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tending the seeds that you sew with Patrick Rodriguez

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“Patience is getting beyond yourself. If there's a lack of patience, it's because you're putting yourself as a priority to any situation that there is.” - Patrick Rodriguez

tending the seeds that you sew with Patrick Rodriguez

In our work in the nonprofit sector, it often feels like things need to happen right away - the needs are, afterall, urgent. But today on the podcast we’re talking all about patience - the ability to play the long game to have a greater impact. I’m joined by first-time ED and formerly incarcerated Patrick Rodriguez, from the Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. Patrick’s journey from inmate to ED along with his deep reflections and patience, teaches us how to look beyond the immediate needs to a more strategic long-term vision.


  • The benefit of having patience for long-term growth and mission fulfilment

  • How to take time to do things well to set your organization up for success

  • The role of relationships to get buy-in for patience and long term planning

Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Connect with Patrick:


[00:00:00] Cindy: One of the things I see executive directors struggle with, not just executive directors, really anyone fundraisers, programming staff is the idea of like, how do we balance the urgent work, the work that needs to get done right now with the long-term work, the work that we're setting the seeds for now that are going to pay off years to come.

[00:00:25] Cindy: I always use, I love using the analogy of a tree, right? When is the best time to plant a tree, if you want fruit and shade and all those benefits of having a beautiful tree 20 years ago, right? And when's the next best time? Today. And we need to get started today, not just in doing the things that need to get done, but in building the organizations we want to be leading 20 years from now.

[00:00:54] Cindy: And that's what today's conversation is all about. I'm so excited to get started.

[00:01:07] Cindy: I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you are listening to the small nonprofit podcast where we bring you practical down to earth advice on how to get things done in your organization because you are going to change the world and we're here to help.

[00:01:24] Cindy: So, my guest today is Patrick Rodriguez, who is the co-founder and co-executive director of the Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. And one very fascinating fact is he's working on thinking about not just like, reflecting on what he does or his actions, but what he reflects on, what he thinks about how he spends his mental time and space. And I know that's gonna show up in our conversation. So, Patrick, welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:54] Patrick: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Cindy. It's really great to be here in some time and I'm just really excited for today's conversation.

[00:02:01] Cindy: Same. And we'll kind of get started because I think your journey to the nonprofit sector is a little unique and also very personal to the work that you're doing in the organization that you're working with. Do you wanna tell our listeners a little bit about your own story and journey?

[00:02:18] Patrick: Yeah. Thank you so much. So, everything I do is really intertwined with the

experiences that I've had in the past. And so, my story hold, I mean, it begins when I was born, right? So, I was born and I lived my life, et cetera. But in about 2013, things kind of took a turn for me.

[00:02:32] Patrick: I was at Kennesaw State University and I dropped out, literally stood up out of class and I walked out and I started to partake in activities that led me to [get] incarcerated multiple times in 2014. From about 2014 to 2015, I spent around 10 months, close to 11 months and I was arrested in three different counties in Georgia: once in Alabama, and once in Tennessee.

[00:02:52] Patrick: I was out for about a year from 2015 to 2016. And then in June 23rd, 2016, I got arrested. And then I was eventually sentenced and I spent 42 months in the Georgia department of corrections.

[00:03:04] Cindy: Which led you to the work that you're doing today, right? Because you are working with incarcerated populations. Tell me about the experience of co-founding and leading a new organization that does feel so personal because I do think a lot of founders have that personal connection to their work in one way or another. What was the experience like founding an organization?

[00:03:30] Patrick: Yeah. So, before I get into that, I'd like to kind of just backtrack for just a second, 'cause that's kind of the really high level of the experiences that I have had. And you talked about sowing the seeds of growth. And I think that the seed of education was sewn into me when I was really young. So, I was like six or seven. I just learned how to read. And my grandma gave me this really big blue book and she said, hear me all, you need to read this. I'm like, I can't read this. It's like huge. But I remember trying to.

[00:03:55] Patrick: It was a medical book. And I didn't understand anything that I was reading. And it had, when you go to the back of it, it had the indexes of the bodies where you could pull up the nervous system, the muscle system and the bones and stuff. It was like a real medical book.

[00:04:06] Patrick: So, I used to read that or whatever, and I didn't understand what that meant at that time. But now I understand that my grandma was instilling in me that education is something that we need as a family to move from one place to the next place. And so even though I was not the first person in my family to get incarcerated, I was [the] first generation to graduate high school, [the] first generation to graduate from Kennesaw State University. And so there's a continual effect of incarceration as it relates to people and families and how it impacts them generationally.

[00:04:34] Patrick: And so, all of that to say, when I was incarcerated, I had to take a moment and think about how am I going to get past this? What is it that I need to do differently in order to continue my life in a way that is productive? And it took a lot of thinking, a lot of breaking myself down and so much that I can dive into. But the point that I would like to make really is when I was sitting there in prison and I was thinking to myself, what am I gonna do? I was like, I need to go back to school. I dropped outta school in 2013. Remember, I stood up and I literally walked out and I didn't look back. And I was like, how am I going to finish my education? And so I don't know how I ended up at the camp that I ended up at the prison that I ended up at.

[00:05:12] Patrick: But I ended up taking Dr. Allred's inside-out class through Barry College, which is it's a campus down here in Georgia. And it was only three college credit hours and it was one class and I took it, but I can happily say that [during] those three college credit hours I was able to successfully apply [for] my bachelor's degree, to which I finished about six weeks ago. And so really focused-

[00:05:30] Cindy: Yay! Congratulations!

[00:05:32] Patrick: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much. It took me from 2008 to 2000 this year, whatever it is about 14 years. And so, when you talk about like consistency and the seeds of growth and like things coming into alignment for you, things came into alignment for me. And so, in experiencing education while I was incarcerated, it was great.

[00:05:49] Patrick: But it was one experience as it relates to postsecondary education. And I wasn't able to partake in anything else before that. And when I got out, I found that a little bit troubling. I was like, how is it that we're not able to get meaningful impact with education on a larger scale? And so, I came across a group of individuals. Came across professors, I came across prison education administrators, I came across my other formerly incarcerated peers, and we were all just meeting as a group in 2020. We were meeting as a group, we were discussing things, we were talking about how we can expand education, how we can support people upon release, how we can build the program, how we can get creative and all these different things.

[00:06:25] Patrick: And so, whenever I was able to come in contact with them, I knew that that was the place for me. I didn't understand that holistically and I didn't know that I would be where I am today, but I knew that these were the people that I wanted to be surrounded by with because they took me in with an ethic of care.

[00:06:39] Patrick: And so, whenever you function with an ethic of care, that means that you're not looking at somebody for what they've done, you're looking at somebody for who they are. And so, as somebody who has a criminal record, there's obviously a ton of barriers to which I, and other people face. Whenever people come at you and see for who you are, then I think that that can start bringing up.

[00:06:56] Cindy: Well, I think that's really important. I mean, there's a level of trust and faith in that process, but also surrounding yourself with good people and knowing that you're not doing something alone. I don't know if you wanna expand on either those topics, because those are two things that really stood out for me. As you were talking like you are bringing your experience and your expertise to the table, but you also surrounded yourself with other people who had that ethic of care, but also skills and knowledges that I think were or knowledge from a pro that were important to your journey and starting in that place probably not having much clarity on what exactly you were building together, but in diving into that process. So, pick your poison, choose and tell me what you wanna expand on.

[00:07:46] Patrick: Yeah. So, I wanna talk about experience, right? So, I think a lot of nonprofits are centred around helping others most of the time. Well, like 99% of the time they're mission driven and they have a vision to which they would like the world to come, right? And so, one thing that I think is really important about individuals, of any demographic, of any marginalised community, et cetera, whenever you have a nonprofit that is focusing on that particular group of people, the experience of those people that are impacted by the trauma is the number one thing in order to build a successful nonprofit later, in my opinion.

[00:08:18] Patrick: And so like, as somebody that has the direct experience, I know what it's like to get arrested, to represent myself in court, to get denied parole, just all of these different experiences, which are just unique, not just unique to me, and there are other people who have been through them, but it's like this experience has said, okay, so I know what it's like inside in there, so I know a little bit about what it is that those individuals may need as it relates to what we're building on the outside. Because other people may be two or three degrees of separation away.

[00:08:43] Patrick: And so, when you're two- or three-degrees separation away, that means that what is enacted isn't necessarily centred around what that person's experience may be almost like a Scholastic point of view, right? Almost an academic point of view. And so, as somebody that's been directly impacted, surrounding myself with good people was super important to my growth and development, right? And Dr. Thomas Ignaczak is the other co-executive director and we co-lead this together and we do share the executive director title. And I'm really happy to say that.

[00:09:09] Patrick: And I think the reason is because we understand the balance of those who are not directly impacted and those who are directly impacted. And a lot of this comes from the origination of one of my really good friends and confidants, my brothers, Jay Holder, who is also really instrumental in building and designing these nonprofits in the way that we respond to incarceration and the world experience overall.

[00:09:29] Patrick: And so, with the experience that I had, and with the experience that Dr. Thomas Ignaczak had, we were both nominated to take the nonprofit and then, okay guys do what you do. And I didn't even know what that meant. I was like, oh my gosh, nominated, why nominated to do this? I don't even know. I don't even know if I believe in myself, I have self-doubt and all this kind of stuff. All of those things that I think we all struggle as nonprofit leaders.

[00:09:49] Patrick: And so that happened right around November, December of 2020. So, after working with them for six or seven months, we're like, okay, how can we take this to the next level? Then the strategy started to come into play, right? Then started to thinking about what it is that we need to do to build this, to make it scalable, to make it sustainable, to have an actual project and all of those different things.

[00:10:09] Patrick: And it didn't just happen overnight. Thomas and I, we took a step back and we said, hey, let's come together and let's think about this holistically. Let's think about number one, what are our capacities as it was a volunteer and still is a volunteer thing that we do. And then number two, how is it that we can implement this at a rate that causes sustainability?

[00:10:27] Patrick: And so, for us, whenever you start a nonprofit organization, you do know that you have either an ex-executive director or co-executive directors, whichever your structure might be. And then you have to build a board of directors and then you have to put in your bylaws. And that doesn't take like one day or like one month, get a vote on all these things and all this stuff.

[00:10:43] Patrick: And so, I said, how about this for the first year? Let's just concentrate on that. Let's do a few public-facing things, let people know what we're doing, but instead of like, trying to raise money and jump around and do this and this, let's look at building a solid board of directors and big shoutouts to our co-president Stacy and Pam who are absolutely fantastic with the board. And then also, what is it that we need to do to put into place bylaws for us to function as an organisation? And so really that's what 2021 was all about for us.

[00:11:12] Cindy: Okay. I have a few questions, but I love the intention of setting it up properly, which leads me to one of the questions, which is, it sounds like neither you or your co-executive director have been at the helm of nonprofits in the past. So, what resources did you leverage to learn or build structure even to have the foresight to say, okay, let's build it right from the beginning? Because I will tell you, there's a lot of organizations that just dive in and then get into trouble when they don't have the proper bylaws, or they haven't been intentional with building their board. Like some people just pick their friends and, you know, so where did you go? How did you start to learn or become aware of those pieces and what you wanted it to look like? You were starting from nothing.

[00:12:05] Patrick: Yeah, like I said, so, number one, would've been a lot of the guidance from Jay Holder and a lot of what we're trying to do is we're trying to build equity first and foremost, right? And so how is it that we create an equitable structure? And even with our board of directors, 51% of our individuals are directly impacted and that's to make sure that it's continuously going in the direction and under the vision of those who have direct experience.

[00:12:27] Patrick: And when you're talking to funders, nowadays, they ask questions like that. Are the people that you're serving, are they in leadership positions? And a leadership position to me is being at the table when budgets are being talked about. I'm not at the table when budgets are being talked about, then leadership isn't really there. And so, whenever I look at how did we think about and learn about strategies and processes, I have always been a strategic thinker. I had to strategically think about how to get out of prison. I literally represented myself per se while I was incarcerated, took myself back to court, stood in front of the judge, [and] argued my case to try to get back home. I was denied. Nonetheless, it was a weird thing that happened where I was like, whoa, I can do all of that.

[00:13:03] Patrick: This person has my entire life in their hands and I'm able to have the confidence and then to figure out how to get myself in front of them, at least just to ask to come home in my argument. I thought it was great personally, off the record, but, you know, nonetheless, I didn't get out. I'm glad I didn't. And the reason I'm glad is, ‘cause I probably wouldn't be here today. Had she made the decision to let me go home early and who knows where I would've been at that time. And so, when I think about strategies and I think about systems, systems function in a way to which it is scalable. Individuals function in a way to where they are able to make a singular point of impact, right?

[00:13:34] Patrick: And so, building out a system with a strategic type of way, Thomas and I looked at it and we're like, okay, so what do we need to do? Okay. So, we gotta have a BOD, we gotta have bylaws, but like we have checks and balances between Thomas and I to where it's like, how much capacity do you have? I don't have the capacity to fundraise. I don't think I can do this. I was literally, last year, I was a justice policy fellow with the education trust. I was a part of the Georgia Association for Latino elected officials on their 2021 leadership cohort. I was working as a project manager for Verizon painting and renovations. I was working a part-time job with common good Atlanta. And then I was also serving this as