Q&A with Nicole Sener: Milton Family Community Center’s new executive director has a passion for learning and leadership | News


Milton Family Community Center

The Milton Family Community Center has a new executive director.

MFCC is welcoming Nicole Sener, who is succeeding director Sophia Donforth.

Sener has worked for over a decade in various non-profit organizations across the country and world. Originally from Virginia, Sener currently resides in Essex Junction.

After starting in her new role just a couple of weeks ago, the Independent spoke with Sener about her experience and goals for the coming year.

Q: Could you give me a little bit about your previous experience and how you came to this job?

I have about 12 years-ish or more of nonprofit experience. I really got my feet wet in out-of-school time and youth development working for Outward Bound right out of college. I worked with youth who were either adjudicated or referred by guidance counselors or parents to spend a month in the woods.

I really fell in love with youth and leadership development, and learned about the nonprofit world. I moved on to the Peace Corps after that. Since then, I’ve been in a nonprofit leadership position and a few different nonprofits since returning from the Peace Corps.

Somewhere along the lines in there, I got my graduate degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. And one of my biggest takeaways, and I think part of why I’ve landed here, from both my time in the Peace Corps and the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program was that I think that impacts can be so much stronger when you’re working in the community that you’re a part of.

So I moved to Essex Junction in February. My husband is from Burlington, we knew we always wanted to come back here.

He got his dream job and then I found mine shortly after.

Q: When did interest in this kind of work start for you?

When I was going to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But my parents are pretty old school and have some biases to unpack, and I was raised being told my best options as a woman were to be a nurse or a teacher.

I don’t like blood so I chose teaching.

And I learned when I was a student teaching my senior year, that I love working with young people, but teaching in the classroom was not for me.

I still graduated with my K-6Teaching Certification in the state of Virginia and through amazing advisers and mentors at my university, I learned about other ways to serve youth outside of school. So that’s when I heard about Outward Bound and after school programs.

Q: What is it about working with students, young people that you like?

Well a big part of it is I love being fun and silly and the joy that young people pull out of us.

But I also just love the learning, watching the spark and the learning that you get to watch young people have, that learning curve they’re going through constantly.

I think that there’s something really powerful too in working with young people over time. That can be from a two week old to a 25 year old.

I realized that it’s working with people, getting to really invest in growth and learning and supporting each other in becoming who we want to be or living our own truth. It’s really powerful.

Q: When you look back on your career or experience leading to this job, are there any formative moments that stand out in your mind?

There’s a story I shared with the [MFCC ]board. At my most recent job, which was at Reading Partners, Baltimore.

I think it’s, it’s one of those moments when I realized, I really love being in a leadership position where I’m supporting connecting people.

The story was basically getting to watch and work with a high school mentor, that was an intern that I brought on the onboarding and training for, got them set up tutoring one of our second graders using our curriculum and model at Reading Partners, and then watching them both grow together throughout that process.

Alongside watching that, I worked with the Program Coordinator supporting the student in the school and the high school that was supporting the high school intern, all of the other people going into making that connection work.

The microcosm and then the community impact of that and being an orchestrator and witness is one of those moments where I realized that while it’s more behind the scenes and sometimes feels really administrative role to be in nonprofit leadership, the work is so powerful and feels like the perfect fit for me and what I like to do.

Q: Is there anything about your field and the work you do that you feel is not talked about enough?

One thing I really really love about Milton Family Community Center and part of why I was excited to take on this role and be a part of this community in particular is I think there’s a lot of bias around nonprofit work being for a particular person or portfolio or etc.

I really see that the Community Center is here to serve anyone interested, in any family and there’s so many different programs and ways that we engage families that really make it open and available for everyone to participate in some way.

That ability for anyone to find the way that we could be a resource and they could be a resource to us is where that power of connection expands tenfold.

Q: How have your first weeks been going?

They are eventful. I don’t think a day is gone by, being in a center where there’s a food shelf and playgroup once a week and Parent Cafe once a month and of course daycare and summer programming happening every day for over 50 children, that there isn’t something exciting going on.

That’s been really fun. I think the other thing that’s really exciting about where Milton sailing Community Center is, right now and me coming in at this moment is there’s a lot of interest and excitement for positive change, moving us into everything from more modern systems to getting a better grasp on what parents really want. And the pandemic has changed what day to day life’s challenges might be for families. So I think there’s a recognition that we still have a lot to learn about how we improve our programs and a lot of excitement to make those changes.

Q: Do you have any greater goals for the center and the next year?

My number one priority right now is for us to be fully staffed.

We are understaffed. I know a lot of organizations, especially childcare centers are experiencing understaffing.

Really, my number one goal is for this to be a place that everyone loves to come to, from our students, our staff, our teachers, anyone that might be interested.

The immediate need is that we have four openings. Three of them are in our early childcare program for teachers or teachers’ aides.

Q: On a more personal note, what do you like to do outside of work? What do you like to do for fun?

Another reason my family was excited to move to Vermont is because we are big outdoors enthusiasts. I probably need to relearn how to snowboard, but I’m excited to do that. I love hiking and walking the dog, especially with mountain views in the background.

I also didn’t just come to work by myself, actually, my son is 10 months and he’s doing daycare alongside me starting work. So he’s the newest member of the center right now and of course, that certainly keeps him busy just having a 10-month old.

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