For Whitley Crow, community research and development went from being just a hobby to a fulfilling profession.
The Colorado Springs native was in college when her interest in community development deepened, thanks to an extensive research project to reduce poverty in Africa, followed by a mission trip to Greece and Turkey after graduation.
And it was through years of volunteering, networking and finding great mentors in Colorado Springs that allowed Crow to translate her experiences and passion for community development at the local level, she said.
The 28-year-old does research and resource development work for Conspire, the Pikes Peak Federal Action Coalition and Pikes Peak United Way.
Crow began her role at United Way in November and said it’s her dream job.
“I want to be able to make an impact with it all,” she said. “I want to know that in my role, I’ve done something to create a program, found funding or something that could help reach that. We have a great community and so much going for us, and I want to be a part of that building process.”
What is your background?
I grew up in Colorado Springs and attended Montana State University. I started out studying architecture and ended up receiving a degree in global and multicultural studies with a focus in community health.
What made you return to Colorado Springs?
I worked in Montana at a bank, and then went on a mission trip for six months. After that I decided to move home to be closer to family and explore my career options.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to apply my university degree into a career. I learned of an opportunity with Healthquest Medical Services, to be a medical billing assistant. I started there and then in the last three and a half years worked into an executive assistant. I went from Healthquest to Conspire, which are sister companies. [Crow’s mother, Lynette Crow-Iverson, owns Conspire.]
How did you get connected with United Way?
When I went into medical billing, I looked it at it as a short-term position. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.
I asked Stephannie Finley Fortune with UCCS if she would be my career mentor. She mentored me on a regular basis and helped me understand what I really wanted and where there was opportunity to progress my career in a way that I could use my abilities and passions. … It wasn’t until this past summer that I realized I wanted to take more of full-time role with community research and development and at that time, Stephannie presented an opportunity for me to do contract work with a few organizations looking for a grant writer. In November, after a few of months negotiating, I was offered a position with United Way.
What is your role?
The overall theme is looking for community opportunities, finding ways where we can position ourselves to get funding, partner and look into best practices to make a real impact.
My role is to look at each community goal and specifically research them. Why do we have that goal? What are the needs behind the goal? Which organizations are doing something to try and reach that goal? How can we partner? Do we need to implement a new program? What are the best practices? And after all that, how can we get funding?
What has been your biggest challenge?
[At United Way], it was a role that was created, not one that I stepped into. Coming into it, initially it was hard to know what my first step should be. It was a lot of research, looking at goals and not much feedback. But now I’m making connections and starting to see what is feasible and what is more of a long-term goal.
What advice do you have for other young professionals?
Find a mentor, someone you look up to and can meet with to talk about career goals and how to handle different situations in your career. I know for me that has been my solid ground.
How can Colorado Springs retain more young professionals?
I think there are a lot of programs that exist to help young professionals who want to stay here — like The Quad [Innovation Program], where they take post-graduates and people on their way to graduating and give them community projects to get involved in. We have a great atmosphere for local breweries and coffee shops that a lot of young professionals are involved in, and I know people are looking at transit. So as far as following those trends of what young professionals are going to want in future, those discussions are happening. I think the heart is behind it; the work is getting put in, so I think we’re on a good track.