Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately describe Jennifer Sirangelo’s living situation.
In college, through volunteer work, I discovered the nonprofit sector. That discovery was life-changing to me. I never knew I could serve a mission I was passionate about every day.
My first job out of college was as the executive director of a small homeless shelter. I was only 23 years old but eager to make an impact. I had the chance to do everything, including the accounting, hiring, board development, fundraising and more. It was baptism by fire.
I learned quickly that in order to make things happen, you need resources. You can have big dreams of changing lives, but you need the dollars to do it.
I’ll never forget the family that showed up in their car. I was in my office, which was in a garage. They were in need of a home, but we were full. I remember having to tell them that we didn’t have room. I had to refer them to a traditional homeless shelter downtown where they had to split up, men and women.
That was the day that I knew I had to learn how to raise more money. I was determined to get another building. We were fortunate enough to buy two more buildings before I left. I knew that fundraising was how I could make an impact.
I moved to my alma mater, William Jewell College, as a fundraiser working on major gifts, endowments and capital campaigns. It was a great opportunity for someone like me who enjoyed telling the story of a mission.
I was doing a lot of volunteer work with some medical doctors in Brazil when some friends noticed the passion I had for the young people there. They introduced me to some people in the youth development world that led to meeting the leadership at the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City.
At the club, I saw young people learning and growing. I found my passion that day.
I did fundraising and marketing there and then moved to the national office of the Boys and Girls Clubs in New York to run their board development and fundraising in the Northeast region. I was there during the Sept. 11th attacks. I was struck by the generosity of the board, our donors, our friends, the parents and families. We had more dollars flowing into our work than ever before.
It convinced me more than ever that this was a mission I could be passionate about.
Similarly, when I moved to National 4-H Council, I saw the same generosity at a national level. When the economy was in a recession, our next year was our largest fundraising year. We more than tripled the amount of money we took in during my time here. I attribute that to the high value Americans place on our young people.
Now as the organization’s first woman chief executive in more than 100 years, I am excited to serve and live out my passion.
Position: Pres-ident and chief executive of National 4-H Council, a youth development organization in Chevy Chase.
Career highlights: Chief operating officer, executive vice president, National 4-H Council; regional vice president, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, New York; Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, National Kidney Foundation, William Jewell College and Hillcrest Homeless Shelter.
Education: BA, communications and political science, William Jewell College; Master of Public Administration, Syracuse University.
Personal: Lives in Bethesda. Married to Mark Sirangelo.