BABE #236: Kathryn Thomas - CEO, ANAMAR; Executive Director, Yoga 4 Change
Kathryn is doing a whole lot of good in the world through a variety of impressive-as-hell hustles: as CEO at ANAMAR, a small business offering a variety of environmental services to government, industry and private enterprises, and as Executive Director for Yoga 4 Change, a nonprofit organization bringing evidence-based, trauma-informed yoga programs to veterans, incarcerated individuals, youth and those suffering from substance abuse. How she manages to balance her various responsibilities with the roles of wife and mother is beyond us, but we’re honored to share her story today, and hope you take just as much inspiration from it as we have.
Hometown: My dad was in the Navy, so I was born in Virginia Beach and have lived in Florida, Rhode Island, Japan and New York.
Current city: Jacksonville, FL
Alma mater: University of Rochester
Degree: B.A., Political Science and Religion (I am told I sought to mix church and state)
Very first job: Sandwich maker/Barista at Bagel Bin Bagel Girl, age 14
Hustle: CEO, ANAMAR Environmental Consulting; Executive Director, Yoga 4 Change
Babe you admire and why?
My grandmother. She had diabetes from the age of 16, and was able to raise two outstanding daughters, excel at nursing and eventually ran a nursing school in the Buffalo area. She was kind, thoughtful, could whip up pesto pasta without a recipe and smelled like heaven constantly. She died in 2011, and I miss her every day.
How do you spend your free time?
With my family walking our dog, watching the Buffalo Bills beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (and also occasionally lose), reading “Amanda and Her Alligator” to my daughter, or hanging with friends.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Big Mac, large fry, diet Coke—’cause why not!?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Angela Merkel, just to hear from her what hurdles she overcame, what feedback she would give her younger self and what advice she could give for being a woman in today’s workplace and having to work with others whom you may not necessarily respect or like.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I was a classical pianist who played a concerto accompanied by an orchestra at the age of 11.
Tell us about your hustle with Yoga 4 Change.
As executive director, I’m focused on the expansion of Yoga 4 Change (Y4C) into three new markets over the next 12 months. Yoga 4 Change is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville, with chapters opening in South Florida, Orlando and Tampa throughout 2019. The organization brings an evidence-based, trauma-informed yoga program to veterans, incarcerated individuals, youth and those suffering from substance abuse. I also am finishing a study in collaboration with Boston University that is evaluating our correctional programming. This study is going to be a game-changer for Y4C, but also for other yoga service providers, as well as hopefully raise funding for our correctional programming to continue. With that in mind, I also fundraise while keeping track of the finances for Y4C, which will have a bigger budget this coming year. I coordinate with the rest of my team regarding program delivery, the teacher’s mental health and support, community events, collaborations and I teach one day a week. I also lead the teacher training (which is just finishing and graduating three powerful, trauma-informed yoga teachers).
Tell us about your hustle with ANAMAR.
ANAMAR is a woman-owned small business headquartered in Gainesville, FL, with an office in Portland, OR offering a variety of environmental services to government, industry and private enterprises as well as other professional consulting organizations. There, I oversee business development and assist in various tasks, as needed. Not being a scientist (and having zero environmental field experience) leads to there not being a need for me to be in the field—but it allows me to take a step back and plan strategically. I build client relationships, coordinate with various firms and subcontractors, attend sector specific conferences and other tasks. I’m lucky for this opportunity, because I get to do it with my husband who is there more full-time than I am. He was integral in the creation of Y4C, and has been instrumental in me finding my way and seeing where to best put my focus at ANAMAR. As a mom, I don’t see my daughter nearly as much as I would like, but when I do see her I am hoping to continue to teach her how to be kind, how to listen and how to give to others whenever possible. My work now can include her, and we get to do fun community activities together.
What does your typical workday look like?
My typical days are not standard, as various fires or meetings occur randomly throughout the day either shifting appointments or meetings. However, I start my day by waking my kiddo up, getting her ready and then dropping her off at daycare. The drive is just over an hour, so this is when I fit self-care in by listening to a podcast or an audio book. When I arrive [at work], I check emails, get my to-do list together and start knocking the list out. These tasks range from approving the purchase of a new piece of equipment, validating contracts, engaging with clients, holding meetings, etc. For Y4C, my day may begin similarly, but the days are not alike at all. I have the option of working from home, but if I have meetings around town you can find me answering emails, writing grant applications, working on marketing or finance tasks or planning events at a coffee shop around town. If I need to assist a chapter in a project, I may take a quick trip down to South Florida or will have conference calls to solve problems. I do work on some weekends, running workshops or trainings for our team or the community, but I try to keep weekends free as much as possible.
What came first, your love for yoga or your love for environmental studies?
My career at ANAMAR Environmental Consulting started because of my success with Yoga 4 Change. ANAMAR Environmental Consulting was being sold, and the lawyer who represented ANAMAR was on the Yoga 4 Change board. He had come to know my husband and myself and saw the work we were able to achieve with the nonprofit since its inception. He knew my husband Ross was getting out of the Navy, and knew he was interested in being plugged into a small business. He brought the opportunity to us, and we started on a new chapter of life together.
What inspired Yoga 4 Change? What has the evolution of the business been like?
Yoga 4 Change was inspired because of my own struggle getting out of the military and having unresolved trauma. While on my [yoga] mat, I was able to better understand myself—and as opposed to constantly judging myself, I left my mat feeling empowered. I wanted to create an organization that would help others, while also continue the practice that literally saved my life. The organization is larger than I ever imagined, employs or contracts with more people than I thought it would ever need—and it’s still growing. The most important thing is the why behind the organization’s creation: to empower our students.
What motivated your decision to focus on four key groups: vulnerable youth, military veterans, incarcerated individuals and those struggling with addiction?
I chose groups that spoke to me. Being a veteran, being married to a Navy Reserve pilot and being the daughter and granddaughter of veterans led to that group’s choice being easy. While researching other groups, I found that children who experience trauma early on (and then are unable to heal that trauma) are more likely to engage in negative behaviors later in life: drugs, suicide, etc. I was exposed to teaching those who are incarcerated through my initial training, and felt very connected to this group, especially because many of them never planned for their lives to turn out in the way they are experiencing it currently. The substance abuse group was the last added, and was done to assist those who are incarcerated, to ensure we could continue offering programming after their release. Many of our students identify as having a substance abuse issue, and this ensured we could stay within our mission while still assisting those who needed our program most. Our programs meet our students where they are physically. Yoga 4 Change’s teachers know to adjust the type of yoga practice (e.g., chair yoga, mat yoga, yoga nidra, kids yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga, etc.) based on the student groups and their associated traumas.
What are the most important factors to remember when managing business development pursuits?
Always believe the person you are wanting to work with is doing the best they can. This ensures you come from a place of kindness, and in my experience it’s easier to work with people who are kind than people who are rude. When it comes to ANAMAR, I’m mainly working with military people or government entities. They have hundreds of smaller contractors, millions of “by-when” dates and a calendar with expectations and other priorities. Whenever I pick up the phone, or write an email, or speak with someone one-on-one, I intentionally think, they are doing the best they can. This softens me and empowers me to ask how I can help them. I have not been on the team long enough to figure out if this is working in my favor or not, but I have had numerous people say “Thank you for asking!”
How have your past professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
In the Navy, you’re given an order and you have to figure out how to accomplish the task. “Fly this thing over there by this date and time.” It has to be this way, because if you are given to many steps, your time planning based on this information could be wasted because the ship has moved due to a broken engine, incoming attaché (or worse, an enemy combatant), and all the steps and planning go out the window. Being confident with an 80 percent plan, as opposed to waiting for the perfect plan led me to failing, but also led to my successes. Grant applications have to be 100 percent perfect, and should not be sent in with only 80 percent completed, while events can be successful if planned 80 percent because things happen, speakers get sick, food gets delivered late, tickets don't sell, etc.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
The day I got to pay myself after founding Yoga 4 Change. Granted, I wrote checks for teachers for Yoga 4 Change since October of 2014, but I did not pay myself until late into 2016. Then, I saw the success of creating Yoga 4 Change firsthand, and that was really exciting.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Being in the military is my baseline for how women are treated differently than men. All military pilots are paid the same wage regardless of gender—so for pay, I was on equal footing. Now in my current life, I am responsible for setting my own wage based on two separate budgets, and also have the opportunity to pay others. I take into account my military experience of paying equally across the board for positions, and then adjusting based on time in the company, project outcomes, etc. As women, we have to be the example. We cannot complain about inequality, and then when we have the chance to change the status quo, do nothing. If you identify workplace issues, get to the level where you can change it—and then make a change. And while we are rising, we cannot constantly remind our coworkers of the injustice, because they can’t do anything about it until they are at the level to create change. If we rise as a team, and we create more partners than enemies, then we can create change and spaces for women in our industry.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work?
Having to let go a dear friend when money became too tight for Y4C and the work being produced was not justifying the pay. I learned from the entire situation, and still have sad moments as we no longer speak, even after a couple of years. Every time I hire or have a tough conversation with an employee, I am reminded of what not to do—and the importance of learning how to separate business and friendships.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t give up when you hear your first “no.” Ask “why,” then take the feedback as a gift. Often ego gets in the way of a good idea and/or collaboration, and we miss hearing someone’s why. They may misunderstand what we are about, or selling or who we are. By asking “why,” you can find some commonality and potentially learn how to better represent yourself, your idea or your business.
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