Sometimes life has a way of coming full circle. For Erika Carney, the last six years have done just that- taking her on a journey that all started when she was first introduced to SHARE Charlotte in 2012.
Carney first learned about SHARE Charlotte when it was just an idea.
She was working for Skookum, the local software development firm in charge of first creating the online platform that would become SHARE Charlotte. Founder of SHARE Charlotte and Share Good, Kelly Brooks, was one of her very first clients and Carney played a part in the creation of sharecharlotte.org by assisting with market research, conducting user interviews, crafting user personas and, of course, participating in user testing- making Carney one of the first official users of the SHARE Charlotte platform.
During her time working for Skookum, Carney gave birth to her first child, a daughter who’s arrival came several months before she was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of the company. Taking on new responsibilities at work was familiar, but stepping into the role of "mom" was completely foreign and introduced a new kind of anxiety that Carney had never experienced before.
In this moment of darkness, however, Carney was able to find hope and comfort in the idea that she “can’t control the bad, but I can contribute to the GOOD.”
With this concept of contributing to GOOD in mind, Carney was reminded of her first client, Kelly Brooks and SHARE Charlotte. She took to the software that she helped to create and used SHARE Charlotte to reach out to a handful of nonprofits- not knowing quite what she wanted to do, but knowing she wanted to focus on helping young women.
Carney “dated” different nonprofit organizations, learning about their different missions and looking for her best fit. After meeting with a few, Carney found The Relatives. But her first “date” with this nonprofit was not picture perfect.
The Relatives, a local organization that serves as a system of resources that helps children and youth find shelter and support, was looking for someone to lead a Mommy Talk Workshop. Mommy Talk is a support group for their clients ages 16-24 who are new or expecting mothers and gives them an opportunity to not only talk as a group, but also get one on one time to discuss any fears, concerns, or challenges they are facing as they enter motherhood.
Carney admitted that during her first meeting with The Relatives, she was very intimidated and found herself staring at the floor, avoiding eye contact and feeling as if these young women would judge, be angry, or not want anything to do with her. She even went home and told her husband that night “it is a great organization but I don’t think it’s going to be the one for me.”
But after persistent follow up from the volunteer coordinator, she went back.
Two years later, Carney looks back at that first meeting with a smile on her face as she thinks about her misconception about these ladies and reflects on her time connecting, laughing, crying and bonding with the young women she has mentored through The Relatives.
Carney recalled the first one-on-one conversation she had with one of the women and emphasized that it had impacted her life in a profound way. The young woman was pregnant with twins and had no family support or consistent housing, and, just a couple months away from her delivery date, didn’t even know where she would go once she came home from the hospital with two young infants.
She thought she would probably have to go to the womens’ shelter which terrified her as she wanted to give her babies “a chance to make it.” It was after this conversation that Carney knew she had to come back.
Carney explains that her worry that these women would judge her or resist her help was entirely self imposed and that the environment at The Relatives is a “judgement free zone.” She said that is one of her favorite things about volunteering her time with that organization.
She says “no one cared who I was, I was just a mom who could lend an ear - that for me was really nice.” She elaborated about the bond she is able to make with these young women by saying “on paper we could not be more different, but the one thing we do share is a fierce love for our children and for that we are more similar than different. All of these women that I have spent time with love their children and want to give them a better life and break the cycle. The sad thing is there is not a single answer or easy solution.”
Her experience with The Relatives led Carney to reach out to civic and community leaders in Charlotte to talk about the social issues that exist within our city. The women she had been working with opened her eyes to the hardships that she had always heard of, and was aware of, but felt a new found heartache for now that she had a face and story to attach to those issues.
In her search for more information, Carney met with Michael DeVaul, Chief Impact Officer for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, and talked about everything from early childhood education to affordable housing and economic mobility. DeVaul invited her to to join the Community Impact Committee at the YMCA. A year and a half later, Carney is still on the committee and contributes to the conversation of creating equity and opportunity for all residents in the greater Charlotte region.
Today, Carney not only leads Mommy Talks for The Relatives, and participates on the Community Impact Committee at the YMCA, but was recently Kelly Brooks’ first hire for her new community engagement software company, Share Good. Share Good’s intent is to take the software that SHARE Charlotte runs on and make it easy for other cities across the nation to adopt, expanding the SHARE Charlotte model across the country.I told you this story came full circle.
Carney affirms the significance of her new position by saying “Maybe the bigger role for me in this journey is at Share Good, working to take a model that has strongly impacted my life and bring it to cities across the country so that other people can hopefully be impacted in the way that I was.”
Carney says “SHARE was the catalyst for launching me into philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, because they made it really easy to see the landscape. You can come to SHARE and see which groups are focused on addressing which problems and get plugged in almost immediately.”
From creating SHARE Charlotte’s original software, to using SHARE to give back in her own way, to now being on board to help Share Good expand to different cities, Erika Carney is a perfect example of life taking the long way around to get you where, as she put it herself, you are “supposed to be”.