Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to the last three governors in Utah, an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church and a tireless advocate for the homeless and refugees in Utah, still volunteers her time actively and personally among Utah’s poorest people and counts them as her friends. She sat down with me recently to share her insights from her more than twenty years of humanitarian service. The following are the lessons I drew from her:
- Ego has no role in service: Pamela describes herself as “an ordinary person” despite the fact that almost no one who knows her would describe her that way. Years ago, she helped rally the town of Logan, Utah to create a health clinic for the uninsured poor there. Although she was the driving force for the project, she focused on getting the community to own the project, which meant that she had to move quietly to the background as the community rallied to build their own clinic.
- Collaboration: There are three important “Cs” in relation to service: coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate. Of these, “collaborate” is the greatest, she says. After she launched her homeless outreach program in 1991, visiting homeless in their camps each week, she welcomed the Utah Chapter of the Volunteers of America who wanted to run and expand the program. She continues to participate in the expanded program more than twenty years later.
- Don’t “be afraid to speak out”: Serving as an advisor to three governors, she has learned not to be afraid to speak out. “If I feel strongly about an injustice, an issue that is not being addressed in a collaborative and focused way, then I need to speak out,” she says. She’s learned that even when everyone in the room openly opposes her, she’ll often get private indications of support from people who are grateful for her leadership.
- Never let issues interfere with relationships: