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Hair Mandy Zelinka // Photo Alexis Arnold Photography // Make-Up Glam Rebel // Stylist Nicole Whitesell, Owner Adorn Boutique

Notable accomplishments // Successfully lobbied TriMet for family-friendly space usage and signage on MAX trains and to incorporate family-friendly policies and planning into their evaluation and transportation design

2010 Emerge Oregon graduate

Was on the City of Portland Budget Committee

Volunteered with City Club of Portland

Appointed to the Oregon Council on Civil Rights

Raised over $1 million dollars in funding for community events

Founded own consulting firm

Co-developed the Oregon Women Firsts poster to help girls throughout Oregon see their potential for leadership on their classroom walls

Threw out the first pitch at a Hillsboro Hops game

7 year-old son who sees the world with compassionate eyes and a 3 year-old daughter who is fearless about who she is

Age: 38

Notable accolades: 

Portland Monthly Rising Star

Portland Ten Honoree

Distinguished Alumni Award, Trinity Lutheran
You and I have talked a little bit about how change is necessary, it’s not the easiest thing to do, which is why most people tend to not.
There’s the old saying that people don’t change. And although that may be largely true, I think people part of some people’s make up is change. Can you tell me a little bit about some changes in your life and how you’ve been able to not only deal with it in a healthy way, but also thrive from it?

First off, I would say, I don’t know life without change. It seems cliche’ but I grew up always having a bag packed and ready to go. After my sister, who is my hero, went to court to have us removed from our home, I lived with various family members and family friends in 10 different houses in 9 different neighborhoods between the ages of 12-18. Change is in my DNA. At times, it can be harder for me to deal with things staying the same than dealing with change.

I like taking on roles that have variety, so I can use all aspects of my interests in life. In my current role, I get to weave together my public policy ideas with my passion for sports and making a difference for kids and roll in a bit of creativity for good measure. I thrive in roles where I get to change up what I am doing, where I am working and the kinds of challenges I am trying to solve. This is where change serves me best as I get to bring new energy to my work every day.

I recently went through a personal life change separating from my spouse. Something I never expected to experience. And that change was hard, close to bring me to my knees hard. My biggest fear, FAILURE — tried to strike me out and I had a full count for sure, but I kept fouling off pitches until I made good contact. And hey, maybe it wasn’t a homerun, but I am on base and in scoring position. Baseball analogies aside (I can’t help myself), I emerged from that experience with more compassion, more love, more strength, and this new thing called patience developing. It’s not easy nor is it linear and I don’t wish it on anyone, but we survive. And it’s messy and it’s beautiful. And it’s life.

For the record, please state your name and why we should care about you?

Nova Newcomer, because I play to win. But winning might look a bit different to me than to others. Winning looks like a community where every child thrives. So when I say I play to win, I mean that some of the things we think aren’t solvable really are. We just have to have the will to win on issues that make a real difference in people’s lives.

I’ve always been in awe of how you so adequately evolve with balance. You are successful at not only being a woman I am proud to call my friend and business associate, but also a caring partner and mother. Your career has and to not only take off but thrive considering all of the moving parts in your life. Can you tell me a little bit about how you’re able to make it all work?

I think most women will tell you that the balance you talk about is elusive and I feel that way often. But I also feel like being a full person is the best path to being a good mother, friend, sister, and professional. So it may not be so much about making it work as it is somewhat of a compulsion. I feel compelled to do the things I do and engage with the world with the full force of my passion, empathy, humor, frustration, fun, creativity, and drive. So sometimes it does get out of balance and I hear it from the people I care about most and I make an adjustment. But the goal really is to have a full and meaningful life so it’s about making all those little adjustments to make it possible to get there. And learning to say no at the right times and finding kindness and compassion for myself which is an ongoing challenge.

You’ve always made it a point to support causes that you care about, usually flows into your work life. Can you tell me a little bit about how you balance what I like to call career volunteerism or career causes with the need to make money and how that has worked for you?

This gets back to playing to win for me and asking the question, “What kind of win fulfills me?”

I had an incredible globe-hopping job at an international sporting goods company and that could have been my win…to ride out a great career with a big company and do quite well for myself.

But I found myself wanting more. I wanted to take everything I had learned in that creative and well-resourced environment and apply it to things that really mattered to me. So I left the comfort of a corporate career and struck out on my own starting my own consulting business and donating 20% of my time to work for non-profits. That donated time ended up evolving into work leading outreach efforts for the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University, where I had previously served as a board member.

So, for me, it’s all about the intersection of my professional drive and my personal drive to serve and I have learned throughout my career that if those two things aren’t working together I am not happy. And just like the juggling act of so many roles, I have to be vigilant of one not overpowering the other and be open to change when it’s required.

Tell me about a defining moment in your life and how it changed you.

I distinctly remember my Little League softball coach asking me to play catcher for the first time. My whole world opened up. I remember thinking, “He wants me to lead,” because of course everyone knows the catcher is in charge of the field. I was one of those kids that truly needed sports. When I started softball, my home life was spiraling out of control under the weight of parents with mental health and substance abuse issues. There wasn’t a better intervention in my life at the time — for my coach to tell me I mattered and that he was placing the trust of the team in my hands. And from that moment on, I never looked back. And those experiences as a catcher, as a leader, have stayed with me throughout my life and my career, which has always somehow returned to my love of the diamond.

Who have been some of your mentors?

This question is always the one where I stand back and marvel at what I have been afforded in this life. From mothers of friends growing up to teachers to neighbors to aunts to professors to former bosses to political leaders to business people — the community around me has lifted me up at every step of the way. It can be a bit embarrassing to think about because I have definitely had more than my share of mentors. To name a few:

My older sister, Jonathan Cleveland, my government and Mock Trial teacher Michele DeShaw, Dr. Melody Rose, Mike Lund, Kama Dersham, and Julie Harrelson. And my girlfriends…so many talks, venting sessions, laughs, and admiration, endless admiration for making it through this messy, beautiful life.

What would your advice to your younger self be?

Be bold. Be kind. Have more fun. Love yourself.

What has been one of the hardest lessons to learn?

Letting go. I grew up with the idea that if I worked hard enough and wanted something bad enough that I could manifest the outcome I desired. I am not even saying that this always happened, but that way of thinking was my mode of survival — the idea that I could survive by sheer force of will guided my approach to life for the first 3 decades of my life. And lo and behold, it stopped working. Life got more complex than just my will could sort and organize. And it was humbling and frustrating and then there was a moment where the clouds parted…No, there really wasn’t, but it’s been a decade of unraveling that childlike belief and coming back to challenges with a more adult view and saying here are the things I can control and here are the thing that are out of my control. And I am no longer responsible for other people’s words or actions. Just my own. And that letting go is a far more powerful force than a death grip of control, even if that death grip is what shaped you for so long.

What are some of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?

As a mom, it’s probably learning how much my parents didn’t know. My parents loved me deeply and they also both suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues. And I think about the extra challenges they dealt with along with being parents and it must have been crippling. Being a mom is one of the hardest jobs I have ever done and there is no greater joy than the wins I get from being in it with my kids.

As a partner, it’s the need for vulnerability. I have learned the need to leave space for someone to come to you and not to fill up that space for your partner. Ultimately, they may not be able to fill it, but it’s theirs to fill.

As a woman, it’s understanding what I don’t owe other people. Everyone is owed their humanity of course, but women are often put in positions where our humanity is eroded by external expectations. I so want this to change for my daughter, even if it will be hard as a mom to raise a daughter who knows what she doesn’t owe other people.

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