Meghan Freebeck: Director of Operations and Development, San Francisco Suicide Prevention

Meghan Freebeck thrives off of helping others live a better life. As director of operations and development for San Francisco Suicide Prevention, she takes on the tough work of coaching those thinking about suicide or loved ones affected by it.

It’s Meghan’s drive to help others and in her passion hours you can find her working on one of the two nonprofits she helped found. The first, Givdo, is an app launching early 2016 that helps match donors with charitable organizations. It then helps a donor spread their donation amongst multiple organizations. Her second nonprofit, Simply the Basics began as a feminine hygine donation drive for homeless women in San Francisco. She set a goal to collect enough product and donations to support every homeless woman in the city for an entire cycle. Her goal was achived threefold, and the organization now focuses on providing all basic needs not easily met by the homeless community.

Meghan’s love of nonprofit work began when she worked in an interim housing shelter. After reading the touching story of her “aha moment” you might even feel the spark to pay it forward, too.

What does your typical day look like? How do you prioritize your schedule?

I like to begin my day with an almond latte from a nearby café. Sometimes this means I have to set my alarm 20 minutes earlier, but it’s really important to me to have those moments of introspection before I tackle the rest of the day.

A large part of my role involves developing strategic solutions to challenging program and community needs. I love finding creative ways to serve our clients better and grow our programs, so constantly meet with staff and members of the community to find ideas to do so.

After work, I usually jog home from the office. It’s often the only way I can squeeze in a workout and still enjoy the rest of the evening. I like to spend these hours cooking or working on one of my passion projects — Simply the Basics and Givdo.

What made you decide you wanted to work in the nonprofit industry?

For a long time, I wanted to be a writer. (I actully still hope to — one day!) I studied English and history, and received a master’s degree in English Literature. While I was in graduate school, I volunteered at a local homeless shelter — helping clients write resumes and cover letters. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was leaving each volunteer shift feeling amazing. I would leave thinking about what a wonderful life it would be to have that feeling every day.

The exact moment I knew I could never turn back from a career that helps change lives was while I was working at an interim housing shelter. There was a client I met his first day in the shelter who moved in with one garbage bag of belongings. He was optimistic his life would improve beyond what he had known for the past two decades. He had some mental health challenges that made finding work difficult, and his years without proper medical care or a healthy diet left his physical abilities limited, but we were able to help him find good work. He spent several years with us, some days better than others, but no matter the day he would stop by my desk to say “good morning”.

The morning that changed both of our lives was when he came running to my desk waving a set of keys in the air. After several months of working two jobs and saving money, he was so proud to show off his first set of apartment keys in more than 20 years. Later that day, I helped him move his belongings and donated furniture to his first home. I knew right there that I could never settle for a job that didn’t change people’s lives every day, and I haven’t looked back since.

We imagine it was a quite a switch to transition from an environment of educational Shakespeare theatre to your current position at San Francisco Suicide Prevention. What prompted this move?

My love of Shakespeare is what led me to take my first nonprofit position with the Shakespeare Project of Chicago, a theatre company that provides free education and abridged Shakespeare performances to schools. It was in this position that I realized I had a knack for development and program design.

A few years ago I moved to San Francisco in search of a new adventure. I love to challenge myself, and I believed that working in a mental health setting would be an incredible challenge. At the time a mentor of mine in Chicago advised me that there was a high burnout rate in the mental health field, particularly in suicide prevention. (Workers often leave within just two years.) With her advice in mind, I still thought, “A lot can be achieved in only two years.” It was a meaningful challenge I wanted to tackle.

Your job deals with the sensitive issue of suicide. What should our readers know about the work you do?

When I tell people I work at a suicide prevention agency, the most common response is usually, “That must be really difficult.” In a lot of ways that’s right. What many don’t realize, is that this area of work is a really positive environment where we save lives and celebrate that which we do accomplish.

It’s really important people know how powerful and capable they are. Anyone can prevent a suicide. Our volunteers and staff, and myself in particular, are all incredibly normal and often flawed people, too.

What inspired the launch of the two core programs you implemented at the organization?

The first program initiated was the Grief Response Program. This program is profound because it addresses the people affected by loss (not only from suicide). When you lose someone in your home, first responders arrive and focus on the victim, but the survivors are often left behind with many questions and emotions. Because of this program, San Francisco Suicide Prevention now has a team that will arrive alongside first responders to offer emotional support, answer questions and help a family navigate the days following a traumatic event.

The second program, Peer Workforce Supportive Services, is incredibly unique. I am so proud of its potential because it addresses the side of a nonprofit that is often neglected – the employees. The goal is to prevent burn out, to encourage and teach self-care, and to ensure a higher retention rate among a nonprofit’s employees.

Tell us about the start up nonprofit you founded, Simply the Basics?

The mission of Simply the Basics is to provide and coordinate the basic needs of individuals and communities with dignity so that those experiencing these tough times can turn their focus toward life’s bigger changes. It’s an organization inspired by the Maslow Hierarchy of Motives, which defines the basic needs that drive us. Simply put, an individual is unable to focus on finding a job, becoming sober, or achieving “self actualization” without first addressing their most basic needs, such as food and shelter. We have modernized that list of basic needs to include health and education as well.

Some programs have already begun, and we plan to have a full launch in 2016. Please reach out if you are interested in volunteering and supporting this great effort to end the cycle of homelessness and welfare!

What do you find to be most rewarding about nonprofit work? The most challenging?

When you work at a for-profit, you’re constantly asking yourself, “How do I improve the company?” but when you work for a nonprofit, you’re constantly asking yourself, “How do I improve the world?”

Raising funds is incredibly challenging – unlike a company where you sell a product, in the nonprofit sector you have to sell a mission. Givdo is a great platform for this. I am proud to be on the app’s founding team that hopes to reinvent the way donors and nonprofits connect.

What advice do you have for a woman looking to get involved in the nonprofit industry?

I encourage women to aim for more leadership positions. Many people assume the best way to make an impact in nonprofit is to work directly with the clients, but it’s because of the work I do as director that the organization is able to continue serving the clients every day. It’s an amazing feeling to design the programs and strategies that an organization will implement.

Most importantly, never stop setting goals for yourself. The world is constantly changing, and if you ever stop trying to improve yourself, you won’t be able to keep up with where the rest of us are heading.