Catherine Slocum began her higher education journey at Georgia State thinking she wanted to practice law. As she became active in student government and various social causes, she realized she had a heart for social justice work and shifted gears.
The seed was planted by her faith and family, she said.
“When I was a child, my family and church community served others through mission trips, fed the homeless and loved each other. In college, my eyes were opened to racial injustice, gender issues and international poverty. I knew I couldn’t stand by and not respond. ”
After earning her MPA with a nonprofit management concentration, Slocum now works at Habitat for Humanity. She credits her Andrew Young School coursework for leading her to her current successes.
“The classes I took are extremely relevant to my day-to-day responsibilities,” she said. “Nonprofit accounting, organizational development, human resources, advocacy and economics, the list goes on. I use so much of what I learned in those classes almost every day.”
Slocum began working for Habitat for Humanity in 2014 as its corporate partnerships manager. In that role, she managed the donor activities of corporate entities that fund Habitat projects locally and abroad. Serving as their Habitat relationship manager, she helped these companies direct their grant dollars and employee volunteers in ways that best matched their corporate social responsibility goals.
Recently, Slocum moved into the role of senior specialist in neighborhood revitalization. This initiative uses an integrated, collaborative approach to work with residents to address various elements that contribute to a higher quality of life. Some of the elements they focus on are health care, safety and economic development, in addition to the organization’s traditional focus on housing.
“Habitat for Humanity has been a leader in helping families build safe, decent, affordable homes for over 40 years,” she said. “Now we’re adding an extra layer to include the revitalization of communities. Focusing on neighborhoods allows us to learn what residents think will better their communities. We partner with them and local nonprofits and officials to develop plans for improvement. We then all work together to carry those visions out.”
Slocum adds that this model is asset-based community development, focusing on the dreams, gifts and concerns of residents rather than how an outsider can “fix” the neighborhood.
“We believe that residents know what is best for their communities,” she said. “We come alongside residents to improve their quality of life.”
The neighborhood revitalization program, in its eighth year, has committed to revitalizing 25 neighborhoods by 2023. Slocum is excited to be part of the ongoing implementation of this program in new communities.
Last year, Slocum participated in the 34th Jimmy & Roslyn Carter Work Project in Edmonton, Canada. Working alongside 2,000 volunteers from across the world, she helped build new homes for 150 Habitat homebuyer families. Her project was a multi-family unit which would house four immigrant families from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
“It was such a beautiful picture of diversity and community,” she said. “We all converged in one space for a week to build safe, decent, affordable homes and demonstrate to the world that we are all valuable and can live in harmony.
“I think about those families when I’m out fundraising or designing programs to build better communities. They drive me forward when I’ve worked a 10-hour day or my eyes are crossing from staring at spreadsheets for too long.”
As Slocum continues to navigate new opportunities in her career, she looks back on her time as a student at Georgia State and remembers how intimidating career choices can be after graduation. While she realizes not every challenge can be removed, she offers advice to students that will help their transition after graduation go smoother:
Make many connections. “Meet as many people as you can by getting involved in organizations, research projects, etc.”
Use your connections. “Many people make the connections but neglect to use them. When you’re looking for work, don’t be afraid to reach out to people to let them know. Every single job I’ve gotten has been due to one of my connections from Georgia State University.”
Be patient. “Don’t rush into a position that may not be a good fit for you. Rushing into roles can sometimes lead to us being stuck in the wrong field or job for a long time.”
Focus on your passion. “If you have the opportunity to participate in a directed individual study, choose a topic that you are interested in and choose a professor that specializes in this area. This can be an immense growth area.”
– By Rashida Powell