Steal her secrets series: Director of Kids Food Basket answers 25 career questions

Credit: Seth Thompson/Green Frog Photo

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) – Her suit fits just right, she knows everyone in the room, and you can just tell she’s got it going on! You wish you could be her, or simply wish you knew her secret to success.

WOTV 4 Women wants to give you a deeper look at the many power women who are helping make West Michigan a thriving place for women at work. We’re having these women dish the details on work life, home life, and everything in between. What has really led to their success?

25 Questions with Bridget Clark Whitney

Meet Bridget Clark Whitney. She’s the Director for Kids Food Basket in Grand Rapids and a inspiring role model for all West Michigan women. Check out our interview with the fabulous community leader below.

Question 1: Describe your job and why you love it.

Our work is about breaking down barriers between children and food. It’s about ensuring every child had the nutritious tools to reach his or her full potential. It’s an honor to serve and empower our community’s youth each and every day. As Executive Director, my role is to be the chief host of this work, not the chief hero. I fully believe that my role is about hiring and engaging smart, passionate staff members and volunteers and supporting them to collectively solve one of society’s most pressing problems.

Question 2: Dig through your purse and tell us three must-have items you found and 1 item you were surprised to find.

A meat bar, specifically an Epic brand bison bar. Because I battle autoimmune disease, I eat strictly paleo and have replaced the granola with meat and veggies. B vitamin energy gum that just gives me a little kick in a healthy way. I’m grateful to have it. A notebook – even though I’m technically a millennial I still like to write things down.  I’m surprised at the Honey Nut Chex crumbs. A few weeks ago, my 22 month old poured a full bowl of cereal into my purse. It continues to be his gift that keeps on giving.

Question 3: When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

Working in human services specifically to ensure that every human being has their basic needs met has been my life’s commitment since I was 8 years old. When I was 8, we moved from Pittsburgh to Detroit. There is a very distinct line between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit, where on one side there’s clear wealth and abundant resources and on the other side there is poverty and inequity. Understanding the social constructs that created that division made me want to commit my life to this work.

Question 4: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

As the Executive Director of this organization, my job is not to be the chief hero either to the work or to the team. My job is to be the chief host: empowering, supporting, coaching and strategizing with my incredible team.

Question 5: What’s the job you’ve had (in your lifetime) that still gives you nightmares?

The first year of Kids’ Food Basket, I was the only staff member and we couldn’t afford to purchase sandwich meat, so we would procure the majority of our food from the food bank. Most of our lunch meat was either huge tubes of bologna or turkey breast. Slicing the huge tubes of bologna in a meat slicer and thawing lunch meat every day – well, let’s put it this way I just had to work with a lot of meat.

Question 6: What’s the best thing you’ve done to advance your career?

 Intentional spaces, cohorts, classes and initiatives that expand my thinking, challenge me and make me a better leader. In particular the Independent Sector American Express NGen Fellowship Program, Inforum’s Executive Leadership Program, my Master’s program at Maryville College and most recently, Leadership Grand Rapids class of 2017 aka #biggeststrongestbestclassever.

Question 7: Flats or heels?

All of the above. I change footwear 3-4 times in a day.  Most options I can find in my car, which one might mistake for a college dorm room.

Question 8: Crying at work? Okay or not okay?

We hear stories of poverty, inequity and hunger almost daily. These are stories we can never un-hear. Our work is good, and our work is critical, but often the stories behind our work are heart wrenching.  So yeah, sometimes we cry. Sometimes its tears of sadness, sometimes its tears of frustration at a lack of resources, sometimes we cry out of happiness at the extraordinary generosity of our community. What’s most important is being authentic, and we celebrate authenticity.

Question 9: Work/life balance? How do you make it work? What time do you “clock out”?

I don’t work to balance, I work to blend. That’s my philosophy. Here are a few examples, I will bring my 5 year old (when appropriate) to a late afternoon event or meeting, and definitely any weekend events that benefit Kids’ Food Basket. Just last week, I worked out with a board member so we both got to have a meeting and some exercise. Sometimes date night means my husband and I getting take out and hanging out in my office with our laptops. My goal isn’t to achieve the elusive work life balance; my goal is to be a good mom, a good leader, a good wife and a good person.

Question 10: Eating lunch at your desk? A do or a don’t?

If I eat a proper lunch at the proper lunch time it’s typically with a donor at a committee meeting or at an event, otherwise I graze throughout the day knowing that, eating nutritionally dense foods is critical to my ability to be my best self. I didn’t always value putting healthy food into my own body as much as I do now, but I’ve learned the hard way, nutrition isn’t to be neglected.

Question 11: What makes you grateful?

 Gratitude is everything.  I’m grateful for every minute and every day I see and spend time with my beautiful family. My heart bursts with gratitude on the daily when I work with this extraordinary team at Kids’ Food Basket. I’m grateful to my parents for instilling in me a sense of justice and the fire to fight the good fight. I’m grateful for Michigan because I think every day that we live in the greatest state in the country. I’m grateful for this community and my friendships and our leadership, all who make up a fabric of engaged, thoughtful generous citizens. I hold gratitude in the forefront of my life.

Question 12: What was your biggest blunder in a job interview? What did it teach you?

I began as the founding director of KFB when I was graduating college so I haven’t had a job interview in my entire life so I don’t have a blunder to share. But I will replace that with my favorite thing to ask during interviews; I tell people to imagine there’s 100 people in the room and they are 1 of them, and then I ask, “What are you better at than the other 99 people?” The answers are fun, sometimes funny and say a lot about someone.

Question 13: Describe your morning routine.

Depends on the day, I try to have breakfast meetings 2-3 times a week so I’m up and out the door by 7:15. I get up as late as possible. If it’s not an early morning meeting day, I’ll take the kids to daycare. Those days are later mornings. I try to enjoy my time with them, talk, have breakfast together and prepare them for the day. My 5 year old and I always have a blast putting together her outfits.

Question 14: Proudest career moment to date.

The most deeply honored and humbled I’ve ever felt was when I was awarded the ATHENA Young Professional award in 2013. The reason this was so meaningful for me was because of what that particular award represents:  The ATHENA Young Professional award is given to a young woman that possesses 8 distinct attributes of leadership: Authentic Self, Celebration and Joy, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Fierce Advocacy, Giving Back, Learning, and Relationships.

Question 15: What’s the most important thing in your life right now?

The most important people are my children and my husband. My most important personal goal is my health. Most important professional goal is a critical and exciting new initiative and evolution of Kids’ Food Basket. For 15 years we’ve made significant impact on combating childhood hunger, but we are now growing to reach our mission more deeply, wider, and more sustainably.

Question 16: What time did you wake up today?

6:30am. Made it to Kids’ Food Basket for a 7:30 Finance Committee meeting and then I headed to Lansing for a Michigan Nonprofit Association board meeting.

Question 17: What’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Their energy, especially if they are interested and interesting. I love to meet new people and I especially love to connect them to great work happening in the community.

Question 18: What are you reading right now?

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni.

Question 19: In a typical day how many emails do you answer?

Tough one. Sometimes 5, sometimes 50, sometimes more. Often times I’ll go an entire day or night without desk time, other days I block desk time just to return emails. I prefer the phone.

Question 20: What’s your favorite TV show?

I like smart, political humor, so anything that is smart, political humor.

Question 21: What’s your favorite spot for a meeting in West Michigan?

Terra, Marie Catrib’s, Anna’s House, and once I went on a walk with a donor at Aman Park. This summer I’m going to try to have more walking meetings.

Question 22: What’s your favorite app?

A new to me app called Blinkist. It basically condenses books, podcasts and articles into short, to the point reads.

Question 23: What experience in life made you the most nervous?

Last month I was one of the featured speakers for the 2017 FAILURE:LAB. The goal was to share a significant personal failure with a crowd of 1200 plus at Fountain Street church and an infinite YouTube audience. I struggled with this public vulnerability but ultimately made the choice to share my story because I knew that it would help those engaged in a similar struggle to me. Ultimately without our own health, we can’t be our best for the world.

Question 24: What’s one question you always ask in an interview?

See above interview question.

Question 25: What’s the best part of your job?

That each and every week day I get to experience hundreds of volunteers working with my extraordinary team to ensure that 7500 children across West Michigan have healthy nourishing food – food that will help them succeed in school and in life. And that every day, we empower the community to attack childhood hunger so that our community’s youth can live and learn well. It is an honor and a privilege and I am deeply deeply grateful.


Do you know a West Michigan Power woman who deserves to be featured in our series?  Email us her name/business and contact info!

Other women featured in this series!

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West Michigan radio host answer 25 career questions

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West Michigan coffee shop owner answers 25 career questions

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