We love hearing about how people found their jobs through our website! Here’s a conversation with Jenny Ugolino, a Horticultural Specialist at Brooklyn Community Services (BCS) in Brooklyn, NY. She is also working towards her Masters in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU Steinhardt (Class of 2013).
Tell me about the job you found through Idealist, how long you have been there, and what you do.
I’m a Horticultural Specialist at Brooklyn Community Services (BCS) and I’ve been there since October 2011. It’s a part-time position and it’s a bit seasonal. I manage a community garden that is attached to one of BCS’s program sites, the Transitional Living Community (TLC). TLC is a 40-bedroom shelter for women who are low income, have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, and are also homeless. My responsibilities are maintaining the garden, running programming in the garden, and (when appropriate) helping with the loosely-based therapeutic horticulture program in the shelter.
When did you start your job search and what were you looking for?
I had just moved to NYC in August 2011 and I was a full-time student in a graduate program; I knew I needed part-time work to pay for living expenses. My degree is in environmental education and I was really hoping to work for a nonprofit doing any type of community greening or community horticulture projects.
Why did this job catch your eye?
This particular job was intriguing to me because while I had experience working in community gardens and in women’s shelters—and I had always thought the work I did was therapeutic—I had never specifically been paid to do something where all those things aligned. I wrote a cover letter in that way, talking about the different experiences, how I could see them coming together, and why I would be a good candidate. That was in late August and I was called in early September. It took a while to get things going because I needed a background check and to be fingerprinted, and I needed to meet with a couple of people, all to protect the safety of the clients. I understand that now, but in the beginning it made me a little nervous. So early October was when I started.
Did you use other social media or online tools while you were job hunting?
There were a few listservs through my school that I tried. Craigslist felt very strange and I didn’t get any response at all. Somebody recommended the Village Voice, but I felt there were a lot of service-industry positions where I thought, ‘I could do this, but what am I best qualified for and what is going to be fulfilling? I’d rather do that.’ I was on a couple of different sites, but would always come back to Idealist.
What about Idealist kept bringing you back?
I really liked that whenever I would read mission statements for different organizations, regardless of whether I was qualified or if it was the right fit for me, I thought these were quality organizations and I was hoping I could find my way into one of them. I thought that the search feature is particularly strong and even now I go back for fun and to play around.
You’ve been at BCS and the garden for almost a year and a half. What goals did you have when you started and what have you been able at achieve during this time?
My goals going in were really just to figure out the system: why my clients were there, what they needed, and how the garden could be a helpful piece of that. I have found that and gained confidence in my own horticultural knowledge and in my listening skills. It’s been really great in that way and very insightful.
As for achievements, it’s hard to quantify in a therapeutic setting and I’m not allowed to disclose a lot of that information. But with the the garden, we’ve made a lot of structural repairs, with new seating and the gazebo. We’ve built a new walkway. We’ve harvested literally hundreds of pounds of vegetables and donated some of them to a local food pantry where some of our clients go, and we ate them on site. We do a social tea every week to practice social skills and build a more positive group dynamic. I’ve built some partnerships with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Green Guerillas, East New York Farms, and GreenThumb program.
What advice do you have for someone who is in the midst of a job search?
Have confidence in your own abilities. You might see a job that you think is a little bit of a stretch or that you might not have specifically done before, but if you feel like you have the skill set, go for it. Don’t be afraid. Sometimes, in the nonprofit world, you don’t want to sell yourself; you might not feel like that’s your personality. But it’s not hard to sell yourself and then you can end up doing really great things!
Did you find your job on Idealist? We’d love to talk to you! Email me at kylemarie [at] idealist [dot] org.