Hitting Her Stride
By Ruth Keyso, Director of Alumni Relations & Giving
Cindy Nielsen ‘07 believes in magic: The magic of people. The magic of connection. And the magic that occurs when individuals band together for a common good.
In her world, magic happens every day. Cindy is a development manager for the Chicago council of Girls on the Run (GOTR), a non-profit organization that supports and empowers girls in grades three through eight to become their best selves. Its curriculum is designed to instill confidence in young women, to help them realize their potential, and to teach healthy habits and life skills. The after-school program also incorporates a running component. At the conclusion of the 10-week experience, girls participate in a 5K race. Cindy describes the program as a journey, an opportunity for young women to discover they can do anything.
“It’s so positive and empowering,” she explains. “It changes people’s lives.”
An unfulfilling job in PR in New York City after college pushed Cindy into the world of non-profits. Looking for a career that would feed her need for storytelling while allowing her to have a positive impact on people, Cindy discovered GOTR and knew it was the perfect match.
“I need to work at a place where the mission matters,” she says.
In her role, Cindy connects individuals and corporate sponsors with GOTR and secures funding to keep the organization strong and viable. She has even served as a running coach for a cohort of girls. While all aspects of her job are rewarding, Cindy says it’s those moments when she steps away from her desk and interacts with the young women that are the most meaningful.
“That reminds me of why we do [what we do],” she says.
One particularly satisfying experience occurred when she paired employees at a financial firm in Chicago with a group of girls from the city’s Austin neighborhood. The firm bused the girls from the west side to North Avenue Beach, where they buddied up with employees at the company and practiced together for the 5K race. Cindy recalls the excitement and sense of accomplishment the girls felt in completing the training course and interacting with these adult mentors, who encouraged and supported them throughout the workout.
“They did so much more than running that day,” Cindy says.
Growing up, Cindy knew she wanted to help others but wasn’t sure how. As a sophomore at LFA, she volunteered for the first time, traveling twice weekly to the local Boys & Girls Club, where she assisted children with their homework and taught them how to read.
“I fell in love with it,” she says about the volunteer experience. “It was a changing moment for me.”
So changing, in fact, that she vowed to stay involved in service throughout her life. In addition to her work with GOTR, Cindy also mentors a young woman in high school through the iMentor program in Chicago. She shares insights about how to apply to college, choose a major, and determine a life path. Cindy’s best advice for her young mentee? Look at people you admire and ask them about their job, what’s their favorite thing to do.
“It can be overwhelming, there are so many options,” she admits, recalling her own high school experience and the life decisions she once faced. She encourages young people to stay open to change. If their original life plan is not working, mix it up. “There will be trial and error,” she says. “But it’s never too late to change [careers].”
And when you find the fit that’s right for you, presto: That’s magic.
Cindy Nielsen is a 2007 graduate of LFA and a 2011 graduate of Colgate University, where she earned her degree in sociology and anthropology. She lives in Chicago. Learn more about GOTR at: https://www.girlsontherun.org/
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