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Meet Jaclyn Parks of Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center in Seaport

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jaclyn Parks.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Straight out of college I worked for a private jet company. Traveling to Saint Martin for Jay-Z’s surprise birthday party is a cool story to have in my back pocket but pretty quickly I realized it wasn’t the job for me. I grew up in a family where giving back to your community is part of your job description. My father has been an Executive Director at nonprofits for over 35 years and never once have I heard him complain about going to work. I wanted to stop complaining.

I did a complete 180 and landed a job doing marketing and development work at a Boys & Girls Club in Western Mass. My experience was limited so I learned as much as I could from the board members. I gravitated towards people who taught me how to create brochures, websites, advertisements, and press releases. I loved that these projects let me use my creativity to tell the organization’s important story.

It soon became clear that marketing was my passion. While still working full time I enrolled at Emerson College in the Integrated Marketing Communications master’s program. At the same time, I also discovered that Boston was the city I wanted to call home.

After graduation, I started working at Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center where I’m currently the Marketing & Communications Director. I’m lucky to have found a job that combines all things I value most – the outdoors, nonprofits, and creativity.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Working at nonprofit organizations presents a unique set of challenges. Resources are often scarce and people wear many different hats. It’s not always easy but it definitely makes you an expert at thinking outside the box to get a job done.

Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Thompson Island Outward Bound is located in the Boston Harbor. We have a deep partnership with public schools in Boston. Students come out every year throughout middle school, so when they reach high school they’ve gained a powerful set of life and academic skills.

Outward Bound is known for taking kids to a new environment outside their comfort zone and helping them push past their preconceived ideas of what is doable. Kids often start the day saying, “I can’t, I won’t, and I don’t want to.” And end the day climbing a 62’ foot Alpine Tower saying, “I can.”

If I were to describe a typical program day, it would look something like this… Kids get on the ferry and travel out into the harbor. For many, it’s their first time on a boat and as they go over waves the ferry erupts with screams of excitement and nerves. 25 minutes later they arrive on Thompson Island which will become their 204-acre classroom for three days. They strap on muck boots and head into the salt marsh to collect, classify, and categorize organisms. During these hands-on field lessons, students discover their scientific curiosity and develop a sense of their own capabilities. Many go from not wanting to be outside to asking when they can come back.

For many nonprofits, it’s hard to have concrete statistics that show what you’re doing is making a difference. We are lucky to have been chosen to partake in national studies funded by the Wallace Foundation in partnership with Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and Harvard’s P.E.A.R. Institute. Because of these studies, we know that time spent on Thompson Island strengthens kids’ academic performance in ELA, math, and science as well as life skills.

The programs we offer to the public schools and their students are provided at no cost. Thompson Island has a unique funding and business model that makes this possible. We receive donations from major donors, corporations, and foundations and also have fundraising events like a 2-day trail run on the Island (my personal favorite). We also have a thriving events business. Couples can host their wedding with the beautiful view of the Boston skyline as their photo’s backdrop and companies can have a party or conference on the island knowing that their event underwrites our youth programs.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Two summers ago we worked with a company to produce a video about Thompson Island’s youth programs. It took a lot of work to organize schedules and ensure we were capturing authentic moments without disturbing the youth programs. It took, even more, work going back and forth through edits to make sure our message was clear, concise, and compelling. The video was featured at our annual Gala and when it finished the middle school girl and all the staff members in the video were on stage to receive a standing ovation. I love how the video showcases our amazing staff and the passion they have for their work. We still use the video at corporate volunteer days, adult programs, and events to help people truly understand what Thompson Island Outward Bound is all about.

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