Monica Manklang: Connecting People and Serving Her Community

Filed under REAL Stories Your World on Aug 06 12 by

Meet Monica Manklang, a real woman who is passionate about connecting with people and serving the community around her. We had the pleasure of meeting with Monica at a diner in Philadelphia, where she shared her thoughts on buying local, fair trade, supporting your community, finding the right job, her love for zombies, and how much she loves it when people appreciate who she really is.

Monica Manklang

Photos by Shannon Collins (www.shannoncollins.com)


 
YOU ARE: We are so excited to hear about your job at Generocity and can understand why it would be the “best job ever” for you. Can you tell us a little more about Generocity and what you do there?

Monica: Generocity is a nonprofit that exists to connect people and businesses to social good organizations around Philly. We write stories about new and innovative things that are going on around town, and work constantly to make “doing good” easy, fun, and accessible for anyone and everyone.

My title is “Community Connector”, which I absolutely love. That means that I get to connect people and businesses and nonprofits together so that they can collaborate and work effectively. I do that through networking and by creating web applications targeted directly toward nonprofits.

My main project right now is creating a volunteer system; [with this system], people can sign up on their own or with a group to volunteer. It’s really exciting, because I think if people are given the chance, they would do better and live better and get involved. Sometimes that’s hard because we get sucked into our own day-to-day lives. But if on a Monday you can say, “I have Saturday free, let’s go volunteer somewhere,” I think people would do that! This volunteer application that we are creating is really key to getting people engaged in Philly.

YOU ARE: You are passionate about community. How would you explain that to somebody who doesn’t understand why community is so important?

Monica: I have lived in this neighborhood for 7 years. When I moved here I was in my own world, and I was happy doing the things I was doing before I was really involved with the community. I had church, I had my job, I had my friends—and sometimes you can get sucked into that.

With the downturn of the economy, I think everyone realized that we don’t have money, but what we do have is community. There is a lot of power in that—in knowing who your neighbor is, knowing that you have a safe place to come home to, knowing that people are looking out for you. And now, it’s a real blessing and a privilege for me to have a job where I’m [helping people build those kinds of relationships]. I’m making connections between different organizations and people who can help each other in the city. I don’t think people value enough the idea of collaboration in what they do—working together is the best way to effectively make positive change happen!

YOU ARE: You serve as a committee member of the Kensington Community Food Co-Op, what is that and why is it important?

Monica: Getting involved with my co-op was the start of recognizing the need for community. I began to really realize there are people all over my neighborhood who are my age and interested in the same things as me. Knowing people in my immediate community has given me an amazing sense of responsibility for my hometown and encouraged me get involved in local decision-making.

My co-op, the Kensington Community Food Co-op, is focused on opening a community grocery store, run and owned by people in the Fishtown/Kensington area. There’s a big movement towards cooperatives, particularly here in Philadelphia—in fact, there’s an organization called Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance that allows people to share ideas across organizations, which is fantastic.

Right now, we have a limited food distribution, where we are able to order food in advance and pick it up at location in the neighborhood. We can’t order everything we eat that way, but it definitely makes me feel better about the choices that I’m making. I’m supporting a farmer that’s within 100 miles of where I’m standing, and I’m helping that person to put bread on his table.

This has also made me really conscious of all of my purchase choices. For instance, I don’t buy jewelry anymore unless it’s from a local artist. The way I look at it, I could buy a bracelet for five bucks from H&M or I could buy a bracelet from a girl who crafted it lovingly with her own hands. If I give her twenty bucks for this bracelet, she’s going to take that and buy herself lunch. It’s a much more direct correlation, and I love that tangible support I’m able to give to a small business owner.

It’s really easy to buy stuff that’s made in China, and most people don’t even notice where their dollars are going. You get tons of options and it’s really neat, but I believe it’s important to support fair wages and work environments. It’s not that we should only be buying things that are “Made in America” (although I do try to support American businesses as much as possible). Buy if you can buy something that is fair trade, that’s really cool because you know what you are supporting a good business that treats its employees well. When you buy something that is Certified Fair Trade, you know what you are buying—it’s about understanding your choices.

YOU ARE: Tell us about “Sustain Your Local”.

Monica: For the last couple of years, Julie (my roommate) and I have been on this journey to try and make more responsible purchases and to understand what we are doing in regards to where we are spending our money and how good it is for the environment. So we’re working on a website so people can more easily find goods that are made in America, made fair trade, or that are made from materials that are good for the environment. It’s basically going to be a database of responsibly made items and where you can go to buy them.

My life has really changed these last few years as we have started doing this. I’m really conscious of what I buy now. It is very rare that I will go to the mall and buy clothes anymore. And it isn’t that I am trying to make anyone feel bad for doing that, because that is life and it is really, really hard to live this way. You can’t do everything at once, but you try to do as much as you can every day, and every little bit matters. If I can make the choice on any given day to buy from a local artist or craftsman or business owner, then I will do that because that will help him get health insurance or dinner tonight. It’s fun to go to the mall; it’s an event to go to all these different stores and buy all these things but if you sit back and think about it—how is it really helping your life? Is it helping anyone else’s life? These are questions that I’ve started to ask any time I pull out my wallet. I think every time you spend a dollar, it’s like voting, and I try to vote well.

YOU ARE: When do you feel most beautiful?

Monica: I feel beautiful when people notice the things about me that are quirky, weird, and just inherently me, like when I pick up trash on the street and make sure that it gets to a trash can, or the fact that I like zombies. Sometimes we put on an act with others, [but] sometimes our personality’s first instinct just comes out. I feel beautiful when people notice and appreciate that first instinct of being me.

YOU ARE: What are you goals for the future?

Monica: I don’t really set goals for where I want to be. The more that you set goals, at least for me, the more you pigeon hole yourself into caring more about attaining this goal than you are about enjoying the journey. All of my life goals are about the principles rather than about the deliverables, because if all you care about is helping people then you can have that success story any day and every day. When I started out after college, I thought I would be making music videos for MTV—if I measured myself by that goal, I’d be terribly disappointed instead of being grateful and excited to have the opportunity to interact with people on a daily basis. My only goal really is to have made a positive impact on people’s lives. I want to be remembered for having helped people.

YOU ARE: Obviously love and relationships are important to women. We think you are fabulous and inspiring and would love to know what you have learned about these areas.

Monica: From the time I was really young to the time I was done college, I always had a boyfriend and I was defined a lot by the idea that I really wanted to get married and I really wanted to have kids. But I also wanted to do all these other things, like make an impact, meet people, go places, and do things. I wanted it all, you know? I think most women do. I always felt that the best version of me would be me partnering with a guy. I thought, “Oh! It would be so great if only it was like this certain image I have in my head…”

But then I started to realize, “Oh right! God already made me SO GREAT! He created me to be who I am.” When I was reading Proverbs 31, I realized that a lot of these things don’t have anything to do with being a wife necessarily, but about doing the best that you can every single day and really pushing yourself to be better and value who you are. I realized that I can’t worry about a guy. I have to just worry about doing what I can to be the best version of how God made me, regardless of whether I get married. I will always hope to meet the guy that God made specifically for me, who I can run alongside and who will work with me to make this world a better place, but if I attach too much value to that then I’ll end up making all my decisions based on that.

For example, there’s this tattoo that I’ve wanted for years but I always thought that on my wedding day it wouldn’t look nice with the dress I always dreamed of wearing. So I’ve literally waited five years to get this tattoo, and I [often] wonder, “why am I waiting on this”? It’s silly because I’m defining my life around this “maybe, one day” thing that might happen. If you are constantly waiting for those things, then you will never be able to appreciate the journey of what is between point A and point B. It’s that journey that makes [life] worth living.

YOU ARE: What’s the gutsiest thing you’ve ever done?

Monica: The gutsiest thing that I’ve ever done is trusting God for my job situation. All through my life, I’ve always just trusted that God would have me at the right job at the right time. I had a couple opportunities to take jobs where I knew I would be making a lot more money, but I knew I wouldn’t be as happy. Even though not all of the jobs that I’ve had were what I would say are the ‘best jobs ever’, the skills I’ve learned at all of those other jobs have led me to this job, which is definitely the best job I’ve ever had in my life. It’s taken years of having little to no money, and tons of missteps along the way, but I’ve never been more grateful and more appreciative…or happier about where I am in life. The fact that God has my back and has a great purpose for my life has been hard to remember over the years, but it’s been kind of like a lighthouse at the end of the tunnel.

It’s definitely the hardest thing in my life—trusting that God’s got me covered on all of those [questions] that society makes us most conscious of, [such as]“why I am I beautiful?” and “why am I successful?” It takes guts to re-orient those priorities to God, and not to society. And I think society knows that not that many women are 6 feet tall and a size 2—I’ve really latched onto the idea of what it means to be beautiful and successful and truly meaningful from God’s perspective.

YOU ARE: You have a degree in Digital Media and you are beyond talented when it comes to photography, graphic design, web design… well basically everything media. So how do you explain what you are doing now?

Monica: People would always say that [media and design] is “my thing” but what I realized is that people are really “my thing”. The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome was realizing that even though my background is in design and even though I’m good at those things, I don’t have to do something directly related to my college degree.

All of the training that I got from my time at Drexel boosted my creativity, and helped me to realize that creativity is everywhere, and in everyone. My passion is bringing that creativity out in the people around me in any way that I can. I’ll always love technology and design in all its forms, but right now I am in love with connecting people. Hopefully that results in a lot more good in the world!

YOU ARE: Why is that difficult and what has it taught you about yourself?

Monica: It is challenging because I can’t hand you connection on a phone and be like, “here’s that thing that I did”. I love to collect people and just like finding out their little stories and all that sort of stuff. [My job is about] building relationships… I realized it’s ok to make a living by talking to people because that is the thing about me that is most attractive and work that makes me feel truly successful. That was really hard for me to learn. Becoming comfortable with that understanding really set me up to appreciate who I am where I am, always.

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Catherine Smith
Catherine graduated from Western Carolina University with a degree in Education and has experiencing teaching both elementary and high school students. Catherine is passionate about helping women connect with their true purpose and discover their value. As the Community Relations Director, Catherine manages our outreach projects, events, and relationships with other organizations that support women.