We're a Co-Directorship Now!

It’s been almost 25 years since I first founded Scarleteen. For all of that time, I have been our lone director. That wasn’t really something I wanted or intended so much as a thing I just had to accept. Particularly in the first fifteen years, there often wasn’t funding to even pay one person (me) with a living wage, or to assure there would always be pay and other labor support. There was a good deal of time where I not only had to do other work to support myself, sometimes I had to do it to keep the lights on here, too. Scarleteen wasn’t something I expected to grow and take off the way that it did, and we didn’t start with any funding or other infrastructure or support for a staff.

I also never intended or wanted to be one person in the front of it all. Neither my own more introverted nature nor the way I aim to create and nurture community in either my personal or professional life puts just any one person in front, on top⁠ or in charge, and certainly not me. I did my best over all the years to still try and run and organize Scarleteen as collectively as possible, but there were always big barriers, structural conundrums or imbalances that have kept it from being the more anarchistic, multi-generational, group-led organization I’ve always dreamt it could become.

Until now.

(For real! Oh my goodness, this is so exciting. UNTIL NOW.)

Over the last few years, our options when it came to how we could organize, run and staff Scarleteen began to change. Two incredibly impactful grants made a big difference in our funding. While there are still not enough funds for anyone to have a standard 40 hour a week full-time paid and benefitted position, there has been enough for a few people, including myself, to have 20-30 hour a week positions with modest but reasonable and reliable pay and benefits.

There have also been two other people long and still on our team who’ve put skin in this game much like I have; who have dedicated big shares of their time, care, working life, creativity and energy to Scarleteen for over a decade or more, and who it’s really quite impossible to imagine Scarleteen existing, and more importantly, growing, without at this point.

The Co-Directorship Hydra: illustrated by Isabella RotmanThese two people are my new co-directors.

They are also two of my favorite people to work with on the planet, so while I think this is amazing for Scarleteen, I also have personally really lucked out⁠ here. I am now no longer our only director, and it’s unlikely anyone here will ever be on their own in that way again, which is so awesome I might literally implode with joy and relief. Scarleteen now, and hopefully evermore, operates as a multi-generational co-directorship, built in such a way that utilizes all of our unique skills, shared abilities, and collective dedication and talent.

With their help, I want to introduce — or, if you’re already familiar with one or both of them, re-introduce — you to my two co-directors here at Scarleteen: Sam Wall and Jacob Mirzaian.

Sam first started volunteering at Scarleteen about ten years ago. She was already working in the sexual⁠ health center at UC Davis at the time, and it was clear from the start that Sam was a natural when it came to this field. She learned the ropes here fast, and became a central organizing force of the organization in no time flat, in a way that just always felt right. Sam’s dedication to this work and to Scarleteen, her incredible energy and sensitivity⁠ , and her ability to connect with a wide array of people, including when the world is literally falling apart, have long been such a gift to us here.

As Jacob says, “Sam is a heckin' diamond! She is like the rudder of the Great Ship Scarleteen; steadfast, bullshit-free and focused. I will probably never even know quite how much Sam has done for me and Scarleteen because she's such a just-get-on-with-it personality, but I am adamant that I wouldn’t want to be without her. Ever since she joined the staff, while I was still a volunteer, I have felt safe with and supported by her. I have been able to turn to her for her knowledge of social work and child protection, rely on her to muck in with labor-intensive projects I have needed help with, and trust her with any questions or reflections I have had along the way. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise how thrilled I am to start this new voyage with her.”

Sam has always, always been particularly passionate about outreach: about engaging with young people and those who care about them with information and support one on one, or in group settings, both in-person and virtual. Sam’s vibe as an in-person sex⁠ educator — be it for young people, parents, in trainings for other organizations — is really special: plainspoken, relaxed, unflappable, real and warm.

In her role as a co-director, Sam will now be taking much of the lead when it comes to the direction and the day-to-day operations of our outreach and direct services. It should perhaps also be noted that if anyone is going to spot a real-deal mythical creature in the course of our work, it’s going to be Sam. Their monster geekdom is truly formidable.

Jacob came to Scarleteen first as a young’un on our message boards. They had many, many questions and ideas. A couple of our volunteers then were a little overwhelmed, but not me. I, too, am full of questions and ideas.

I like how they talk about it in their own words (and not just because they say stuff that makes me sniffle): “17 years ago, when I was 17, I received an email from Heather asking me if I would like to be a volunteer. Being a young user of the boards and an avid reader of Heather’s work, I was awestruck, and I was probably right to be. I highly doubt I would have found myself in this kind of work and I certainly wouldn't be here celebrating a co-directorship, were it not for that email. It changed the direction of my life. Heather’s trust in their own ideas and experiences, acting on the injustice is what formed Scarleteen, made it a place I wanted to be, keep us working together and are the qualities Heather nurtures in the rest of us. They helped me trust my gut as a young person, hone my advice and boundaries as a volunteer, believe in my own approach as an in-person educator, then a designer, then developer and now, as I am delighted to say, a co-director. I really can’t wait to find out what’s next.”

Like Sam would,  too, they kept volunteering at Scarleteen while they were in university. Like most of our volunteers, Jacob’s initial volunteer work was in our direct services. Jacob is also one of the few folks who’s come through Scarleteen over the years who’s also a designer, like me, so they did some design work within that decade and change, too, and then started focusing more and more on the tech and UX parts of the site. Way back in the day, I did all of our coding, but the our tech needs moved past my tech skills over 15 years so, and we’ve struggled often throughout our tenure to find and keep a developer within reach.

Jacob’s technical and design curiosity, whimsical vision and prowess — both innate and learned — are the cornerstone of their co-directorship role here. They are also my partner⁠ -in-cringe when it comes to songwriting and other silliness that brings some extra weirdness and joy to our intra-office shenanigans.

Like Sam says, ”Jacob was already an established volunteer when I started volunteering at Scarleteen myself, and was incredibly welcoming when I was learning my way around. They've always been at the heart of our scrappy little team. I've always been grateful we were able to hold onto someone as talented--and who's as positive a presence--as they are for as long as we have, and that we have donors who make it possible to have them now tackling the tech end of things. They've been doing some amazing work on the new site that I cannot WAIT for people to see, and I'm delighted to get be working alongside them as co-director.”

Y’all probably have a pretty good sense of who I am by now.  To this co-directorship, I do most of the editorial labor, and still much of our visual design, the educational theory, ideas and praxis, 35 years of independent and grassroots small business and organizational management and sustainment, funding and budget work, media engagement and a cache and work history of sex, sexuality, relationships and LGBTQ⁠ + dorkery gathered and honed starting when *I* was a young person myself decades ago. (Also, when something deeply weird or ridiculous is required, I will likely remain the person with their hand in the air first.)

Sam says, “If you're reading this, then Heather likely needs no introduction for you. They built Scarleteen from the ground up to be the first of its kind. That alone is an achievement, but to have kept it running through so many ups and downs, and when so many similar resources have disappeared, is staggering. When I came here as a volunteer I was very much still finding my feet as a sex educator, knowing this was the field for me but not quite how to find a spot for myself within it. Heather very much became my mentor, and offered me the space to learn and practice my skills and, eventually, the chance to work as Scarleteen's second, paid staff person. I'm so grateful for that, and I'm honored to have the chance to co-direct with them.”

We have always liked and aimed for transparency around here (as well as helping people visualize more equitable ways of doing things), so I want to share one a graphical representation of the model we’ve built for this.  You can see* in that graphic the shared responsibilities we have at the top, and then below, how each of our more specialized skills or labor come into play.

If you have any questions about this change — or if you’re interested in exploring alternative models of organizational leadership — please feel free to drop the three of us an email.  You can now reach all three of us at codirectorsATscarleteenDOTcom  to get in touch with the leadership at Scarleteen anytime. You might even be able to hear me squeal when we open it!

* The graphic attached lists our shared duties and responsibilities: long-term commitment; site and organizational steering; content creation and review; direct service and outreach provision and delivery (this includes not just services to young people, but other outreach we sometimes do like training for staff at other organizations, parent education and other community engagement); policy and procedure making; volunteer and staff recruitment management and training; media, PR and promotion; partnership building and maintenance; fundraising; a monthly newsletter; event planning; yearly staff camp; budget management; shared financial responsibility and benefits.

It then drills down each of our specific or most focused areas of labor and responsibility like I talked about earlier in the announcement.

Illustration of the amazing co-directorship hydra by Isabella Rotman!