We’re assembled on a Friday morning in May in Prepare + Prosper’s tax clinic space. The hubbub of the tax season has subsided a bit, at least in terms of sheer number of people traveling through the space. It’s an hour of the early morning that feels virtuous as we grab coffee and bagels and settle in for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) – Twin Cities Breakfast of Champions event featuring Tracy, Prepare + Prosper’s executive director. This monthly event allows young nonprofit professionals the chance to have a conversation with and learn from established leaders in the Twin Cities.

“I have to start with a story,” Tracy begins, “Last night, I was at an event for Hope Community, which is one of our tax site partners. I parked my car on the street and marveled at my good luck at getting a close spot. I went to the event and came out two hours later to find my car gone. I eventually realized it had been towed and luckily could call a colleague to ask to drive me to the impound lot.”

The group of young professionals gathered groans in sympathy. Tracy pauses here, and I get the feeling she is steeling herself for what she’s about to share.

“At the impound lot, I was charged $138 for the ticket and tow, and I was curious, so I asked the person working there what they do with the cars if someone isn’t able to pay the fines. She told me, ‘We charge $18 per day to keep them, and after 30 days, we sell the cars.’” The room slows to a somber silence.

Tracy pauses again. “It’s ridiculous that someone would have their car taken away because of their inability to pay fines. To me, this is an example of how expensive it is to be poor. I had the means and connections to pay the fine, but other people don’t. And these members of our community might not have a checking account, so to get their car out, they might have to run around town first to get a money order and pay fees to get access to their money.”

It is here that Tracy does what I have seen her do in many situations: relate our work at Prepare + Prosper to the everyday things some of us do with relative ease, without much thought, things like writing a check or paying by credit card, and how complicated and unjust these processes can be for others.

There is a Hebrew phrase and a Jewish concept, Tikkun Olam, which means ‘heal the world’. That sense of justice drives me and my decision-making throughout my career.

Tracy shares from her career path, taking us on a journey with her, through grassroots organizing and earthquakes in Los Angeles, to her eventual cross-country road trip (complete with a futon affixed to the top of her car) to land in Chicago. She highlights her work in HIV education and prevention and how a grounding in individual-level work was key to understanding systems change work and its implications for everyday people.

One of the event participants asks Tracy’s advice for bridging direct service to systems level work. She provides some ideas and then notes:

It’s critical to focus on the values that drive you. Keep moving forward and work your butts off.

It strikes me that Tracy lives this out each day. During the summer months, when the rest of Minnesota is off racing jet skis across 10,000 bodies of water, she is often the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave.

Tracy works her butt – or, as she would say with levity in her voice, her tuchus – off, and this is a way that I believe P+P distinguishes itself. My colleagues are all equal parts smart and hardworking, and that is a tone that Tracy has set. She expects big things, not only from herself and her colleagues, but also the systems and institutions we all interact with on a daily basis. I’m glad she’s at the helm, and I’m grateful for the ways she advocates in all she does, from federal and state policy to thinking about the systemic ramifications of a car towed in Minneapolis.