15 August, 2011

A Conundrum (Well, not quite yet.)

I may have two options for employment. Finally. However, between the two rises a dilemma.

The first position would be with a small, but successful community organization primarily serving immigrants and refugees. It would be back in a nice small city I worked in before moving to Syria in 2006. Actually, the job they think I'm a perfect fit for won't be available until next summer. In the mean time, I'll run the front desk and take on a bunch of other things that need doing. The job next year would involve working with refugee families and the community at-large. It would be a creative, interesting, satisfying job in a really lovely community.

The second remains only a possibility at the moment. I received a call from our local school district this morning inviting me to interview for a position on the crisis intervention team, part of their Safe Schools department. I would be part of a group that works to create safe, healthy schools. In my preliminary interview, with four members of the team, they described their job as one where you work with everyone from students and their families to the district superintendent. It's a multifaceted approach drawing on community work, data analysis, policy work. They may work with one school for just a month, but another for the whole year. You may be assigned to a school, but you'll also be working at other schools throughout the district. Though not an subject I've worked on, it does sound interesting. At the last second, after accepting the non-profit job, I was called back in for a second interview for this position.

The hitch is really one for any of us wanting to work in non-profits: How to survive and plan for a future on a typical non-profit salary?

The community job, at least for the next year, would pay little more than minimum wage. They're throwing in medical coverage and an on-site studio apartment, which is huge and the only way to survive, really. Next year I might earn something in the low 20s, but would be lucky to earn something in the 30s in my lifetime.

The schools job would pay more, offer more benefits and offer hope of a pension (though a dim one given the politics in Florida these days) in 20 years.

The community the non-profit job is in would offer chances to network with other agencies and organizations. I could probably pick up work writing reports for folks or doing small project work.

Low paying, well-meaning jobs with no retirement sounds far more terrifying at this point of life. On one hand, I am desperate to get involved, to rumble, get my hands dirty making change. On the other, I'd rather not be eating cat food from the tin when I'm old. But how to stave off guilty feelings about working for The Man?

It's just another thing that doesn't get discussed in certain circles. Talk of pension is too 'corporate' for some or just not a serious option for some organizations. Thus, my generation will end up in the same place as those trying to find a dignified way to retire today. Yet with tuition, student loan debt and financial insecurity rising for both individuals and non-profits, financial issues around staff retention need to be taken up in a more substantive way by the sector.

I'll keep you posted.
A decision - mine or not - will be made on Wednesday.

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