This week’s profile features an interview with Cynthia “Cindy” Changyit Levin, who has moved about from Chicago to St. Louis, where she lives now. I met Cindy briefly last June of 2016 at the annual RESULTS conference in Washington, D.C. I’d heard of the great work she does to fight poverty with various NGO’s, but never actually met her.
On the first day of the conference last summer, I sat next to her during a life-changing diversity workshop. Her presence is one of calm and compassion yet commands attention. Three days later I was taking her photo with her daughters in front of the Capitol Building when our paths crossed. The strong bond and love between mother and daughters was apparent and I loved catching their energetic leap in the air to go raise their voices.
Every month, we have a national webinar to touch base on social justice issues and policies tied to them. In January of this year, I heard her powerful share of outreach and group activities in St. Louis, MO. In my own explorations as a leader, I knew I could use a completely new perspective to help me refresh my outlook and way of doing things. I sent her a message on Twitter and asked if we could chat. That turned to email and then a day or two later, we spoke on the phone for over an hour. She shared her struggles and victories in volunteering over the years, after leaving a career in engineering. She has a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, but has pivoted to community work, much like I find myself doing.
Cindy’s had years of commitment to fighting injustices and alleviating poverty across the communities of the United States and around the globe while also being so devoted to empowering Moms.
- Cindy, it’s great to finally connect. My big question for everyone is this: what did you want to be when you grew up and how has that evolved?
I wanted to be an Imagineer at Disney or a whale researcher. Somehow, I just made decisions along the way as I took classes in acoustics and engineering that landed me jobs — sound and vibration jobs within the automotive production world. But, I was never truly happy with how that turned out. The best part of my days were when I was volunteering with soup kitchens or tutoring kids. When I had my first child, I realized I was fortunate enough and still young enough to take the opportunity to quit my job and make a change. After realizing I could have more impact and help more people by volunteering as an advocate than I could with my other activities, I began building my skills to contact Congress on behalf of millions of people in extreme poverty. I became so passionate about it that it has become a full-time unpaid job as I sit on the national Board of Directors of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational fund, lead a local group of activists, and am currently writing a book about how mothers can become great activists.
- What do you devote your days to?
My day job could be the stay at home mom position I’ve had for 13 years. Or, it could be the unpaid advocacy and writing that I do while the kids are at school or are sleeping. Either way, I’ve chosen those jobs because they are how I choose to use my skills to make the world a better place for me and my children.
- How happy have you been with your choices along the way?
Overall, I am exceedingly happy with my choices. I am fulfilled as I watch my children grow into responsible and compassionate humans. I continue to grow professionally and in wisdom as I am challenged by the infinite number of personalities and positions involved in changing government policy through volunteer activism. Both my “mom” job and my “activist” job have me learning constantly, which I think is one of the keys to life happiness. This is not to say that there have not been down moments. Being a stay at home parent offers periodic feelings of underappreciation that challenge self-esteem on a fairly regular basis.
- What are your best sources for learning?
I best learn from engagement with others, so conferences are a favorite way for me to gain a lot of training and learning at once. Getting involved in reputable organizations is something I recommend for everyone because it facilitates all those great personal connections.
- What advantages, barriers, and motivators for women have you observed?
Sometimes we can be our own barriers when we get too rigid in our thinking about what we are “supposed” to do. I had convinced myself that I was “supposed” to get the highest paying job my brain would allow me to get in order to be a working mom. It turned out that it was my own expectations that were holding me back from doing what would make me happy. An advantage I have experienced as a woman is that once you get plugged in with a strong group of supportive women, we have a remarkable capacity to fill each other’s sails to help each other reach our goals!
- What is your passion and why is it important to you?
My passion is helping moms to feel powerful by using their voices to change the world. Seeing a mom change her perception of herself from only caretaker to also change-maker is exhilarating. I’m so grateful other people were there to help me to see that I could be both at the same time and I like to help other people discover their own personal power as well.
- What do you devote most of your time to outside of “work?”
I am a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoy working with my daughter to advance our skills. It’s great “together” time that provides exercise and confidence to make us feel better in other parts of our lives. Breaking boards is also extremely satisfying and stress-relieving.
- With so much going on, how do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired when I’m working toward a goal. I’m extremely goal oriented. It seems I never make any progress unless I set a very specific goal and make a plan to get there. From advocacy to personal fitness to raising children, goals are always part of what drive me forward.
- What causes or organizations are you most passionate about?
RESULTS is the number one organization I’m passionate about because it combines a mission to help all of our volunteers to feel empowered and confident through advocacy while keeping an eye on a mission to end poverty. It’s an incredibly bold mission most organizations only hint at. Within the poverty issues we work on, the topics of girls’ education worldwide and maternal/child health are my pet projects because emotionally they lies close to my heart as a mother and intellectually they have the potential for giant impact on poverty in general if we invest in those two areas.
I’m also very excited to be a blog contributor to World Moms Network. This organization shares the thoughts and stories of moms around the world mainly through blog posts. It underscores a growing feeling I have that we are part of a family of moms who are stronger because of our diversity of experience AND because of the universal nature of motherhood.
- Finally, the one that gets me everytime — best and worst advice you’ve heard?
Best Advice: “Pace Yourself” This is standard advice for endurance runners. I used to run marathons, but I have found that one piece of advice to be applicable in almost every other aspect of my life as well. If you take on too much, too fast, you aren’t any good to anybody and will not accomplish anything very well.
Worst: “You should start every day with a fiber supplement.” It turns out my body is pretty regular as it is. That experiment didn’t turn out well.
Want to learn more about Cindy and her story? Follow her on Twitter and read her blog, “Anti-Poverty Mom.”
Thanks for reading Cindy’s story. Share in the comments how it impacted you or share it on social media. Check out next week’s weekly post on Women & the Ways We Work. Missed the others? Take a look at my blog to read the others. Know someone you think should be featured? Can I help you or your organization with a storytelling project? Contact me and let’s chat.
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