Meet Natalie Harris, 2020 Most Admired Woman — Community/Non-Profit

Jun 9, 2020 | Most Admired Woman

Natalie Harris, executive director of The Coalition for the Homeless, Inc., is the 2020 Most Admired Woman in the Community/Non-Profit category.

2020 MOST ADMIRED WOMAN — COMMUNITY/NON-PROFITS
Natalie Harris

Executive Director, The Coalition for the Homeless, Inc.
Family: Husband John Harris
Neighborhood: St. Matthews

How do you shelter in place when you don’t have a place? This is the situation that Natalie Harris and members of The Coalition for the Homeless are dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic. Natalie says the public agencies have worked valiantly seven days a week and put in insane hours to set up systems to help the homeless population be safe and help people get off the street.

WHAT HAS CAUSED YOU THE MOST STRESS DURING THIS TIME?
The first three weeks there were just so many questions and changes. One problem would be solved and another one would pop up immediately. Fortunately there have been solutions. The Salvation Army opened up its gymnasium on Brook Street to serve people all day long, and it opened a facility to quarantine those with symptoms of the coronavirus.

WHAT WAS MOST DIFFICULT FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
I have had high expectations that I couldn’t meet. I was trying to figure things out and getting 200 emails a day about available resources. I had my kitchen floor moment when I just fell down and cried.

BEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It’s a really good fit for my brain. I like to think strategically and know that there is more than one way to accomplish something.

WHAT’S FRUSTRATING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and it’s such a long game. I see small wins, but I have to continue working on trying to create programs for the future.

Natalie says she is proud to represent nonprofits because it is hard work, and many women do it well with few resources.
WHAT WERE YOUR PLANS FOR YOURSELF?
My intention was to be an artist. My mom died when I was 15 and she was an artist, and I wanted to be like her. But in college I found out that art didn’t feed my soul.

A TURNING POINT IN YOUR LIFE?
In high school, I went on mission trips with a church and discovered that the best thing you can do when you’re sad is to help someone else. I didn’t know that helping someone else would do that.

WORD THAT DESCRIBES YOU?
Focused. I see the goal and know the end I want to achieve, and I don’t let problems get in my way.

SECRET SNACK STASH?
I do love popcorn. When I make it at home I sprinkle it with curry powder, but I also buy the cheddar cheese and caramel kinds. And Diet Coke. I drink it warm to make it easier.

OLD SCHOOL TECH?
I have a flip phone. I find it’s better for me to be in this world than the virtual world.

Through mission trips, Natalie says she discovered that the best thing you can do when you’re sad is to help someone else.
BOOKS THAT INFLUENCED YOU?
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It has influenced how we live at home. Alice Walker’s In Search of My Mother’s Garden. I was familiar with the white writers from the Deep South, but reading her book opened up a whole world for me.

THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE?
If our leaders would focus on those in need more than on money.

TRAIT YOU LIKE LEAST IN OTHERS?
People who think they know all the answers.

THOUGHTS ON BEING A MOST ADMIRED WOMAN WINNER?
How proud I feel representing nonprofits. Because it is harder and less well paid, women hold a majority of non-profit leadership roles. It is really hard work and is like running a business with two hands tied behind our backs. I think anyone, especially women who already have many strikes against us in this economy, deserve a big hand when we do it well with so few resources. And, I am just one of many.

P.S. Read more about the 2020 Most Admired Woman winners.

Natalie in her downtown office.

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