Project: National Urban Indian Family Coalition
Challenge: To increase support and funding for her advocacy group
Breakthrough: Organizing her busy life will help her devote energy to this project
Takeaway: Time-management skills
A member of the Quinault and three other Indian nations, Janeen Comenote was born in Seattle and spent her first few years in and out of foster care. At age 5, she was taken in by her grandmother, who as a young girl had been forcibly removed from her own family and placed in boarding school, where any child caught speaking a Native language had her mouth washed out with soap. "My grandmother hated the American government—she'd send me out to the mailbox for our welfare checks saying, 'Go get the Eagle s***,'" recalls Comenote, 39, a development officer for the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation in Seattle. "So much of our culture has been co-opted. Probably no one who drives a Jeep Cherokee could tell you where the Cherokee tribe is from."
And many Americans may not know that about 65 percent of our country's Native people actually live off reservations, often facing the same, if not worse, socioeconomic hardship as those who live on them. To give what she calls "the silent population" of Native Americans who reside in cities a voice, Comenote created the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, which represents 24 organizations in 19 cities and has already hosted national summits. Her dream is to raise awareness among policymakers and convince Congress to dedicate funding for much-needed services. "Part of my motivation is wanting to help my own family," she says. "My sisters ran away when they were 11 and 12 and started having kids soon after. My sisters are in prison, so I have all these nieces and nephews in foster care that I've never met."
At Women Rule! Comenote can't believe it when she learns that the facilitator of her breakout group, Elisabeth Garrett, is also Native American. Another high point of the session for Comenote is sharing what she's learned about designing her website (using an experienced tech consultant) with fellow winner Roslind Blasingame-Buford, who has started a college prep program for at-risk inner-city kids.
In a workshop about public speaking with Ora Shtull, president of MAXIMA Coaching, Comenote learns that body language, delivery, and wardrobe choices have more impact than the actual words. "In fact, when you communicate, you transmit as much as 93 percent of your information nonverbally—gestures, tone of voice, volume—and as little as 7 percent verbally," Shtull says, "and you have seconds to establish credibility." When addressing a group, she coaches: Keep your feet in line with your shoulders and hands above your waist, make eye contact with multiple members of the audience, and occasionally connect to the back of the room. Shtull strongly advises every woman to have an "elevator pitch" handy for meeting a potential donor or anyone who might support her cause. "Summarize your venture, mention one or two accomplishments, and tell me why I should care," Shtull says. "Too often people stop at features and don't move on to benefits."
In a lecture about time management, Comenote has a moment of clarity about her compulsive e-mail checking. "It puts you in a reactive mode rather than addressing your own agenda," says presenter Julie Morgenstern, author of When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life. "Wait an hour in the morning before opening your in-box." But Comenote realizes her problem is larger than e-mail: With a full-time job, hectic travel schedule, and an inability to say no when others ask for her time, she's allowing an overstuffed life to keep her from focusing on her project.
Morgenstern offers a number of concrete strategies: "Every time you feel out of control, fill in the blanks: I spend way too much time on _____. I procrastinate whenever I have to _____. If there were a 25th hour in the day, I'd use it for _____." Energized, Comenote starts practicing: "No. I'd love to do it, but I'm simply too busy at this time"—words that are "a huge evolution" for her. "And I know I've got to learn the fine art of delegation—the idea that yes, someone else really might be able to do this as well, if not better," she says. Vowing never to get a BlackBerry—"it would be fatal"—she declares herself ready to "do nothing less than change the face of Indian country."
Try it! Julie Morgenstern's smartest time management lessons are in your set of worksheets.
Additional reporting by Polly Brewster, Kristy Davis, Lauren Dzubow, Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg, Dorothea Hunter, Kate Sandoval, Blythe Simmons, Sara Sugarman, and Carolyn Wilsey.
Support for rooms and meals was provided by Affinia Manhattan Hotels, Philanthropiece, and the Sunshine Fund.