I was one of those kids that liked school. Gross, right? But I loved the whole set-up: the books, the syllabi, the intense and uncomfortable testing. I wanted to learn about anything, studying Latin one day, geology the next, and art history the day after. So, it’s probably not terribly surprising that when I reached college I changed my major three times and finally settled on anthropology as my discipline. What’s more all-encompassing than the study of culture? (Pipe down philosophers.)

Now, you may be asking yourself the same question I was asking myself the last semester of my senior year, “where is this all going?” That’s sort of the point. At graduation, I would never have dreamed that I’d be sitting in the chair I am now, surrounded by a team of talented colleagues, a dedicated pool of volunteer advocates, and a community that I believe in. What links my passion to my studies to my career is the same driving force guiding Ampersand to our vision – a willingness to be lifelong learners.

Being a learner is a humble position. It means admitting ignorance and incomplete knowledge. It requires the ability to question your assumptions and prepare for failure. You must be willing to ask for help and listen to another’s answers. It’s typically not a very flashy position to be in, but the fruits of being a learner are many and varied.

As a budding anthropologist, my advisor gave me a piece of advice that set me on my current path, “you can’t learn this discipline in the classroom, you learn it out in the world.” She set the expectation that each of her students would do more than read dusty tomes; we each had to find a calling out in the world and practically apply ourselves to a problem. My search for a problem to get tangled up in brought me to the doors of the (formerly) Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.

Perhaps at any other agency, a 20-year-old student with no experience in counseling, social work, psychology, or advocacy would not be a prime candidate to put in front of survivors and trust to provide quality support. But BRCC saw a learner with a drive to help and gave me a place to become something more than I was. Through the rigorous advocate training program, I was challenged on every front by different perspectives and new information. It was hard and I messed up. A lot. But with each mistake came the reassurance that I would get it right the next time.

Ampersand has carried forward the philosophy that being a learner is as valuable as being an expert. We have a grand vision, and we know we are going to make a lot of mistakes in our journey to achieve that vision. In fact, failure has even been included in our organizational values (you’ll hear about them in the next couple weeks!) We have begun to integrate the work of human development psychologists like Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey into our daily work, leading with vulnerability and engagement with failure. We recognize that the process of trying, of listening and attempting, failing and diagnosing that failure is as important as reaching our destination.

Today, I have the honor of giving new volunteers the space to learn and fail and try again. I’ll never be sure what would be different if BRCC hadn’t given me the chance to become an advocate, but I do know that this is the environment I was meant to thrive in. Looking around me, I see that it’s not just volunteers who are growing – it is every staff person, every board member, each community partner we engage with, every individual who reaches out for support, our donors and champions in every community – we’re all learners here.

Are you ready to become a lifelong advocate? Contact Alexandria Sehon at asehon@ampersandky.org to learn more about volunteering with Ampersand.