Military Brat to Resilient Leader – My Road to Self-Empowerment

By Joylin Kirk

November 12, 2015

I am fortunate to do something I love for a career. I am the senior director of mission services for Goodwill Industries International. Goodwill® is comprised of 165 community-based member organizations in the United States and Canada with a presence in 13 other countries. Goodwill organizations are innovative and sustainable social enterprises that help fund skills development, job training programs, employment placement services and other community-based programs by selling donated clothing and household items in more than 3,000 stores.

Joylin at Goodwills Spring Conference

Joylin speaking at a Goodwill Conference, Photo Credit: Goodwill Industries International

Goodwill meets the needs of all job seekers, including programs for youth, seniors, veterans and military families, people with disabilities and disadvantages, and anyone facing challenges to finding employment. Last year, more than 426,000 people in the United States and Canada used Goodwill’s intensive one-on-one career services to prepare for employment. In addition, more than 24 million people used computers and mobile devices to access Goodwill education, training, mentoring and online learning services to strengthen their skills. Goodwill believes that you need to be stable at home in order to be stable in the workplace. As such, Goodwill provides support such as English language training, additional education including credential training, mentoring, access to transportation, and child care.

I lead many national portfolios for Goodwill but I am most proud of the veterans and military families’ portfolio. In 2014, Goodwill organizations served more than 70,000 veterans, helping to connect them with community assets and discover new career pathways. I hold this portfolio close to my heart because my dad is a veteran. He served in the Vietnam War and later he returned to the service in the Navy. That is when I became a Navy brat.

Joylin and Her Dad

Joylin and her father, Patrick Droney, a U.S. Navy veteran

Growing up as Navy brat seemed normal enough to me, but my experiences as a brat developed the attributes that define who I am and continue to lead me along my career path. Some of those attributes include: purposefulness, adaptability, the ability to navigate and lead through change, resourcefulness and resiliency.

  • Purposefulness. From the moment that my dad joined the Navy, I knew that this was not just another job. It had a purpose and I played a role in that purpose. I supported my dad by remaining positive when he deployed and ecstatic when he returned. I wrote him letters each week to keep him company and always saved the father/daughter Valentine dance for him. If he wasn’t home for “our” dance, I created a special dance for him when he returned. This need to remain connected to a greater good and to give back to my country led me to work with people who had post-traumatic stress at psychiatric facilities, and people with traumatic brain injuries who received services Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut. I am currently at Goodwill Industries International, where I work across the enterprise, helping to change people’s lives and strengthen their communities.
  • Adaptability. Living in many places both in the United States and abroad, meeting new people from all walks of life and  having your dad deploy for long periods of time has taught me to adapt to new situations with ease. Growing up, being able to adapt to new environments was how I quickly made friends at each new school. Today, I use this skill to solve challenges in workforce development, and to engage with businesses and build partnerships.
  • The Ability to Navigate through Change. Probably one of the most defining experiences of my life was when my father became a veteran with a disability. We were stationed at Rota Naval Air Station (Rota, Spain) and my father was medevac’d to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. We were told that he was discharged from the Navy and we had 30 days to vacate our home and move back to the States. At the time, this felt like it was the end of the world. We had no plan, no state-side home to return to, my mom had to quit her job to move, and we did not know when (or if) my dad would return to us. My mom did something that I will never forget. She took an overwhelming experience and broke it down into small tasks. It made the most horrible experience seem manageable. While it was not always smooth or easy, when we broke it down into its pieces, we could navigate it. To this day, you can count on me to break down complex and difficult situations and problems into smaller pieces that I can tackle. This skill has allowed me to take on complex new initiatives and national grants, and provide consultations to Goodwill organizations that positively impact the people we serve and their communities.
  • Resourcefulness. As we prepared to leave Spain within 30 days, we had a long list of things to do and not enough time or skill to do them by ourselves. When we asked for resources to help us, the base community came through! The Boy Scout Troop (and many other friends) spent a weekend getting our house ready for the moving inspection, including patching picture holes in the walls, repairing the fence and many other tasks that my mom, brother and I could not have possibly done. Today, I help Goodwill organizations identify the resources in their communities and I also create resources for them to support their work.
  • Resiliency. As a Navy brat, I grew to understand that no matter how overwhelming or impossible life gets, it will get better. I am strong enough to bounce back and move forward!

4th of July Rota Spain

Fourth of July in Rota, Spain, with Joylin’s son.

I am grateful for the solid foundation the military has given me. I am and will always be a Navy brat. I am also a mother, a great friend, a mentor, a support and a leader.

To the women reading this blog, I ask you to consider the experiences and influences in your life that you can draw upon to find your purpose through your own abilities to adapt, navigate change, find resources and be resilient.

Joylin Kirk is the senior director of mission services for Goodwill Industries International. She leads the career navigation, veterans and military families, and women services portfolios on a national level and leads the management of national grants that fund workforce development and other career training programs and initiatives at the 165 North American Goodwill® member organizations in the U.S. and Canada.  Joylin has more than 20 years of experience leading programs for behavioral health and nonprofit workforce development organizations, as well as accrediting behavioral health organizations.

3 thoughts on “Military Brat to Resilient Leader – My Road to Self-Empowerment

  1. Well said. I believe that My mother bing in the Navy made me stronger and I easily adapt to situations. For those who grew up with the same kids from kindergarten to being a senior in high school, I have no idea what that was like. I feel truly blessed for my life and being a Navy Brat is a huge blessing. Take care 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great job Joylin. You spoke the truth on so many levels as to the benefits being a Navy brat gives children. I applaud what you do and the opportunities you afford to those in need.


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