Social Impact Heroes: How Molly Moen and Chrysalis have helped over 66,000 individuals return to a path of self-sufficiency
One story that has really stuck with me is a couple — Antonio and Suzette — who we celebrated at our 2019 Butterfly Ball. They met and were married years before finding their personal paths to Chrysalis. They have supported each other through everything, even when their journeys kept them apart during times of incarceration, transitional housing, or treatment facilities. Both participated in the Chrysalis program, and used the resources and support we provided to rebuild their confidence and reconnect with the workforce. I met Suzette several years after she had participated in our program, and at that time, Antonio was actually one of my coworkers, having been hired fulltime as a Supervisor in our social enterprise after also participating in our program. I remember being struck immediately by how much they had each overcome, the support they had for each other, and the strong connection they maintained to the Chrysalis community. Today, Suzette has been back at work for years and manages up to 80 employees for a larger retailer, while Antonio works for Caltrans. They are proud parents and grandparents and spend their downtime surrounded by family.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Molly Moen. As Vice President of Development & Communications, Molly is responsible for leading Chrysalis’ overall fundraising and communications efforts. Molly and her team are in place to support the organization’s mission to create a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the resources and support needed to find and retain employment. With nearly 20 years of fundraising and nonprofit management experience in the fields of homeless services and public health, Molly stewards relationships with current and potential individual, corporate, and foundation donors, manages all public messaging, and ensures the continued success and prominence of Butterfly Ball, Chrysalis’ signature $1.5-million fundraising event. Prior to joining Chrysalis, Molly spent ten years with the Downtown Women’s Center, where at the close of her tenure she was Chief Operating Officer. Her responsibilities in this role included guiding the day-to-day business operations of the organization and providing strategic leadership to its planning, financial analysis, fundraising, communications, human resources, volunteer, Board development, and facilities management efforts. At DWC, Molly led the Center through two capital campaigns, raising a total of $40 million, and supported the organization through a five-fold expansion in its size. Molly has also worked with Phoenix Houses of California and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Molly holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Wells College and a Master’s in International Business from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, from which she also earned a prestigious George Award for Community Service in 2014. She was a collaborator in the 2014 launch of 1-in-4: A Social Change Movement to End Homelessness Among Women. Molly lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
Thank you so much for joining us Molly! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I don’t know that anyone really plans to be a fundraiser — at least, I didn’t. But I always knew that I wanted to work in the social sector. My grandmother was a social worker, and my parents both worked in education. I was raised with the understanding that we all have a responsibility to try to improve our community. After I finished business school, I was searching for how I could best apply my strengths — a strategic mindset and good communication skills — to help create impact, and I kept coming back to fundraising. Sure, fundraising is about asking for money — but it is so much more than that. It is about reaching out, building passion among supporters of a cause, and giving them a way to be involved. I am honored to amplify the voices of the clients we serve, to make connections, and to be a conduit for hundreds of people each year to become involved in making change.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My role as a fundraiser is to make connections, and one of my favorite examples of this happened a couple of years ago. I was working with two volunteers who were organizing a fund- and friend-raising house party for Chrysalis, and the group they were bringing together were all mothers from their kids’ schools. In identifying a client to share their story at the event, I knew we needed another mom. On the surface, our client didn’t appear to have much else in common with the other women at the event. When she told her story, about her history of abuse and addiction, and about how her motivation to get a job and turn her life around was all about getting her kids back, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. And it didn’t stop there. After the formal program was finished, we all began a conversation together — the client, the staff, and the donors — about the challenges we face as women, as mothers, as workers, and we soon came to realize that there really wasn’t as much distance between us as we may have thought. It was a beautiful moment of connection.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had just started a new job, and my boss was relaying feedback from her supervisor about some changes they wanted to see in one of my projects. I responded that we would just have to agree to disagree. My boss, very kindly, let me know that wasn’t really how things worked — and I made the changes! While this sounds like an example of a very hierarchical organization, it was, in fact, one of the most collaborative places I have ever worked, and these two women taught me a tremendous amount about shared leadership. What I learned from that experience was that when you are part of an organization and a larger movement for social change, you need to be able to step out of your own personal bubble, seek feedback from others who have different experiences and perspectives, and be willing to alter your course.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Chrysalis is dedicated to changing lives through jobs. Whether individuals have been disconnected from the workforce as a result of homelessness, the impacts of criminal justice system involvement, or other barriers, we provide resources and support that can open the doors to opportunity. Through a combination of job-readiness resources, individualized case management, and transitional employment in one of our three social enterprise businesses, Chrysalis has helped over 66,000 individuals return to a path to self-sufficiency over the past 35 years. And the benefits of getting and keeping a job are about more than just income and survival. In addition to serving as a catalyst for setting people on the path to self-sufficiency, employment improves housing stability, increases self-esteem and sense of dignity, and creates better physical and mental health, while also setting in motion changes that have positive ripple effects on families, communities, and society.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
At Chrysalis, we have a tradition of ringing what we call our Success Bell when someone lands a job. Everything stops when the Bell rings, and we gather in the lobby to celebrate and hear the individual share about their job search, their journey, and their very personal accomplishment. More than 2,000 individuals get a job every year with the support of Chrysalis, and so we are presented with incredible stories every day. (You can check out many of them on Chrysalis’ social media — @ChrysalisLA — and our website — www.ChangeLives.org.)
One story that has really stuck with me is a couple — Antonio and Suzette — who we celebrated at our 2019 Butterfly Ball. They met and were married years before finding their personal paths to Chrysalis. They have supported each other through everything, even when their journeys kept them apart during times of incarceration, transitional housing, or treatment facilities. Both participated in the Chrysalis program, and used the resources and support we provided to rebuild their confidence and reconnect with the workforce. I met Suzette several years after she had participated in our program, and at that time, Antonio was actually one of my coworkers, having been hired fulltime as a Supervisor in our social enterprise after also participating in our program. I remember being struck immediately by how much they had each overcome, the support they had for each other, and the strong connection they maintained to the Chrysalis community. Today, Suzette has been back at work for years and manages up to 80 employees for a larger retailer, while Antonio works for Caltrans. They are proud parents and grandparents and spend their downtime surrounded by family. I have barely scratched the surface on this remarkable couple, but I would encourage anyone reading to take seven minutes to meet Antonio and Suzette here: https://changelives.org/antonio-and-suzette/.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First and foremost, at Chrysalis, we advocate for fair chance hiring. We ask employers to look past backgrounds and give people a second chance. Time and again, when given the opportunity, our clients have proven themselves dedicated, hard-working, reliable employees.
On top of the opportunity to work, we need to ensure fair wages and benefits to allow people to not just survive but to thrive.
And in Los Angeles — as in most of the nation — we desperately need to build more affordable housing to truly end the cycle of homelessness. We need to invest resources in construction as well as mobilizing the power of our YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) network to overcome neighborhood resistance and zoning challenges to allowing affordable housing in all communities.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe in shared leadership, in which organizational leaders at all levels work together to effectively develop and implement strategies that leverage available strengths, capabilities, and capacity. I love to collaborate and to bring different people and ideas to the table. Our collective knowledge and experience is so much more powerful than one person alone.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
There are only four on this list, but they are lessons that I think about almost daily.
Your plan can change: I thought that I had my career plan all mapped out, which included a goal of becoming a CEO before I turned 35. I had to learn that circumstances change and that you can have amazing experiences and create impact in ways you could never have imagined, if you allow yourself to be open to it. I’m past 35 and not a CEO yet — but I’m really happy with the path I’ve taken. As a COO and a Vice President, I’ve been part of some fantastic leadership teams, done work in which I have great pride, and learned a lot.
There’s time: I’m a big believer in the Strengthsfinder (now CliftonStrengths) assessment, and my top strength is Achiever. I’m driven. I set goals, and I want to accomplish them. When I first started out, I was impatient. I wanted a promotion every year. I wanted clear markers that I was achieving. It took me a while to learn that I didn’t have to achieve everything at once. Once I could see that I wasn’t in a race to some imaginary finish line, I could appreciate each job as a step on the path and an opportunity to learn and grow.
Remember the bigger picture: When you are just starting your career and you are focused on a singular work area, organizational decision-making can seem to drag on or just not make sense altogether. I was in one job where I got really upset that certain changes I wanted were not happening at the pace I thought they should, and I ended up leaving the organization. Looking back at that experience after serving in a management position, I can see clearly that my supervisor had been looking at the big picture and had made her decisions with the impact on the whole organization in mind.
Have fun: We do really serious work. It’s hard. It’s emotional. And sometimes the pace of change is brutally slow. In those days, you have to find some joy. Celebrate the small wins. Enjoy the company of your clients and colleagues. Allow yourself to laugh. That’s the only way to make it through.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have spent my entire career championing opportunity for those who have been underserved, but I’ve focused the last 14 years on ending homelessness. There are nearly 60,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. We need safe shelter and much more permanent, affordable housing. We need to provide opportunities and pathways to work. We need to treat all of our neighbors with compassion and understanding. We know what works. We just have to do it at the scale needed to truly end this crisis. And ending homelessness for these 60,000 individuals will not just change their lives; it will have a positive impact on their families, their co-workers, their neighbors, and our entire community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the idea and imagery of this line from Spanish poet Antonio Machado, “Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.” Each and every one of us is on a unique journey. We can — and should — be informed by the experiences of others, but no one else can take the journey for us. Some days, the path will be smooth and easy, and other days will be unfathomably hard. But as long as we keep moving, the path will take us where we need to go.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to sit down with Cecile Richards, Ai-Jen Poo, and Alicia Garza of Supermajority, along with Shannon Watts from Moms Demand Action. These women are amazing community organizers who have centered the voices of women and their allies in advocating for change on some of the most pressing issues facing our country. The opportunity to learn from their experience would be amazing.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow Chrysalis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @ChrysalisLA
Follow Molly on Twitter: @mollyrmoen