Jacqueline Williams-Hines is an Autism Awareness Advocate, Author and the Founder of No Small Victories. Literary offerings include four children's books and a discussion guide. A state member of Mass Act Early, a national autism initiative founded by the Centers for Disease Control, No Small Victories works to combat diagnostic disparities suffered by African Americans and Hispanics in underserved communities.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Advocating for my son, who is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, became the precursor to my evolution as an advocate and leader for others. I doubt that there is any force stronger as a catalyst than that of a parents love and support for their children. I had to navigate so many landscapes to meet his needs; medical, educational, social services. Couple that with the many hats that I was already wearing as a parent and it quickly became apparent that I could either be a jack of all trades, master of none or try to focus my energies to be as effective as possible. Advocating for my son, working full-time, caring for my family...forget it! I was burning that candle at both ends and in the middle. So in that respect becoming a leader in advocacy was not a choice, it was a necessity. It took me out of my comfort zone. I was an introvert. I had to become very outspoken. I had been someone who became immobile in the face of failure before. I had to find my sense of resiliency. Living with autism every day is about being resilient. Being a leader takes resiliency.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at No Small Victories?
Prior to No Small Victories I actually worked as a medical transcriptionist for almost twenty-four years for a very prestigious and busy orthopedic surgical practice. I hated it. It was draining trying to work eight hours and do everything I needed to do. Working in a position where I could not affect change for others were extremely depressing for me. So in that respect I think that it definitely taught me tenacity. I knew that to see my vision to fruition I had to move on, even after such a long time. That can be a very difficult thing sometimes when you have been rooted for so long, making a decision to try something so different. Long before I left that position I was laying the groundwork. I was determined not to give in to complacency and not follow my passion.
What have the highlights and challenges been as you started your organization?
I would have to say the highlight of starting No Small Victories has definitely been the connecting of like-minded individuals. When you are having a conversation with someone and you see that light in their eyes, and the spark of passion in their voice and you realize that you do not have to do it alone. The challenge I believe is, and remains for No Small Victories as with other nonprofits, funding.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start a non-profit?
I think you have to totally believe in what you are doing. A popular cause can motivate you but will not sustain you. Be passionate about what you are doing because you will have to be willing to eat, sleep and breath it. If you are not all in then you will not be able to continue to search out resources needed to build it. Others will need to be as passionate about your cause as you are. It is not a one woman show, believe me, I have learned this first hand.
Be willing to invest in your passion, whether that means returning to school to have an educational foundation on which to build, internships or workshops. Be visible, others cannot help you if you are intimidated by attention. Look at every failure as a learning experience. But above all, forgive yourself when things do not come together. No one is infallible.
Be willing to explore nonconventional avenues for your startup such as fiscal sponsorship from an existing 501 c3 nonprofit organization that, for an administrative fee, can provide support services such as office space, accounting and program supports. This can allow you the opportunity to focus on program development, and learn about running a nonprofit without the hazard of making critical mistakes that cause many nonprofits to fail.
Tell us more about No Small Victories, the non-profit that you founded.
No Small Victories is a program that focuses on community education of developmental milestones and early signs of developmental delays that may signal a diagnosis of autism. We are a member of Mass Act Early, a statewide initiative of the CDC's National Act Early/Learn the Signs campaign. We are endeavoring to effect diagnostic disparities in the underserved populations. Employing a holistic approach, we are not just educating families but the community at large to become a support system. Families do not live in silos. Due to the nature of autism and its profound effect on communication and social skill deficits it can be extremely isolating for families. It is important that families are able to access services in their communities in social settings that reflect them. The increasing needs of the autistic community due to sheer numbers of diagnosed alone makes it important that we begin to rethink the mold as it stands today. While earlier diagnoses have increased, there still remains disparities for certain populations. African Americans experience on average an eighteen month diagnostic disparity from their counterparts. This disparity alone results in many children entering school without a diagnosis or early supports that could greatly impact their development. It is not enough to educate the parents about developmental milestones...so now they know, now what? If there are not adequate services what do you do? In educating the community we hope to broaden access to existing services much in the same way wheelchair ramps did for the wheelchair bound community. We cannot keep trying to reinvent the wheel in standalone support programs. There is no time for it.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I still struggle with delegating because this is so personal for me. I am definitely working to find more time to just be in the moment. For me even when I am not working, my mind is working so I am trying hard to find that down time. In the past finding time to just sit with my son and have a conversation... that was work. Not in that it was a labor for me, but that I was not present as a mom. I was, more time than not, acting as an advocate. As his social skills grow we are having more and more instances of me just listening...just listening to this amazing kid. Not analyzing what he is saying, not checking for social or emotional growth, just listening. I can take joy from not wearing my advocate hat for a minute and just be mom. I never thought we would get to this point so I am totally enjoying these moments.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The lack of confidence in what we have experienced as women and mothers as having merit. Every time I hear a woman say I am just a mom, or I just have a job, or I am just a housewife I want to pull out my hair. As a gender we are capable of incredible acts of courage, ingenuity, compassion, strength and innovation. Sadly it is usually never to our own benefit. So therein lays the problem. We are still, in this day and age, not conditioned to think beyond our roles as caregivers or nurturers. We are not encouraged to think of ourselves as pioneers for our own sake. That is too self-serving. I think we need to acknowledge and celebrate our diverse strengths and talents without trying to Pidgeon-hole each other. I think that one of the biggest issues in the workplace for women can be other women who don't support each other. We still tend to feel it necessary to tear each other down to find validation in ourselves. When we support each other's growth and experiences and place value in it, in whatever arena it exists, we give ourselves permission to grow and move outside our comfort zones and not fear it. Without having to justify it.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
The CEO of my parent organization, The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services of Springfield, MA is such a dynamic mentor. Ronn Johnson immediately saw value in my passion to support other families struggling with a diagnosis of autism. As the founder of the Brianna Fund, named for his daughter, he was very supportive of my vision of a holistic community support system. Often when speaking of family supports we immediately start to think about specialized services that often reach a very small population. While I am not at all disillusioned to the fact that my vision can be very broad, I also believe that it to be very realistic and attainable. Ronn has been the angel on my shoulder and in my ear reining me in when I take on too much. As a parent of a child with special needs himself he has been a support system when I have become overwhelmed. He has kept me grounded and given me a verbal "kick in the butt" when he saw me overextending myself.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire so many women for what they do not only for their families but beyond. I have to say that some of the women I most admire are educators, authors, health care professionals and community change agents. They are not the people you will typically see lauded as leaders but they are ones on the front lines quietly affecting a multitude of lives every day. I am very passionate as well about education as a means of liberating women, and building leaders of tomorrow. I still remember a high school English teacher telling the class that often the first causalities of war are among the educators, writers, musicians, artist...those are the people that provoke thought. That statement has stuck with me ever since. We see every day how mere words can affect social conscious, spark innovation, promote growth or conversely retard it. I would have to say if I were to look to a famous person as a leader that I admire I would most definitely say authors Dr. Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Their works touched me deeply and helped define the way I look at myself. Characters in their works celebrate inner-strength in the face of diversity. My anthem of empowerment is there are No Small Victories...Because Every Accomplishment Should Be Celebrated!
What do you want No Small Victories to accomplish in the next year?
I definitely want to see our programming expand with regards to reaching community stake holders that impact families living with autism. Sustainability is always on the forefront of our mind as a nonprofit program, so increased support in the area of funding. Seeing No Small Victories become a model for other marginalized communities to support families with autism would be ideal. I also would like to see my No Small Victories Children's Book Series reach a broader audience to help educate others on the signs of autism, and being used as a teaching vehicle to better support inclusion in the classroom.