Committee for Children Blog

Then & Now: A Career in Kindness

kelsie longbrake

When Kelsie Longbrake started as an accounting assistant at Committee for Children, she wasn’t sure how long she’d stick around at a grassroots nonprofit that did trust exercises at the company picnic. But more than two decades later, our vice president of finance and operations considers CFC to be the best “happy accident” of her life.

We sat down with Kelsie to talk about her career path, being a “unique” finance leader, and how an ambitious goal has unified our growing organization.

An Inspired Career

When I started at CFC as an accounting assistant in 1998, I wasn’t sure how long I’d want to stay. But I quickly realized this wasn’t like any job I’d had before. I was surrounded by so many smart and accomplished women in leadership roles (at the time, the leadership team and managers were all women) and it was truly eye-opening. I didn’t come from a family or social circle that put an emphasis on education or professional goals, and for the first time I viewed myself as a professional. I saw that I could have a career, and it changed the course of my life. I grew up with many people I felt could have benefited from social-emotional learning (SEL), which made me feel my career at CFC would be a career with purpose.  

CFC has always been supportive of continuing education, so early in my time here, I went back to school and pursued a degree in accounting. I’ve held more than 10 positions at various levels within the organization, and credit much of my success to those strong women in leadership at CFC who mentored and encouraged me along the way. Everyone was so willing to actively help me learn and grow—and that continues today. It is an environment where, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can succeed.

Leading Behind the Scenes

Two decades later, many different areas of the organization fall under my purview. My role is broad—it’s my job to build out our infrastructure and implement innovative business systems, all while maintaining tight business controls and creating a positive organizational culture. I consider myself a unique finance leader in that I manage strategic operations across the organization, including overseeing our business intelligence, facilities, warehouse, and human resources functions. While much of my work is behind the scenes, I’m a very hands-on leader and problem solver. I try to take a servant leadership approach—I see my role at CFC as existing to help others succeed.

Then & Now

In the last several years, the rest of the world has caught on to all that SEL can offer. With a rapidly expanding market and demand for SEL programs and curriculum, our organization has grown significantly—when I started at CFC, there were about 35 people, and we now have more than 170 employees. That growth has resulted in huge uptake of our programs and our ability to serve more than 17 million children annually.

So much has changed—back in 1998, we didn’t have a website or voicemail. When someone wanted to purchase our curriculum, the order would be manually relayed from department to department, the program was assembled in our office, and the customer would receive it within three to four weeks. Today, our physical curriculum can be shipped within hours and a client can have same-day access to a digital program subscription. But at the same time, there are many things that have remained constant. Our dedication to our mission has never wavered, and commitment to providing excellent customer service continues to be top notch—we’ve long thought of ourselves as the Nordstrom of SEL curriculum, putting our clients and the children they serve at the center of our work.

A Uniting Goal

Rapidly scaling doesn’t come without growing pains. It would break some companies, and I’m so proud of how we’ve evolved together as an organization. Our commitment to positively transforming the social-emotional well-being of 100 million children annually by 2028 has been a unifying goal, one that I think has played a crucial role in our ability to grow responsibly and sustainably. This commitment is something everyone can refer back to, time and time again, as a reminder of what we believe in and why we’re here. 

I think we’ve done amazing things on a steep learning curve–especially as we seek to provide exceptional digital experiences for educators and kids. In the last three years, we’ve taken risks and pushed ourselves as an organization, and I’ve never been prouder to work here.

We invite you to join us in positively transforming the social-emotional well-being of 100 million children annually by 2028. Become an advocate. Lend your voice. And let’s grow kinder together.