…We need to understand that our homeless community members are no different from other citizens. If nonprofits stopped doing what they do, cities would collapse on themselves. We all help in many ways, but getting funding is a continual struggle. I believe in sustainable funding, however, that will always be only a portion of it. My phone rings day and night for assistance, so as the economy changes, so does our census. Affordable housing should be in neighborhoods that have parks, cafés, good schools, and social activities. It’s important we give individuals dignity and pride, not just a place for them on the outskirts of town. We need our system to provide access to transportation, good jobs, and resources for their children. This comes down to having enough accessible funding sources to support the work we do, which is desperately needed in the state, city, and country.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Engle.
A Nevada native, Heather Engle has spent her career giving back to residents in need across the state through extensive involvement in community service. She is a pioneer for women after taking on her most recent role as the first female executive in the 48-year history of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.
As CEO of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that provides aid to the homeless and hurting members of the Las Vegas community, Engle oversees all aspects of the organization including, but not limited to, government and community relations, procurement of donor gifts, the management of special events, major gift cultivation, and management, as well as resource development planning.
Previously, she served in various positions within community organizations, such as Director of the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center for HELP of Southern Nevada, Director of WestCare Nevada Women & Children’s Campus, as well as Chief of Staff and Director of Resource Development for the WestCare Foundation. Her experience gained within nonprofit organizations and other community campaigns lend as proof of her passion and commitment to those who call Nevada home.
Before embarking on her career path, Engle studied business, marketing, and psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
This is a beautiful honor, thank you. I worked in politics and other business areas before I went through a very dark and hard time with alcoholism/addiction. After sobriety, I could no longer do what I used to do in the same way. I naturally went into recovery-based nonprofits and slowly began to receive leadership roles. I have been gifted the opportunity to do everything I love to do: hold the hands of the broken, speak for those who have lost their voice, participate in local & national politics, and witness staff becomes what they have dreamt of. I am surrounded by people just like me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There are so many to choose from. Since I am in long term recovery and outwardly public about it, I often receive messages from those in need. The one that took my breath away was from a woman, around my age, who called to tell me that she identified with me but didn’t believe that I was ever in the darkness she was at the moment. I told her personal things that I knew would be relatable and she cried in silence for over a minute. Then she said, “If you can do this and be out loud about it, I will try.” Today, she is 9 months in recovery, parenting her children and was promoted at her job. We touch base frequently and she is now paying it forward to many other women.
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 can share a sweet and funny moment with my 27-year-old daughter. One day, when I had first started at the Mission, she called and asked how my day was. I told her that I felt good but uneasy. With supportive seriousness, she said, “Mom, they are just new pants…CEO pants. Sometimes they are itchy, too tight, too loose, and maybe you pulled them out of the dryer too soon. However, they’ll soon fit perfectly and you will know how to time the dryer so they are dried just right.” I have held onto that daily and I can say that my CEO pants are feeling more like a second skin these days.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
At the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, we treat everyone as individuals and with dignity. The more we talk openly about homelessness, mental health, and addiction, we begin to remove the “stigma.” Every homeless, mentally ill and addicted person is the child, daughter, husband or sister of someone. Being an alcoholic was not in my plans, but we can all relate to pain, fear, and despair as well as joy, excitement, and hope. People do not belong in boxes with a label. When a person walks down the street and sees a homeless person, we want people to stop thinking “why are they on the corners?” and change it to “that is a person who is in fear, hopelessness, and pain.” We are educating the community on what can be done with humility and boundaries. We communicate loudly that everyone single one of us is a few family tragedies or paychecks away from a different way of life. None of us are immune, so let’s band together to help one another.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
There are so many individuals who come here for restoration and change that they make an impact on us daily. I can share with you an incredible moment I had recently with a large construction company. My friend Arnold Stalk with SHARE Village of Las Vegas and I joined forces to create a groundswell surrounding our Shelter of Hope Women’s Building. The shelter is in desperate need of repair and we did not have the immediate funds to make the extensive repairs. PENTA Building Group in Las Vegas asked to meet with me and offered to take the project on for free. They also kicked the project off with a monetary donation for operational support and brought others to the table to discuss a large capital campaign to makeover the whole Mission in the coming years. I have been in the firing lines for a long time. I have raised substantial amounts of funding, reorganized and built new programming; however, my efforts come at the price of many meetings, strategic planning and a lot of back and forth. It has been so exciting and relieving to receive this support, I can only imagine how it will be when our transformation is complete.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes, we need to understand that our homeless community members are no different from other citizens. If nonprofits stopped doing what they do, cities would collapse on themselves. We all help in many ways, but getting funding is a continual struggle. I believe in sustainable funding, however, that will always be only a portion of it. My phone rings day and night for assistance, so as the economy changes, so does our census. Affordable housing should be in neighborhoods that have parks, cafés, good schools, and social activities. It’s important we give individuals dignity and pride, not just a place for them on the outskirts of town. We need our system to provide access to transportation, good jobs, and resources for their children. This comes down to having enough accessible funding sources to support the work we do, which is desperately needed in the state, city, and country.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
People talked all day long, so leadership to me is about listening. Leadership is about encouraging your staff to be the best they can be and showing them an attainable world. Staff will always come before clients. If you have a dedicated and nurtured staff, clients will receive the best care and programming they deserve. Leaders lead from behind after the course is charted. They guide, they teach and they allow employees to grow.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
My career chose me. I resisted leadership but always found my way in it. I learned through many unpleasant circumstances and watching others succeed. I wish I was told four things:
- You don’t have to always defend your position.
- When you have a public life, the public will share their opinions about you and the job you do publicly.
- You will be FINE. Stay in purpose.
- Remember you are only as alone as you allow yourself to be.
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 would inspire a movement of decency and kindness. There is a misconception that everyone who is suffering wants help, however, this should never be assumed. We must differentiate between the need to make ourselves feel better versus the unknown truth about the person. I have also been inspired to start a movement on manners, kindness, and boundaries. Manners matter no matter your economic status. This can be as simple as picking up garbage rather than saying “It’s not my problem,” opening doors for others, following the rules and removing “terminal uniqueness” from people. You can never pay back enough, the more you give the more you receive internally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who has her back” (author unknown). The truth is that my life is where and what it is due to a strong tribe of women from every walk of life. I have women in my world that will tell me the truth, guide me, and love me unconditionally. I am never alone in any situation, and when I feel like caving in, they surround me, keep me upright and breathing. I went through a scary and unrelenting situation when I first started at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. I had twelve ladies calling and texting me throughout the day, so they could ensure that I was okay. They kept me from reacting, which also helped me to lead. People rarely remember the situation, but they’ll remember your response and how you approached times of difficulty.
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. 🙂
Yes, James Comey, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I have followed him for many years and many reasons. I love the way he brought the human condition into the FBI. He gave his trust and loyalty to his staff which created an overall sense of loyalty on their side. I have always loved his conviction to the truth and his willingness to speak it. He taught his staff to work as a team rather than siloed thinkers. It is always impressive that a leader is transparent and holds onto their convictions no matter the outside opinions. This is how people learn: humility earned power and the ability to use it wisely and with the correct purpose.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Yes, please follow the Las Vegas Rescue Mission at www.vegasrescue.org
Facebook @LVRescueMission Instagram @lv_rescuemission Twitter @LVRescueMission