Meghan Medlin has been in the nonprofit sector for over 16 years, leading the fight for employment and re-entry rights for several organizations. She is currently the CEO of her own nonprofit H.I.R.E., which specializes in matching previously incarcerated people with employers. I had the opportunity to intern with Meghan at H.I.R.E., to get an inside look at the world of nonprofits, and recently I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her journey to a career in public service.
What were your career aspirations during college?
I went into college wanting to be a veterinarian but about halfway through my sophomore year, it dawned on me that that wasn’t something I wanted to do permanently. I had already completed so many science classes that I kept my major and shifted my focus to forensics with an interest in joining the FBI. Life had a different path for me, however, as I graduated too young to even apply for the FBI and my first job out of college (Program Director for Jenny Craig) led me into a snowball of positions that helped build the foundation for where I am today.
How many positions did it take to get to where you are today?
Number of jobs may be hard since I have worked 2-3 at all times my entire life, but main ones after college would include: Jenny Craig; Alpha Scientific Medical; Town & County Credit; Inductors Inc; AppleOne; Taller San Jose; OC Fair & Event Center and now Medlin Workforce & Reentry Solutions and H.I.R.E. (again, during all of those I was working other things–like my resume writing company, OCREP, tutoring etc.)
Was there a pivotal moment that prompted you to operate the non-profit?
I ran a similar organization in the past and unfortunately not too long after I left the organization, it folded. In 2020, at the height of COVID, many people were being released early from jail and prison only to be met with closed doors or organizations operating virtually (to which they did not have access). Since I was previously known as the reentry resource person, my phone was ringing off the hook to help people. Seeing that the need was greater than ever and that my former organization was no longer operating, I decided to launch H.I.R.E.
What are the challenges of operating a non-profit versus a traditional career or position?
Starting up can be tough–you generally have no funding, no infrastructure and are doing it all yourself (operations, programming, marketing, outreach, fundraising, you name it!) There never seems to be enough hours in the day, but at the end of the day it truly is rewarding. It is exciting to build something from the ground up and get others involved who share your passion. Being able to help people get on their feet and change their life around makes all the long hours, sore necks, and sleepless nights worth it!
What did you not know early in your career that you know today?
That taking care of your mental health should be a priority for everyone. I severely neglected my own well-being, personal life and mental health pretty much my entire career which ended up backfiring on me a few years ago. Learning how to carve time out for myself and better utilize those around you to help with tasks/work has been a huge learning lesson I wish I knew when I was younger. At the end of the day, you can work insane hours and pour everything you have into a job/organization (at the sacrifice of your own physical and mental health) that literally can decide to change course at any moment and replace you tomorrow. Then, after you leave, eliminate everything you created–leaving you wondering why you spent so much time neglecting yourself for the job. So my advice to my younger self and others would be that you must add your own well-being to the equation.
What made you decide to focus on employment versus other aspects of re-entry?
Employment is my specialty! After being in sales for a number of years, I started doing recruiting (which is a form of sales) and found that I have a passion for helping people find a job/career that they love doing (and I’m pretty good at it!). This is what led me into nonprofit in the recession as I found a Job Developer position that had a steady salary versus surviving off of no commission. Little did I know that position would change my life.
Shortly after starting at that job, I found I also had a passion for helping those with barriers stacked against them get employed. This is what led me down the path to where I am now, and I truly do enjoy matching employers with employees, making a beneficial partnership for them both!
Do you have any advice for people wanting to go into the nonprofit sector and what they should expect?
It can be tough to break into, and on top of that, you’re more than likely not going to get rich, but the tradeoff you get from helping people (or other causes you’re passionate about) is immeasurable.
I would suggest people volunteer or intern with different organizations to see if that is something they truly are interested in doing and also to help get them a foot in the door. At the end of the day, nonprofits have become more similar to the corporate world in that they operate more like businesses than stereotypical “charities.” There are large nonprofits, small start-ups and everything in between which all have different cultures, leadership, and ways of doing things. Every organization has challenges, so it’s finding one that has a mission that you’re passionate about and you would do for free if you had too—which is important because a lot of times you are working for free with all the long hours (haha). At the end of the day though, I can honestly say I truly love what I do and my heart is full knowing I am making a difference in our community—something not many get to say!