We had the good fortune of connecting with Courtney Vrablik and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Courtney, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I find risk taking to be as critical an element in leadership as any other characteristic. Perhaps it becomes easier with experience because I have a wider base of knowledge to draw from. However, in hindsight, I can honestly say the biggest, most exciting changes in my life–both personally and professionally–have come from making a leap into the unknown and taking a chance. For example, my initial foray into professional pastry came from answering an ad for a lower level position. Within five months, I was not only the manager but Executive Pastry Chef for a major corporate entity. The calculation was that by getting my foot in the door, I could compensate for my lack of previous experience by showing what my capabilities were. I already believed I could succeed in that set of circumstances. Conversely, the current position I hold as Executive Director for The Store involved taking a risk of leaving the corporate world behind to immerse myself in the non-profit world, of which I had no previous experience. That risk was made from a very personal place of knowing I needed to do “more” with my life than just be a provider for my children as a single mother. I needed to be involved with something that made a difference in the world, not just provided a paycheck. Once I was in this position, I found my ability to take risks was a key ingredient to our organization’s success as the pandemic took hold of our community. There was very little prior experience on anyone’s part at that point so it was critical that I determine a direction and lead our team into such an unknown space.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The Store is the vision of Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. The idea of a free grocery store for those in need came from an volunteer experience they had at Unity Shoppe in Santa Barbara several years previously. The concept is one of fostering hope while protecting the dignity of those in need. My passion for this type of food insecurity programming was born from my own personal experiences as a single mother who utilized EBT/SNAP and WIC for several years. Having once been on the receiving end, I can now adjust our operations to a customer-focused retail experience that includes everything except an exchange of money. While more and more agencies are realizing the value of this type of model, few have been able to implement the process fully. We hope to not only expand our programming to be increasingly more accessible for those experiencing need, but also expand our reach in the NPO community to further promote a dignity-focused service program.
In many ways, I have multiple levels of experience to draw from to be able to succeed in the work–I grew up in retail, my early career was in professional food service/hospitality, and I have walked in our customers’ shoes. But for me, the real key to thriving in this work is to stay curious and open to what I don’t know. It may sound cheesy but I feed others by staying hungry.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
so many people…Naturally, no organization is the work of one person, so first would be The Store’s staff—they are the hands and feet of what we do. Then my board who took the chance of hiring a director with no prior experience to head this organization. Their ability to develop my potential rapidly is, to me, an amazing example of vision.
Additionally, once I was established in my position, I was afforded the opportunity to join a cohort led by Jo Saxton that focused specifically on women in leadership in nonprofit/ministry spaces. This was a incredible experience that allowed all of us to get very honest about the challenges of our work, our fears, and how to implement our vision with confidence. Additionally, it evolved into a network of strong women who are out there trying to make a difference in the world.
Linkedin: The Store.Org
Facebook: The Store