have found deep personal satisfaction and expanded meaning for my life in securing the future for an organization that does so much good.

To date, PICC has given a safe and healthy start in life to more than 2,300 drug-exposed and medically fragile infants. I hope I have played some part in its ability to reach out to thousands more in the years to come.

Created by Civic Ventures, is the network for people who want encore careers combining social impact, personal meaning and continued income.

Republished with permission. Copyright © All rights reserved.


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