Marketing Director Carey Kersten’s “Why”: AVLF is my Badge

At each monthly staff meeting, an AVLFer shares his or her “Why” with the rest of the group. Why did we go into public service? Why do we work at AVLF? Below is Carey’s “Why”:

My mom is an elementary special ed teacher and my dad is a Lutheran pastor. My brother and I grew up in small town in south Texas. Our childhood was boring in a good way. We played Little League, went to Sunday school, made good grades, and were encouraged to always “do our best.” Those words were the closest either of my parents came to telling us what to do: “Just always do your best. That’s all we ask.” As it turns out, I really like doing my best. I love being proud of something I’ve worked hard on, and I love making other people proud, too – both of me and of my work product. But I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. No one pushed me to be a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer (not that I would have listened).

Marketing Director Carey Kersten with her family.

I didn’t follow in my parents’ footsteps. I majored in English because I like to read and I Iove grammar. (I love rules – even rules that don’t make sense.) I graduated from college when I was 21 and wasn’t ready to join the real world, so I stuck around and got a master’s degree. At 23 I discovered that the real world wasn’t ready to accept me. I’m not a millennial, but I remember feeling (likely overly-) confident about my abilities and bewildered that no one wanted to interview me. I ended up landing a low-level, low-paying job in the President’s Office at Florida State.1 I started working a week after 9/11 – the actual 9/11. Until then, the world (at least my world) had been a normal, safe place.

I remember tearfully gripping the phone and asking my dad, “Why is this happening?” I don’t remember what he said. No one had any answers. Here’s what I’ve discovered since then: Life isn’t fair. It’s chaotic and unforgiving and we have to find order and justice where we can.

Feeling helpless and desperately needing to be part of something meaningful, I signed up to run a marathon and raise money to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I didn’t have a personal link to blood cancer, and I wasn’t really a runner, but I needed to do something. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., a year after 9/11 and three days after the D.C. snipers were caught. (See? Life is chaotic.) I’ve been running ever since, but I feel less and less like I’m running away from something.

After a year at that first job, I was promoted and spent the next few years planning events for the FSU College of Arts & Sciences. I transitioned to the private sector, worked for a couple of software companies, moved to Atlanta. (Different boy. Same story.) My new friend and running buddy Avi Stadler recommended me for a legal marketing job at his firm. I worked there for a year, and then went back to software. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t fulfilled, either.

“The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others.”

Shortly after Avi and I started dating, he invited me to the Winetasting at the High Museum. Avi was the Board of Directors President at the time. He’d been telling me about AVLF for years, though I could never really remember its name. I had already met Marty and Wendy Ellin, so I didn’t feel that weird about pouncing on Marty at the event and telling him he should hire me. Five months later – five of the longest months of my life, during which I convinced myself several times that they didn’t want me, that I should just move on with my life – I was unpacking things in my new office.

So, what’s my “why”? I have an over-developed sense of justice.2 I hate disorder and chaos and relish that I get to rub shoulders with those of you who are in the trenches making a difference. Working with smart, dedicated, conscientious people is my jam. Spending my days helping to make the world a better place is way better than spending my days helping to make more money for some company.

I wish I had written these next words, but they belong to another working mother and my new personal and professional hero, Amy Poehler.3 The closing lines of her memoir are, “The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others.” She’s right.

I admire those of you who always knew you wanted to work in public interest. It took me about 35 years to realize that I did. I am so proud that I get to work with you. I hope that my job here helps you feel proud, too, of me and of us. As it turns out, I did follow in my parents’ footsteps. And I’m still doing the one thing they asked me to do: my best.

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1 I followed a boy to Tallahassee after grad school. This was the start of the cracked and crooked path that led me to where I am today.

2 Fun fact: a therapist once told me, as I sat with folded arms and stony face, that I am not the sheriff of the world and that I should put my badge down. Whatever, dude. AVLF is my badge.

3 I am a recent Parks & Rec disciple. Ask my colleague Katie King – every night I text her about something hilarious that Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope have done. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m sorry for you. Watch the show.