‘Why?’ Series: Helping Nonprofits Succeed

By Stephanie Tanner

If you asked me what I was going to do with my life as a Junior in high school, I would have said, “Easy. I am going to college, majoring in Ballroom Dance, and teaching dance for the rest of my life. Oh, and I’ll definitely travel around the world.”

I grew up as a ballroom dancer, and that was my life. I spent almost every day dancing, sometimes practice would start as early as 5:00AM, and end as late as 2:00AM. I attended Brigham Young University (BYU), but it wasn’t until I got to college and started taking classes that I realized becoming a ballroom dance instructor was not going to be for me.


Traveling abroad opened my eyes to others in need

During my first semester at BYU, I developed a deep desire to give back to the world. During a Human Development lecture I looked on as the professor showed clips of children living in an orphanage in Romania. These children had awful developmental issues from the neglect they experienced in the orphanage. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. The parents had left their children at the orphanage because they couldn’t afford to feed them, so they thought that the orphanage would provide better care. The orphanage workers didn’t have the means or the bandwidth to give one-on-one time to each child, so they would leave the children in their cribs all day long. Not only was this the worker’s solution because they had other things to do, but it also kept the children quiet… eventually. In fact, I later discovered it was eerily quiet in the orphanage. Why? Because the infants would initially cry for attention in their cribs, hoping to be picked up and loved, but over time they would give up. They realized it was futile to cry, so they would just stop.

After this and many other similar experiences, I began to realize I was being led by God to take a different path–one that didn’t involve becoming a ballroom coach. I eventually settled on a new major: Human Development. I discovered that a Human Development major would lead me toward a career in helping others, especially those that needed it most, just like the children in the Romanian orphanage. I also decided at this time to minor in Nonprofit Management. I concluded that Human Development, paired with Nonprofit Management, would set me up for a life of serving others.


The following year, I decided (two days before application’s were due) that I was going to apply for an internship in a Romanian orphanage. The offer was from BYU, and after two long days of writing papers, filling out the application, begging my parents, and receiving endorsements from professors, I finished my application. Luckily there was still one opening left for the summer, and I filled it. I completed a basic language course in Romanian and was about ready to set off to Romania when the coordinators of the internship called me into their office. They sat me down and said, “We understand you have been looking forward to this Romanian internship, but we are wondering if you would consider something different. We are wanting to start a new orphanage internship in Kiev, Ukraine, and we would like you to pilot the program.” Well, that changed everything, so I traded my Romanian language book in for a Russian language book and flew to Kiev, Ukraine.

Working with children and recognizing potential for impact

This was just the beginning for me. Through these beginnings I realized how much I loved the nonprofit sector. I realized that I was (and am) extremely passionate about helping others, especially those who are thrown into awful situations from their time of birth. For instance, I vividly recall working with one particular boy–Vladik–in an orphanage in Ukraine.


Vladik is rambunctious, to say the least. He is the first one to greet you when you walk through the orphanage gate, and he won’t leave you alone until you close the gate behind you as you leave for the evening. Honestly, he sometimes got on my nerves because he always wanted to do something. He would hang on my arms and drag me around the apartment or playground.

About half-way through my internship, I heard Vlad’s story. Vlad came to the orphanage, literally from being chained up to a radiator in a backyard. His dad was out of the picture, his mom was an abusive drug addict. She would have “guests” over to the house, and since she never wanted the kids to get in the way, she would simply chain them outside.

Consequently, Vlad (at 4 years old) couldn’t talk when he arrived at the orphanage, and he was extremely cautious around people. How could anyone learn to love and trust after that? Well, because of the incredible care Vlad received at the orphanage, he learned to do much more than that. He now has wonderful relationships with everyone around him, he is social, he loves, and he can talk with only a slight impediment due to learned to speak at a later age.

Putting meaningful experiences to work helping others

After returning from that first internship, I was determined to make a difference, just like those orphanage workers made a difference for Vlad. But, as I took more classes and interned with more nonprofit organizations, I realized I could make more of an impact by helping organizations reach their full potential. I wanted to help organizations make even more of a difference in their communities all around the world. This led me to grant writing, nonprofit consulting, and, ultimately, to starting The Nonprofit Collective. I now work to support a variety of nonprofit organizations, which are helping society in hundreds of ways.

Editor’s Note

Mrs. Stephanie Tanner has been instrumental in helping us (Be About Change) learn more about nonprofit strategies, best practices, fundraising, grant writing, social media, and other areas. If you work for a nonprofit or have been thinking about starting one, join us in participating in her webinar – How to Get Your Nonprofit Organization Ready for Grants – on Tuesday, April 12 @ 12pm CDT.

Do you have a story you’d like to share about yourself or someone that his impacted your life? Tell us about it.


Get involved and be about change by subscribing now

[mc4wp_form id=”2866″]

Marcel Hernandez

Leave a Comment