It was a very full week. Birthday was Monday. Retirement party was Tuesday. The rest of the week and weekend was a flurry of cleaning, packing and staging my house for the professional photographers to do glamour shots before it goes on the market. Whew! A long full week indeed.

One of my book club members and me.

The best part of the week without comparison was the retirement party. I am still floating from the event. The food was fantastic. The people who came were from every segment of my life from my book club to former co-workers.  Because so many people attended, I didn’t get to spend very much time with any one person but I have lots of coffee and lunch dates planned between now and the time I leave.

Interestingly but not surprising, was the question I was asked most often. That hasn’t changed in a year since I started to share my plans. Where am I going first? I wrote a post about it a few months back. I wasn’t sure then but now my answer is that I’ll be starting in Tennessee as that’s where I pick up my trailer.

The party agenda included plans for a few people to speak, then opening the floor to others who might want to say something. Finally, I’d say a few words. I knew after listening to others, my mind would be a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I didn’t want to embarrass myself  by being so flustered words wouldn’t come out of my mouth right. So I prepared a little something.

The Party Planning Committee. Wonderful women, one and all. Sharon is front row, black and pink blouse.

If you are wondering why I posted this in the Finance category, the answer is twofold. First, I spent the last 15 years working in finance. Second, I hope the content of the speech will make it obvious. I mention names who readers won’t know but I don’t think that takes away from the content. If you have ever worked with amazing talented passionate people, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

A Career in Numbers

I thought I would start by telling you about my interview for this job. But in order to do that, let me back up. I met Sharon in 2000 when she was my mentor as I went through the Leadership Anchorage program. We had regular meetings and she would tell me about openings at YWCA.  At the time I was happy at my job so I always declined.

Our formal mentor-mentee relationship came to an end after one year. But we enjoyed each other’s company so we kept meeting. And, as an aside, we have been meeting for 17 years now.

In May 2002, she told me she had two new positions at YWCA: the newly-created, federally funded Youth Program Manger and an Administrative Manager which was the restructured Finance Director position. As I remember that meeting, she told me I would be taking one of them.

It was the right time for me so I “applied” for the Administrative Manager. An interview was scheduled for me with Sharon and Kate, who was the outgoing Finance Director.

All these years later, from that interview, I only remember one question. Kate asked, “Do you know how to do a journal entry?” If you know even the smallest bit about accounting, you know that a journal entry is a pretty elementary task.

But in 2002, I had to answer, “No, I don’t know how to do a journal entry. But I can learn.”

What I couldn’t said–and didn’t–was that I didn’t even know what a journal entry was.

So obviously, I had a lot to learn.

Fast forward 14 years. Last summer when I was thinking about the timing of leaving YWCA, once I decided to Supersize my LIFE, I had two wishes. First, I wanted to be able to say I retired at 50 because it appealed to my sense of symmetry and order. And for the exact same reason, I also wanted to be able to say I worked at YWCA for 15 years.

This coming Saturday will mark 15 years since my first day at YWCA. And yesterday I turned 51.

In other words, all the creative math in the world wasn’t going to make both things be true. In other words, not everything in my little world can be as orderly as I would like.

And when I was thinking about what I was going to say here tonight, reflecting back over these years, it occurred to me it was perhaps most fitting to sum up 15 years in the language I learned because I worked at YWCA. The language of numbers.

So here are a few:

I thought it looked a little silly but it was in the speech so I wore all three of my name tags.

The number of Job Titles I’ve held: 4.

The number of Name Tags I’ve had: 3.

The number of Co-Workers I’ve had: 97.

Let me pause here to tell you a bit about those co-workers, some of who are here tonight.

  • They exposed me to at least 14 different languages.
  • In addition to languages, they shared their culture in all its forms–food, traditions, holidays, dress, beliefs and so so much more.
  • The exposed me to their lives, life choices and life styles so far removed from my own life, I might never have been introduced to them otherwise.
  • 14% of my co-workers spoke Spanish that they learned from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, Honduras and in American high schools and universities.
  • 99% were women and they ranged in age from 17 to 70.

Number of women who served on the Board of Directors during the last 15 years: 76.

Number of Treasurers I worked with: 6. Interestingly, 33% of them were named Marie.

$12,735,965.54 is the amount of income I processed through my office in the last 15 years. I ran payroll 400 times and have written 11,439 checks for YWCA.

As many of you know, YWCA Alaska started officially in 1989. In 18 years, there have been five amazing women steering the ship. So the number of Executive Directors I have worked for: every single one of them.

Sharon hired me. Then I worked for Marcia, Heather, Janice and now Hilary. I also worked for two Interim Directors. And for six short weeks (or long weeks, depending on how you look at it), I was the boss of myself and the staff when the board asked me to step up and be the Interim Director.

The after party. All the decorations were moved into my office. I have the best smelling most festive office in the whole building.

Many of the EDs had ideas about where employee offices should be. So, the number of different Offices I have had: 4.

The number of women I Enrolled to the program for them to get a screening mammogram and their annual woman’s exam: 2.

Number of Classes I taught for YWCA programs:8.

My favorite class to teach was budgeting for women. As part of the class, I shared my own budgeting process. I shared how every Saturday morning with my cup of coffee I write down every expense I had during the week on index cards. Every once in a while, all these years later, I’ll see one of those women in the community. Inevitably, they will ask if I still pay my bills on Saturday morning over coffee. And I will tell them that I do. And that I still use index cards for my budget.

The other class that was quite memorable, though a complete and utter failure, was when I tried to teach high-risk junior high girls to tat. If you don’t know what tatting is, certainly your grandmothers or great-grandmothers would. It’s the art of lace-making using only your fingers and a plastic or metal shuttle. There is really only one stitch you have to learn when you tat. But it’s not easy. It took me about four hours to figure it out when I was 20.

So why I thought I could teach it to an entire group of girls in 90 minutes is beyond me. But I did try. And we did have fun.

Now, let’s move on to my personnel file. It’s nearly 1.5 inches thick. Yes, I measured it. And, no, there are no disciplinary actions in it.

Number of YWCA Internal Contests we had: 2. The number of those Contests I Won: 1.

When the Racial Justice Committee, as it was called then, searched for a name for the newly envisioned lecture series, they asked staff to help. My entry name was Opening Minds & Hearts: Introducing You to Cultures in Your Community. My prize was lunch with the ED and the Chair of the Committee.

My favorite YWCA event, coincidentally, was also the fundraising event I worked on with a committee. We held the Off the Wall Art Sale for three years and raised over $15,000. It was so much fun that a woman from Bethel timed her annual trip to Anchorage just so she could attend.

While Sharon was my only formal mentor, I have met and worked with many incredible women through YWCA. People from every one of the lists above and more. Co-workers. Executive Directors. Board members. Supporters. Vendors. Funders.

One of my former co-workers who is now one of my best friends had these earrings made for me.

Many no longer have a role at YWCA but have, indeed, remained in the role of friend. For that, I want to thank each and every one of you. I am filled with love, affection and gratitude.

I am the longest employee of YWCA Alaska. And I say employee because if you count the five years before 1989 when Sharon was working to create the organization, then she holds the title. My greatest hope is that my record doesn’t last long.

It hasn’t always been easy or fun. But no job ever is. However, for me, it has been tremendously satisfying and rewarding.

To illustrate this, let me share one last number with you. Not including the years I was in college and graduate school, I have worked full-time for a total of 26 years. This means that 58% of my work life has been at YWCA. And 85% of my work life has been for Alaska nonprofits.

As many of you know, I am not leaving YWCA because I’m leaving YWCA. I’m leaving because I am embarking on an entirely new journey. One that, at least for while, isn’t going to involve working. I bought an RV and will be traveling the country, seeing sites and writing. Writing is my education background and my heart.

Because I’m going from a 1,700 square foot house to a 200 square foot trailer, I have had to downsize. A lot. Recently, I downsized hundreds of letters. But before I sent them to recycling, I read every one. I want to share a couple sentences from one that I came across.

This was a letter that I wrote (and kept a copy of) to my college roommate. I wrote it on October 27, 2002. That would be three months and five days after I started this job. I wrote:

Finally, I’m beginning to understand and am learning the language of accounting. For the first month or so, I was sure I was in so far over my head that I was destined to get fired. I have moments now where I think I may actually avoid that fate.

In other words, I did learn how to do a journal entry.