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As a newly single mom with two kids in 2010, Kimber Russell-Simmons felt she had a lot to prove to her children, herself, and all single moms that “just because you were handed something unexpected doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it.”
What did the Meridian, Idaho, resident do? She went back to school. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, she completed her MBA and immediately decided to pursue a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Walden University for two reasons: the advanced degree would help her become a well-rounded professional with the goal of becoming COO, and she wanted to empower other people in her community. “In addition to the resources, Walden offers, the social change drive and mantra really hit home.”
Her professional background is just as strategic as her educational journey. After hitting a ceiling in the healthcare field, Russell-Simmons switched to the financial sector where she successfully gained useful experience on bank and credit card acquisition teams at a big box retailer and eventually served as branch manager at a local bank. Now she is an adjunct faculty member at the College of Western Idaho, owner of Kinja Consulting, and a retail territory manager for Stinker Stores, an organization that aims to offer convenience store customers excellent experiences and premium fuel.
Even with family, work, and school responsibilities, Russell-Simmons finds time to help others. Most recently, she became a commissioner for Serve Idaho, the Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism. “We’ve always been involved in our community. My family has an expectation for us to give back to others. After I had kids, I started looking at nonprofit organizations in our area, but there aren’t enough nonprofits in Idaho to serve all of the needs because the state is very rural.”
Not one to let her passion be deterred by her family and employment obligations, she started to look for opportunities and gaps to fill. Now remarried with four kids, it is even more important for her to instill volunteerism in her family and her community since she believes volunteerism is the key to a successful future.
As a member of the Boise Young Professionals, a networking group that volunteers as part of the Chamber of Commerce, she was introduced to the Governor’s Commission, which promotes collaborative efforts among private and nonprofit organizations, schools, and government agencies to advance national service programs and volunteerism throughout the state.
Her objective as commissioner is to create relationships connecting the right people with the right volunteer opportunities for sustainable, ongoing support. “Volunteer placements should be treated like a job interview: What interests you? What are you passionate about? That’s the retention piece. It’s our job to investigate and look to see what that match looks like. It’s a long-term process, not just filling a two-hour slot.”
Right now she’s focusing on changing people’s minds about their true human capital possibilities. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot by having qualified volunteers complete menial tasks.” For example, she says those who are newly retired and want to be active end up doing tedious work. Instead, she wants nonprofits to maximize the skills of those leaving the workforce by asking them to team up with Millennials to share life skills and provide the younger generation with more hands-on experience and mentorship to see what it truly takes to make an impact on an organization and community.
Russell-Simmons will continue her work on Millennials in the workplace as part of her doctoral study. Research shows Millennials, unlike older generations, are more interested in work that fulfills a purpose than one that provides a paycheck. Her study aims to examine retention and present strategies to keep Millennials engaged and invested. —Jen Raider