Name: Melissa A. DeDomenico-Payne
College & Majors/Minors: B.A. English, B.S. Psychology, M.A. Psychological Services – Counseling, currently working on D.P.A. (Doctorate in Public Administration)
Current Location: Virginia
Current Form of Employment: Contracting part-time with Big Brothers Big Sisters as Director of Development
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I have spent much of my life working with non-profits to address social and/or mental health issues that impact families. I have served as Executive Director of three different non-profit organizations in Virginia, which has allowed me to develop a multitude of development, human services, crisis intervention, strategic planning, coalition building, intergovernmental relations, personnel, fiduciary, evaluation, event coordination, and public relations skills. In addition, my career also boasts a period serving as Grant Writing Coordinator with Centerstone of Nashville, Tennessee, which at that time was the largest provider of community-based behavioral health services in the United States. Additionally, I served as the first Quality Assurance/Compliance Specialist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for approximately a year before returning to the “field” of domestic violence/sexual assault. My departure was to an organization where I had begun my career, which had been experiencing tremendous financial strain. It had been my hope that my return to the organization with a combination of experience and renewed energy would be beneficial. While I was able to provide some assistance to the organization, the organization made the decision to close and I was asked to resign. This also coincided with some serious health issues, so I did not return to full-time work. Instead, I am currently continuing with pursuit of my D.P.A. and working part-time for the local Big Brothers Big sisters.
In my jobs, I have written many, many grants, as well as press releases, personnel and board policies, marketing materials (brochures, fact pages, etc.), by-laws and other organizational documents, material for web pages, appeal letters, speeches which were delivered to local, regional, state, and federal offices, curricula and tests for training, client information summaries, meeting minutes, newsletters, and correspondence to various individuals and organizations. I’m sure there are other things I have written as well! I also write a lot for my doctoral program. This is an online program, so discussions are written and the expectations for writing are pretty intense. If I didn’t have good writing skills, I’m not sure I would be doing as well as I am.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
When I was in college, I actually couldn’t make up my mind between majoring in psychology and majoring in English. I decided to pursue teaching, which at that time required a discipline major like English. I later decided not to teach, but just to finish out with both degrees since I had significant coursework in both. When I graduated, it was a time of recession and I really didn’t know how to go about proper job hunting. I had also worked many part-time jobs through high school and college. In some ways, I think this was a disadvantage to me at that time. I lived in an area where the emphasis was more on work than college.
I ended up taking a subcontracting job for IBM as an administrative assistant. I wrote a lot of correspondence and learned a lot about computer systems at this time. I did have to take grammar and typing tests during the application process. These were really a breeze for me at the time. The job I had did not require college, so I had some competencies that most folks didn’t have and I did well at the job.
I got my current job through a connection I had made at my prior job. I had written a grant with this person and worked closely on trying to help their organization come to our community. When you write with others, they get to know you and your competencies, as well as build a rapport with you. This can prove invaluable.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
As mentioned, most of my work has been in non-profits. Working in this area is not a way to become financially wealthy, but it affords a lot of independence and freedom to develop many diverse skills. As suggested above, I have also written a book, but had to put publishing on the back burner. Now I think I will be rewriting it. I feel a certain sense of pride in my grantwriting, which has established many worthy social service programs in several states. My skills in writing converted to helping humanity.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I did a lot of writing in college and the skill of typing in particular helped me to be faster than folks who did not have that skill. I entered and won a few college poetry contests, which helped me gain confidence in my abilities. My internships were more psychology focused, with direct service to persons with disabilities, as well as individuals with abuse issues. I found over the years that more often than not, my education and experience complimented each other well for the world of public service. To be an effective writer, your work must interest others and there is a fair amount of psychology in that as much as English.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
- Read a lot. Think about what you like or don’t like when you read, especially in terms of subjects, style, and content.
- Write about what you know. Write as much as possible. Ideally you should develop writing habits that keep you writing regularly.
- Take criticism with a grain of salt. Be sure to incorporate feedback and suggestions as you can, without compromising your own happiness or ethics. I was always blessed with people who helped edit and provide feedback for my writing. It was something I got used to early on and used to my advantage in becoming better at my craft. If you truly have the gift of writing, be sure to view it as such and use it for good.
- If you can’t secure a paying job with writing, start by volunteering. Organizations are often grateful to have talented writers help them with things like newsletters, correspondence, marketing materials, etc. And volunteerism can sometimes lead to paid employment for the same types of activities. Most recently, by working on a voluntary writing project with a group, I got to know a few different folks who have been instrumental in helping this next stage of my career progress.
- Write for fun and enter contests that are free or have very low registration costs. Be wary of scams related to contests or publishing.
- Don’t be overly critical on yourself. Some things you write will be good and others will not. Some things will be liked by readers and others will not. You will likely evolve your opinions, style, standards, and competencies over time. That is o.k. and expected.