Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 50
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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All in a Day’s Work

MASTER COORDINATOR: As the former Executive Director of the Princeton YWCA and founder and chair of Community Works, Marge Smith has worn many hats over the years, almost all of them having to do with running non-profit organizations.

“She’s amazing,”said Community Works volunteer Caroline Thompkins, trying to describe Township resident Marge Smith. “She builds bridges between people.” Ms. Smith has more than 25 years of experience as a consultant and facilitator, running retreats and developing workshops for boards, staff members, and volunteers. She designed the certificate program in nonprofit management at Mercer County Community College, where she still teaches. The former chair of the Human Services Commission of Princeton, she serves on the boards of the Foundation for Thomas Edison State College, Childcare Connection, the Rotary Club, and Hands on Helpers. She has received numerous awards recognizing her leadership skills, including, among others, the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners Award for Leadership, the Cherish the Children Foundation Award, The Rotarian of the Year Award, The Suzie Waxwood Award, the Toastmaster Award for Community Leadership, and the National Conference for Community and Justice Leadership Award.

Ellen Gilbert

It’s like magic: this community is full of incredible volunteers. If you don’t ask, people can’t say “yes.”

I left the YWCA after eight years during the 1990s feeling that there was a need for people to come together, and that there was a need to train them. Non-profit workers need the skills to be successful. Their goals are so important to making a difference in society.

I was originally a high school teacher, and I still teach and train. I love it. I use different images to appeal to people’s different ways of learning. At Mercer County Community College I teach the fundamentals of non-profit management and emotional intelligence.

Last year over 200 non-profits participated in the annual Community Works conference, which will take place this year on January 25 at the Frist Center from 5 to 9 p.m. One year, the keynote speaker didn’t show up. Thinking about getting a replacement, we asked, “Who are the most important people in the audience?” The answer was everyone.

Another year I used an orchestra to demonstrate management principles. It was phenomenal; someone deliberately played the wrong music to show what it’s like when people aren’t “on the same page.” Later, we had students go out into the audience randomly handing out instruments to people, whether or not they could play them. This proved the importance of delegating work to the appropriate person — the one who knows how to play that particular instrument.

Carrying it a step further, we asked the conductor to try to play all the instruments. Of course he couldn’t play all of them equally well, proving that there is a role for the conductor, and a role for the musicians. Then we picked a piece that started with one instrument. Each instrument eventually entered, and the beautiful result demonstrated what diverse elements can accomplish together.

Another year we invited a Double-Dutch jump rope team from Trenton. They had the most incredible coordination, and demonstrated the importance of knowing when to get in and when to get out.

Last year’s program celebrated the Chinese New Year. One of the activities was based on the tradition of giving money in a little red envelope. We included circulating and non-circulating pennies, challenging participants to identify the new ideas they want to put into circulation, and tell us how they would prioritize them. We also had people from non-profits write fortune cookie messages. About 20 or 30 people worked on them; they were fascinating, beautiful messages.

It’s important to include children in non-profit activities. Last year we invited a second grade class from Princeton Day School to the program. People need to remember that children should be part of the equation.

I also believe in civility among people, irrespective of how much money they have. At this year’s Community Works conference, we’re going to focus on words like “respect,” “gratitude,” “inspiration,” “effectiveness,” “kindness,” “inclusion,” “passion,” “peace,” “justice,” and “equality.” Participants will be assigned a word, and asked to talk about its significance in their own work. We’ll also talk about the words “I rate.” When you put them together, it becomes “irate,” which is what happens to people when they feel as if they don’t count.

For information on Community Works, see

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