Charity Grimes is a 2009-2010 PULSE alumnus. In this interview, we discuss finding community, developing connections in the nonprofit sector, edible gardens and getting to know Pittsburgh.
What about the PULSE program was attractive to you?
When I graduated from college I knew I wanted to move to a city, and I was interested in service programs. I was attracted to PULSE because I wanted to gain experience in my field while volunteering, and PULSE gave me the chance to look at nonprofit partnerships that would suit my individual interests well, not just plug me into a pre-determined nonprofit partnership. After having great experiences in college with group housing, I was really attracted to the communal living aspect of PULSE. I was excited to explore a city that was brand new to me while having an instant community of folks my age.
What was the best part of your PULSE experience?
The best part of PULSE was probably just getting to know Pittsburgh with my fellow PULSErs. We took advantage of tons of free events and volunteer opportunities. There’s so much going on in the city, and there was always someone interested in going with me to those events.
PULSE also encouraged me to develop my gifts in real ways, and try new things. I had my first experience with a nonprofit board as the PULSE board participant representative. I got to plan and expand the Stanton house vegetable garden. And, I took part in numerous professional development sessions through seminars.
What did the PULSE experience teach you about yourself?
From my nonprofit partnership, I learned that I need a balance of office work and hands on work to be my happiest! I spent a lot of time on a computer that year, and you learn from things you don’t like too. I’ve been lucky to find jobs since that allow me to get my hands dirty from time to time!
How were you impacted by your PULSE experience?
PULSE was a really important year for me in a lot of ways. It was my first year after college “in the real world,” but PULSE was there to ease me in and help me navigate it. PULSE helped me make connections in the city, learn about myself, and try new things. I didn’t necessarily expect to stay in Pittsburgh long term, but looking back after staying for seven years, I give PULSE credit for helping me find community in Pittsburgh and fall in love with the city.
As I continued to work in the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh, I valued the connections I made during PULSE. I learned about lots of organizations through my housemates’ nonprofit partnerships, seminars, and volunteering. And, with so many alumni still working in the city and nonprofit sector, I have a farther-reaching network in Pittsburgh than I imagine I would without PULSE. Now that I’ve recently relocated to Chicago and am building a new network here, I realize now even more how much PULSE helped me forge connections and get plugged in. I think because of that experience I’m much more confident now reaching out to make new connections in Chicago.
What kind of work do you do now?
I’m currently working as a Garden Educator with The Kitchen Community in Chicago. TKC installs raised bed vegetable Learning Gardens at schools all over the country, with a goal of increasing knowledge and likability of fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing students’ academic engagement, and building community. My role specifically involves working directly with 30 schools on the north and northwest side of Chicago (other educators work with the other regions of the city), to help them successfully grow and utilize their gardens. I offer support to teachers and garden teams around planning and building garden skills, work with students to plant and harvest their gardens, and help run garden workshops for teachers.
How did PULSE prepare you for what you are doing now?
My nonprofit partnership was at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where I worked in the adult education department with sustainable landscaping programs. After working in other nonprofits for a few years after PULSE, I ended up back at Phipps to coordinate Homegrown, an edible garden outreach program, which was a perfect fit for my passion around edible gardening and food justice. The connections I made and experience I built during my PULSE year at Phipps opened doors for me to come back later in a different role, which I was so grateful for.
PULSE also just generally prepared me to work in nonprofits. I learned a lot about how they operate, from managing volunteers to fundraising to board meetings. I learned about the importance of being intentional and focused on your mission to make the greatest impact, something that still centers how I think about my role and how I spend my professional time.
How have you stayed connected to PULSE?
While still living in Pittsburgh there were lots of ways I stayed connected- attending PULSEations and alumni events, being a mentor to current PULSErs, and in 2015-2016 I served on the PULSE Alumni Board. A highlight of my board experience was judging the PULSE Pitch– so fun to hear the awesome ideas and passion PULSErs had for improving their new communities!
Now from afar I’m staying connected via the newsletters, will continue to support PULSE financially, and hope to make it back for another PULSEations someday.