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A Special Message from Maria Kim

Today marks my last day at Cara Collective, and I can say – with absolute certainty – that I will miss these four walls.

And I don’t just mean the ones of our downtown campus, with its heartbeat of Motivations, and the buzz of a community working together towards gainful employment. I mean the ones of our South Side Campus in the magical Rosenwald Court, where the spirit of Duke Ellington and Lorraine Hansberry shine brightly on our participants. I mean the ones of our Pilsen campus where our first and flagship social enterprise, Cleanslate, hit its stride in its growth. I mean the ones of our co-location partner Northwest Side Housing Center, where Cara Connects brings the power of mission-driven staffing. And I mean the ones of our Cara Plus affiliate partners in Indiana and Georgia, who have taken the Cara method and have helped so many more people – so much more untapped talent – find their way back to work.

I will miss these four walls.

And when I think about this past year – this year of grieving and of grit – I realize I have learned a thing or two about the power of walls. They are strong and they are fierce in making spaces for people to come together and learn. And also, they can come down and they can melt when people need to, as this past year has taught us, come together in new ways.

Transitions like these always give us the power of inflection. Today I’m reminded of when I first made the swan dive from private sector to purpose: it was because of the fulcrum that was and remains 9/11. In the collective grief of that moment, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “If our days are this precious, am I really walking in my vocation?”

When I realized I wasn’t, I went on a scavenger hunt for the ages – searching for an organization that could give me that sense of vocation and to which I could hopefully give something to, too.

I came here to find my vocation; but I leave here having found my voice.

I found that sense in what is now Cara Collective – a community that fuels in all of us a sense of the possible; a community that values, adores, and unlocks the deepest truth of who we are; and a community that recognizes how much stronger we become, and how much lighter we are, when we walk through this world with the power of a friend.

As with many of our participants on whose broad shoulders we stand, I came here to find my vocation; but I leave here having found my voice.

In fact, like the true Cara nerd I am, I write about this, our method and these four walls, in a book called Voice and Vocation. Think of it as part memoir and part manifesto for those who might want to learn how this mighty workforce organization found its way. Like much of what we do at Cara, we reflect on both our successes equal to our failures in the hopes that it will help others in the work find their voice too.

Words will forever fail me in capturing how this community has moved me to my core over these past 15+ years. Truth is: I rest my head after a long day each night heart-full and hopeful because of all of you: our participants and alumni, whose leadership teaches me what strength truly looks like; our colleagues, who make this mission come to life in words, in deeds, and in nothing short of love; and our community, whose investment in this work – not only of dollars, but more deeply of themselves – give our participants a sense of hope and a spur of momentum that fuels possibility.

There is no place on earth like this beautiful house: our house. And as I rest my head tonight, I will know that I leave here as an employee, but I stay here as a forever friend: a cara of Cara for life.

Yup, I will miss these four walls.

With love to all of you who make this community more vibrant each and every day. You are forever in my heart.

Maria Kim

Voice and Vocation: A workforce practitioner’s guide to building hope, jobs, and opportunity” is on sale now with all proceeds of sales going back to Cara Collective’s mission to eradicate poverty. The book is available through online retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.