Karina Nelson on Advocacy and Knowing Who You Are

Karina Nelson is the Volunteer Manager at the Invest in Girls program of CEE, a nonprofit working to build financial literacy and confidence in high school girls. This program offers online and in-person workshops to help girls become financially confident and even pursue a career in finance. 

“I love what I do because I know I’m helping to bridge the gap in financial literacy. It is evident that each individual who enrolls and participates in our program is fully aware of its significance and is keenly aware of its importance. I personally wished I had this growing up,” Karina shares.

Growing up on government assistance programs, Karina never learned how to budget or save for a rainy day.

“​​When you’re always in survival mode,” she says “You don’t really think about the necessities outside of the basics. Being on governmental assistance programs taught me that we either had just enough or never enough. So in the latter sense we often had to figure out ways to make ends meet.”

Although Karina had to teach herself financial literacy skills when she went to college, she learned a lot of important lessons from her family.

“I grew up in a Deaf family and I always saw my mom fighting for spaces and fighting to be seen and getting the things that she needed,” Karina explains.

Seeing her mom advocate for herself and for others inspired Karina’s passion for activism and advocacy. After graduating college Karina participated in an assistantship program with Public Allies. During the assistantship she was placed at a transitional home which led to her to further her work within foster care.

“It was just such an invigorating experience because I not only got to work with the foster kids, but I also got to work with volunteers who are truly coming in to make an impact and difference,” she shares.

While working with Public Allies, Karina earned a certificate in volunteer management. When the assistantship ended she took a volunteer coordinator position with Habitat for Humanity where she stayed until she was let go during the pandemic.

She then found work as an advocate for kids in foster care and began thinking about what was next. 

“I went on a job search and I saw this opportunity for a volunteer manager, which I felt like was a sign. I applied and here I am,” she says.

Even though Karina once envisioned herself as the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, working with the Invest in Girls program truly aligned with her passions and values.

“I’m always fighting the good fight. From what I’ve seen, and how I grew up and the things that were instilled in me, I always want to be that person in someone’s corner” she adds. “The reason why I am who I am is truly because of my mother and my sister.The perseverance, tenacity and drive that I have comes from them and the boldness that always came about . ”

Know Who You Are

Karina has learned how to navigate toxic work environments throughout her career journey. She’s had experiences where she felt as though her personality was the driving force behind many comments received and subsequently was under attack by leadership.

“I felt like in that experience in that professional environment when you choose to show up as a professional, especially as a Black woman, it’s almost like you’re still condemned,” she shares. Karina continues on, “It was a confusing time. Whether it was my demeanor or just overall perspective I frequently found myself being singled out as the source of issues or challenges. That was truly hard to shake at the end of the day.”

She recognized that the work environment was chaotic and she, along with a few other persons of color who faced the same treatment, decided to leave the organization. This experience reminded Karina that no one should make you question who you are.

“No matter what the role is, what the pay is, where it is, at the end of the day if this is who you are and this is how you choose to show up, that’s okay,” she says. “No one should be made to feel less than because of others’ misconceptions.”

Karina has always been confident in who she is, but her loved ones and her passions also keep her going during challenging times. 

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found moments where I can just be in solitude and reflection, and just kind of sit with my thoughts and myself,” she says, adding that she’s an avid reader and loves watching K-Dramas.

Ultimately, Karina knows how important it is to stay true to yourself and she wants upcoming young Black professionals to never compromise their values or sense of self.

“If you feel like you’re in a position where you may have to compromise that for a role or for a paycheck or for a person, then run the other way,” she says.