Meet Paula Moody: Senior Director of Programs at Families First

Paula Moody

Featured in Shoutout Atlanta

We had the good fortune of connecting with Paula Moody and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Paula, what’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
My first job after college was at a non-profit. I worked with teens in a group home as a Resident Advisor, direct care staff. That was thirty years ago, and I’ve learned a lot about social work and human behavior. Over the years, there were two very important lessons I learned. I had a former supervisor tell me in my early career as a social worker that you are not responsible for a client’s success or failures. I never forgot those words of advice. What it taught me is that it’s “not about me.” I learned that what defines “success’’ or “achievement” for clients is determined by them, not me. All I can do is commit to doing my best, listen and respect each client I am working with and understand that they have a path to success that has to work for them, not for me. As long as they get to where they want to be, that’s what is most important. One of the most difficult things about doing non-profit work is you may work with a client for months, even years and never “see” the impact of your work. You have to trust that you planted a seed and that seed is growing, Much of non-profit work is working within teams and constantly interacting with others who often think and hold beliefs that are different than yours. I learned that if you want to mobilize a team, you have to listen to them, incorporate their ideas and suggestions and articulate clear goals and objectives. I enjoy coaching people and teaching them what I’ve learned over the years. As a leader in a non-profit, you have to be incredibly flexible. For example, you can’t be too big to role up your sleeves and do the work you expect others to do, you have to know when, what, how much and to whom to delegate, you have to take the time and learn what are your team’s strengths and what are some of their challenges. The non-profit I worked for right after college, I started out as a Resident Advisor and worked my way up to the Director of Programs. During one of my performance reviews, my immediate supervisor (who was the CEO) asked me what did I think was my biggest strength. I said, my follow up. She said, no. It’s your ability to get people to see your vision and follow you. 

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In my role as Senior Director of Programs, I oversee Families First’s programs and services which are managed by Program Managers. These programs include adoption, adoption support services, foster care, parenting services, counseling, housing, and teenage pregnancy prevention. I always wanted to be in non-profit leadership. I created a check list that I knew had to be accomplished in order to obtain this professional goal. Two years after obtaining a master’s degree in urban studies, I got a call out of the blue from the Dean of Social Work telling me that I needed to go back to school and get a master’s degree in social work. I obtained my MSW and then obtained a license in social work (LCSW). I attended as many trainings as I could and took on additional responsibilities whenever I got an opportunity, especially if it meant I was learning something new. The long hours was not easy, but it did not always feel like work because I really enjoyed what I was doing. I love a challenge and trying to figure out a solution. I learned from my setbacks. My very first leadership position was as the program director of a group home. I was not ready for the position. I made so many mistakes and was eventually demoted to the clinical coordinator role. It was one of the best things career wise that happened to me. I did not take the demotion personally but instead worked really hard under my new boss who identified my challenges as a leader and coached me. His name was Dave May, and he was a retired warden. I am forever thankful for his guidance. I love to travel. think it is the social worker in me that finds meeting people from different cultures so incredibly fascinating and rewarding. My last major trip was to Sub-Saharan Africa, where I visited four countries (Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa) in three weeks. Traveling helps me see people and systems from many different perspectives. I am a ninth generation African American woman who is a direct descendent of Venture Smith (an African prince who was enslaved as a six year old boy around 1730 by an English merchant, who eventually earned enough money to buy himself, and his family out of slavery). Smith’s story was recorded by a New England school teacher prior to his death in the early 1800s. His story is recognized in The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and taught to school age children in Connecticut. Every time I think of my ancestor’s ability to overcome the brutality, trauma and incredibly hardship that enslaved men and women endured, it reminds me of whose shoulders I stand on and my role and responsibility in helping others.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m from Connecticut and my family loves to come to Georgia to visit. When they do, I actually put together an itinerary for them!!! Over the years, my itinerary included outside concerts such as Wind Down Wednesday in East Point, the Dogwood Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival, etc. We’ve also visited the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., and attended Hawks, Falcons and Braves games. We love live music performances. One of our favorite places is St. James Live! Jazz Club. Restaurants I’ve taken them to so far include the Slutty Vegan, Busy Bee Cafe and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. We’ve visited the High Museum of Art, rode our bikes on the Silver Comet Trail, went hiking in the north Georgia mountains, visited Stone Mountain Park and even took a road trip down to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would dedicate my shoutout to my family. I would start with my mother who taught my two sisters and I the value of education. She explained to us at an early age it was the key to economic stability and prosperity. I would also give recognition to my extended family. I can remember being at home during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks and my aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. always having a genuine and sincere interest in what we were studying in school, when we expected to graduate, etc. They did not have a lot of money, but they would send us a few dollars in a card encouraging us to stay in school and study. I love sports. You name it I most likely like to play it or watch it! My favorite sport is basketball, which I played in high school. I think sports taught me how to persevere, work as a team, and accept you can’t win them all. I thank all of my coaches from junior high to high school for pushing me and teaching me there is no I in team.

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