Employee Spotlight: Carolyn Saenz-Esterhuyse

This is the first of our new, weekly series, Employee Spotlight, featuring the staff here at The Storefront and what they do. Today’s spotlight is on Carolyn Saenz-Esterhuyse, our Manager of Data Management and Evaluation at The Storefront.

Name: Carolyn Saenz-Esterhuyse

Job Title: Manager of Data Management and Evaluation

What do you do at The Storefront?

I am the manager of a new circle at The Storefront called Data Management and Evaluation. (At The Storefront, “circles” is how we refer to “departments.”) Our team is made of two staff members, Praveena and I.  I see our focus is to support other circles (teams) in their specific projects, while also reporting to our funders.  We work towards improving The Storefront’s capacity to elevate and celebrate community builders, leverage assets and resources using the Connected Community Approach.

Favourite quote or motto you like?

I have a few mottos and quotes that I like to go by. The first one is a 2-in-1, “breathe” and “let go” – both of which have been with me for a few years now.  I have a lot of energy and drive to move and remembering this motto helps me to slow down, relax and reflect – which I have learned is equally important to “getting things done”.  It helps me stay balanced in many ways.

Another quote that I recently read and resonates well with me at this moment is to “be brave enough to be bad at something new.” I’m in a new role, in a brand new circle so I need to remind myself that mistakes will happen and I will regroup, learn and move forward.

How did you come to work at The Storefront?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Criminology, Justice and Policy Studies at Ontario Tech University.  It was the third program I had tried when I finally felt connected to a purpose in life.  Perhaps it was the stage in my life of becoming a mom for the first time and learning and then seeing the patterns of inequality that inspired me to do something about it.

I became active on campus and completed two placements with Region of Durham and a women’s homeless shelter before graduating from school.  I was eventually hired as casual relief staff at the shelter. And when they shut down after a few months of my employment, I found a part time job with a private career college as an instructor/tutor.  It was in this position where I met a mentor, who taught me about employment services and how to teach others about the job market, how to connect with businesses and source unpaid placements.  I stayed under her guidance for 3.5 years as an office manager and finally a placement coordinator – which all prepared me nicely for my next job at The Storefront as a Community Employment Specialist. Fast forward 10 years later, I am still here, inspired by our work, my colleagues and friends, and the East Scarborough community, which has had a significant role in shaping who I have become today in many ways. 

Favourite book?

My favourite book is The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior. I first read it many years ago and go back to it every now and again.  This book was my first insight into mindfulness and how being present and aware can bring about a happy, fulfilling life. I would definitely say this book was a game changer for me.

What do you enjoy most about working at The Storefront?

It’s incredible how an entire team of dedicated individuals work so well together and I believe it’s a result of our commitment to working from a set of values and principles.  The “how” we work together towards a common goal is just as important as attaining our goal.  It is actually one of our principles that always resonate with me – people and process before product.   

A focus on the strengths and aspirations of people and the community, while also valuing their thoughts, wisdom and experience allows for a more holistic approach to our work.  These specific principles remind me to keep an open mind, to see more than what meets the eye, allows for critical thinking outside of my own head… which always makes our work so much interesting.  Above all, it means we are always treating people and communities with dignity and respect.  

Where is your favourite place to eat or your favourite cuisine?

My favourite place to grab lunch in East Scarborough was Tasty Grill but it seems they have closed down while I was away on maternity leave.  I will have to find a new place!

I don’t have a specific favourite food or type of cuisine, but my taste buds have definitely opened since working at The Storefront. With potlucks and community partners sharing diverse foods, I made sure to keep an open mind with every first bite, which has resulted in truly enjoying so many different types of cuisine that I may have been hesitant to try myself.

What is a project that you are working on at The Storefront?

At the moment, our circle has been active with the design and implementation of a new model for connecting residents to employment supports and services.  We are building systems and guides to support a team of staff and to also ensure our funders receive the information they require.  We are also underway with evaluating our projects, which has meant compiling data, reviewing the information with a larger team and determining next steps.

Apart from your work at The Storefront, what are some side projects or hobbies you have outside of the office?

For the last few years, I have become a homebody, regularly trying to change and improve our living space as our family has grown.  So, right now I’m working on decorating and maximizing the use of a walk-in closet.  I’m also working on a wall gallery of family photos. 

 If someone were looking to join the team at The Storefront, or looking for work in a role similar to yours or in the nonprofit sector in general, what advice would you have for them?

Do what you love and it will never really feel like “work”.  It is an incredible feeling to end a weekend with enthusiasm to start your workweek.  It makes a significant difference to work for an organization that applies a set of values which align with your own.

For me, I also found it useful to start entry level in a specific sub-sector of the social services sector (employment) as a way to deeply understand the residents looking for work, the challenges and opportunities that exist within the labour market/this community, how to work well with and understand the role other agencies play, how to meet the funders expectations along with our own way of working.  I believe this experience on-the-ground has made me a better-informed manager for the work I’m responsible for now in data management and evaluation.  In reality, all experiences have been useful and necessary to build me into who I am today in my career.  So enjoy the process and carry the learnings with you. 

What is your favourite place you’ve traveled or Where would you like to travel to?

A favourite place that comes to mind was a trip I took almost 10 years ago to Florence, Italy.  In the short 3 days I was in the province of Tuscany, I was surrounded by groves and groves of olive trees and vineyards, beautiful villas, a relaxed vibe and incredible food that tasted even better when paired with wine and I enjoyed it all with one of my great friends.  

I’m also looking forward to revisiting where my family is from in Peru and have every intention of travelling to Machu Picchu this time around.

What is on your wish list for the next five years?

My family and I are planning to move in the next couple years.  With 6 in our family, we will feel more comfortable in a bigger home.  I also recently shared a dream to take an RV family trip along the east coast.  I’m looking forward to making this dream a reality over the next few years.

Professionally, I am not entirely sure how our circle will grow but I know evolution is always part of the way.  For now, my goal is to have a solid understanding of how all our circles work together under new models, through a pandemic, with our projects… and to find new, creative ways to shine a light on our work and the community we’re in.

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