Women’s History Month 2012: Beach Pace

When I decided to commit to City Year San José/Silicon Valley I had no knowledge of the people on the ground. I didn’t really care. In my mind I was giving up a year of my life to work in an underserved community and then getting out. Period. I had no idea that it would be the beginning of a career in service.

The best way for me to start this post is by using a quote from a piece I wrote when I decided to return to City Year San José as a staff member;

I remember when I first walked in to the City Year San José/Silicon Valley office on W. Santa Clara Avenue in San José. The feeling of welcome, happiness, and most importantly belonging. I knew that I would want to stay with this organization for a long time.

This feeling that I remember so vividly did not happen by accident. It was cultivated by Beach Pace.

At first glance Beach was downright scary.

Beach in her West Point uniform

She generally has a no-nonsense demeanor, all-business and a strict rule-follower. Before I had my first day at the organization I had the opportunity to talk to an alumna who had experienced Beach’s leadership. I had the deepest sense of fear instilled in me. Imagine my surprise when, upon meeting me for the first time, she asked about me as a person. I remember distinctly thinking to myself “why does the Executive Director care about me?” Over the past two and a half years, Beach has taught me to reframe that question; “why wouldn’t she?”

My first two months at City Year were challenging. I felt deeply committed to the organization’s mission and had no plans of leaving, yet, others around me succumbed to their challenges within weeks. I approached Beach who I’d identified as a fount of wisdom with the deepest sense of urgency in my voice “I have no idea what to do…I’ve never experienced people leaving so soon. How can I make them stay?”

Beach has a very specific approach to questions like these. She doesn’t (typically) answer them head-on. She shares lessons from her past or meaningful stories that help shed light on the problem. She talked to me about leading others using the context of beach sand – if you squeeze tightly, the sand falls through your fingers, but if you leave your hand open and maximize the support for the sand, most of it will stay.

I will never forget that analogy.

Throughout the time I have known her I have learned that Beach is fiercely loyal to her people and cares about the well-being of each person she leads from those on staff all the way to the students we serve. She does it in the most graceful way, checking in with us when she’s at the office, visiting our school sites and asking “how is your service?”

With all of this said, I’m forgetting one of Beach’s most intrinsic strengths as a leader, her humor. I cannot even begin to describe her sense of humor other than to say it’s hilarious and at most times, exactly what I need. Others must need it too because whenever I walk by her office, people are doubled over laughing.

Beach is a beacon of wisdom for me. A lighthouse on my sometimes foggy journey. Whenever I need advice, impromptu company, dance parties, vegan food, a listening ear (…the list goes on and on…) she’s there to give it readily. Oh, and did I mention she’s a social media maven?!

You can find her on Twitter tweeting up a storm about National Service, Volunteerism, and most-importantly her latest check-ins on FourSquare. I don’t know this for a fact but I think that even though she uses this technology now, she started using them to get to know her people and how to connect with us.

Beach reminds me that it’s the people who are important to get the work done. Without taking care of yourself and your people, you will never reach your greatest potential. Her leadership is an amazing model for my evolving leadership.

Now, if only I could do as good of a Lady Gaga impression…

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