Hello again, my name is Danny Boice, Trustify’s CEO. This is the continuation of Chapter 3: The Voice, in which Jen Mellon tells the story of her life experiences. Jen Mellon is the co-founder and president of Trustify.
The day I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, DC to begin my new job. It was a perfect fit: the whole team was dedicated to helping children by reducing the barriers to adoption.
Working at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute was a dream. I would work until two in the morning, eyes burning and throat sore from too many cups of coffee, but I was doing work that mattered. When my internship was over, Kerry made me her international program director. I was meeting with congressmen, explaining the plight of children looking for adoptive families in the US. We were drafting legislation with foreign governments on their child welfare policies. I met with foster families and read reams of files about what was keeping US families from adopting abroad. And every night when my head hit soft pillow, I dreamt of children around the world who were getting homes, who were getting adopted because of the work I was doing. One less baby on the refuse heap. One less rib poking through skin. One less story to stimulate my thirteen-year-old, Reader’s Digest-induced rage. When my hours and hours at work allowed, I slept deeply and peacefully.
Already though, my dream was developing a few cracks. My commute to Washington was only ten miles, but I clocked an hour and forty-five minutes each day, bumper to bumper, my blouse sticking to the seat as I used the extra time in total standstills to go over my notes for the next meeting. I used bottled water in the console to chase away the feel of exhaust in the back of my throat, hand on the wheel, eyes scanning for any break in the endless array of Detroit-built metal and plastic. One day, the traffic was mercifully clear and I raced by blurred greenery and grey on- and off-ramps to get home. I happened to glance down at my wrist, where my shirt had ridden up, and I noticed red bumps amongst a web of red lace.
In the driveway, I lifted my arm to the car light and looked closely at my angry skin. Hives, as though the stress was clawing its way out of me. Inside my house I saw that they had spread along the back of my neck and along my hips. There was nothing to be done except fill my bathroom cabinet with neatly-stacked blue tubes of ointment so I could continue the crazy pace. I was built to do this—guided to do it—no matter what warning flares my body sent high.
Cracks quickly turned into fissures as violet circles under my eyes turned dark blue. For various reasons, Kerry walked away from CCAI and the rest of our team drifted too. The office looked the same but felt entirely different. New culture, new faces. I was the last woman standing and I stubbornly dug myself into my files and kept going.
When 2005 rolled around, it was time to fulfill another dream: the Joint Council on International Children's Services started recruiting me. Joint Council offered the chance to reach legislators, policy makers, and lobbyists to make real, systemic changes for potentially millions of vulnerable children. Now I went to bed dreaming of the young faces we could save from impermanence, imagined them having birthday parties, swimming lessons, prom. It was too good to turn down.
I was sure I would be doing this job for the rest of my life. For my first board meeting at work, I dressed carefully in a skirt suit. I walked up the brick walkway, which looked like it belonged on a quaint San Francisco street full of tall narrow homes. The conference room was long, with grey felt chairs and a long cherry-stained table. I sat by the window overlooking the tree-lined street. I was ready to make things happen.
“How old are you?” a man standing by the door asked, his eyes looking at my face.
I set my purse on the floor and ignored his surprised eyes. “Twenty-four.” I knew I made a difference every day and I didn’t think about my age much. I felt proud. I had worked my butt off, and now that work was showing up for me in spades.
Although I had been brought on at JCICS as a membership manager, I was almost immediately promoted to become the youngest Executive Director of Joint Council. Then the blue line showed up on the pregnancy test. Eli and I had just gotten married seven months prior, and I was on the pill, for heaven’s sake. I checked again, sure it must be a mistake. I loved babies, but I was not ready to have one. At the same time, well, I loved babies, and this too was a gift from God. So much joy and terror in one little urine-soaked stick of plastic. Eli and I had a mortgage on our new house, and Eli was still in law school. I was equal parts absolutely petrified and terribly excited.
...to be continued tomorrow!
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