Kathy Kniep
Executive Search Consultant
Board of Directors
1435 NE 81st Avenue, Suite 100
Portland, OR, 97213

via email to:

Dear Ms. Kniep and JOIN:

After enduring incarceration for my political awareness critical of abusive leadership, my writing and creative thinking, ability to envision systemic change, and the innovative problem-solving qualities you seek in your Executive Director, I feel happy to read that JOIN’s current director leaves equipped with legal credentials and is dedicating his efforts to changes at the policy level. The 22-year history of your organization speaks to me not of success, but of the systemic failure of social services in a supposedly democratic nation. If our federal, state, and municipal governments were functioning properly, there should be no need for non-profits to compete for funds to fill in existing gaps.

Feeling somewhat queasy about the notion of earning a middle-class wage on the backs of people who are suffering socioeconomically at least as much as I am currently, I bring a commitment to obviating the need for the position and the organization within a five-year time frame. Do you think that is an unreasonable expectation for identifying cross-sector communication problems and designing solutions for homelessness in the City of Roses?

My experiences and qualifications applicable to your bullet-point list of core competencies required of your Executive Director:

• Three years of university classroom teaching experiences that I approached as non-traditional leadership doing what I could to ameliorate rather than emulate very poor departmental and administrative leadership that led to federal investigation with institutional noncompliance with federal education law. By one example, during the semester that coincided with the campus shootings across the nation at Virginia Tech, I mediated across diverse perspectives that fairly quickly divided into dichotomous camps of “save the world” and “screw the world” a collaborative classroom experience that resulted in student feedback, “I think I finally learned what it means to collaborate,” and “I’m not coming back to campus in the fall, but if I was, I’m definitely taking a class from you again,” and an emotionally bonded group where nobody wanted to leave the room at the end of our final crit, or the equivalent of a final exam in a visual communications studio:

Teaching, collaborative class project. Foundations drawing students learn that collaboration means active listening, problem solving involves critical thinking, and they might find drawing solutions to world problems.

Post-graduate school experiences first volunteering with education activists in Seattle, including self-proclaimed anarchists who twirled around establishing rules of inclusion and exclusion that prevented them from accomplishing their goals, then re-branding and identity for a successfully elected director of Seattle School Board on a budget far less than the corporate-backed incumbent, taught me that healthy communication must come from the position of leadership within any organization, large or small, hierarchical or non.

• Peering at the job through a social justice lens means to me the emotionally mature willingness to hear perspectives outside my own, rather than dictating a world in black-and-white terms of good/bad, have/have-not, ever-questioning these ambiguities internally and externally. Is that what social justice means to you?

• To your organization, I bring my work history providing support for multiple government or government-funded entities including NIH-funded laboratories, a Portland-area water provider, and recommending remediation over punishment for crimes that stem from abusive family environments and contribute to poverty and homelessness in the seemingly never-ending feedback loop of our current system. If it is funding you seek, the money is misspent on programs that visibly fail wherever there is a breakdown between written content, visual form, and organizational structure or individual or collective action.

• My experience of homelessness amply demonstrates my ability to manage crises with urgency and poise missing from an entire state system of so-called mental health professionals unable to set aside their personal suffering to make sound, rational judgments based on fact and observed behavior, justifying their own bad behaviors with passive aggressive communication. With Oregon’s system already under federal investigation, likely Idaho’s is not far behind, with the director of our National Institute of Mental Health publicly agreeing with my opinion of those DSM categories based on unsound science, worldwide psychologists and neuroscientists finally beginning to reach my same experiences and research conclusions, it is likely only a matter of time before science catches up with my little MFA thesis research on trauma and recovery.

• In my experience, facilitating difficult conversations that result in improved situations require both parties to respect the expertise of the facilitator. The traumatized subject self will never hesitate to abuse her position of power-over, or cast himself in the role of martyr or victim to rationalize his abusive behavior, and I have observed this to be true in both one-on-one or institutionalized communications, in both personal and professional relationships, in both business and domestic interactions.

• Where I, lacking access to funds, begin solving any problem is not with money, which is really only an abstract method of communicating value, but by first identifying the problem, then determining what resources are available to apply to a solution. An important part of that means identifying the individual strengths and weaknesses of the human beings working on the problem. Each member brings expertise to the collective wisdom of the social group. Design direction to competitive success of an all-male team while incarcerated at the state mental hospital is a recent example of my leadership ability to facilitate individual ownership and meaningful involvement in a group project by identifying those characteristics in the process of planning and executing a solution to the assigned problem.

• The success of my leadership with that internal team was evidenced externally by the observation of one mental health professional, “You know how to get what you want,” and another observing my behavior to her coworkers, “Why is she even here? She has demonstrated no symptoms,” and still a third returning to apologize for her abusive behavior after first walking away from a conflict over my access to sunshine and good health versus institutionalized bodily shaming and rigid notions of the dichotomy between male and female.

• While I shudder against your use of the trendy business buzzword “thought leader,” to the position I offer two degrees grounded in philosophical thought and a portfolio of evidence supporting my ability to think creatively.

• Another example of identifying human strengths too often overlooked was when I asked of another patient incarcerated at one of Idaho’s psychiatric hospitals, an unemployed mother on disability, suffering the obesity symptom of her childhood traumatized by lack of nurturing, who was re-traumatized by a group of male mental health professionals who metaphorically reenacted her childhood rape experiences by entering her room in the middle of the night and surreptitiously removing a bouquet of flowers that included, yes, indeed, a lily, with all of its cultural connotations of purity, “What do you do, for a job, I mean?”

“Well, nothing right now…”

Whereupon she proceeded to self-deprecate for many minutes. But I had already noticed, in her earlier interactions with still more abusive staff, that she had apologized for shouting in response to their attempts to first deny essential medication then force meds not prescribed by her outside physician, whereas the paid mental health professionals had not reciprocated that ownership of their abusive behavior. Prompting that patient’s memory of those interactions, I observed, “Okay, to me, apology is a valuable job skill.”

“Really?” her eyes lit up as if hearing praise was a new experience for her, “I never thought of it that way.”

• For some people, identifying problems can be a frightening or negative experience, pushing us outside our comfort zones or requiring self-awareness through self-reflection; for healthy communicators, the ability to identify problems is actually a positive first step toward conflict resolution.

• Solving problems is what designers do.

• Solving communication problems is the task of graphic designers.

• In forty-five seconds, my motion graphic analyzes the nuances of nonprofit, governmental, and corporate relationships throughout America’s system of education since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation:

• While an Idaho mental health court judge missed out on my public speaking abilities, through my graduate school experiences I found opportunities for others to benefit. My description of my collaborative teaching experiences compelled our smaller breakout session group to present those experiences to the larger audience of graphic designers, interior designers, web designers, industrial designers, architects, and business consultants at the Designers Accord in Seattle, while Boeing engineers wrapped up the session by wondering aloud, “But what happens when management says collaboration, and then we all go back to working in our individual cubicles?”

• If you’re still positive that you need more money rather than healthy communication to accomplish your organizational goals, the lengthy list of donors backing changes in American education may be a place to start. My ongoing conversations with Capital One Bank indicate their openness toward solving the problem of so many Americans unbanked by the Great Recession. Are you willing to donate your funds toward acquiring my leadership talent?

• Past volunteer and current socioeconomically underprivileged experiences evidence my willingness to roll up my sleeves and pitch in and help wherever help is needed.

• Analyzing financial statements is merely a design problem. As I have demonstrated in my analysis of the Duluth model teaching passive aggressive communication that fails to resolve conflict in families, and again in my analysis of Idaho’s SNAP funding and related workforce training requirements, fiscal discrepancies always reveal themselves in gaps between written content, visual form, and structure or organizational behavior.

• Thank you for embracing social media technologies throughout your executive search. I welcome comments, questions, or dialogue with members of your staff, board, or the public you serve.

• To your effective verbal and written communications, I encourage you to add visual communications imperative to successful 21st century communications, perhaps even consider an organizational restructuring to include visual design leadership, rethinking your current job descriptions or redistributing tasks accordingly-?

• Does my model for healthy communication correspond to your definition of professional behavior representing your organization?

• Thank you for considering my commitment to transparency in government and human resources, despite confidentiality requirements that may prohibit your public response.

While I’d much prefer a supportive role perhaps filling the vacancy of Deputy Director learning from Will Harris’s experiences as he advances in your hierarchy, the leadership role is the position you currently offer. Thank you for matching my broad and deep range of experiences and skills to available position(s) or re-envisioning roles within your organization.


Jana Brubaker

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