Young Professional 2021: Elizabeth Barnes

Elizabeth Barnes

Elizabeth Barnes

Executive Director
The Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia

Favorite sports team?
U.S. Olympic
women’s gymnastics team

Favorite Tri-City restaurant?

Favorite music?
Pure pop

What’s your dream vacation?
Warm sandy beaches

Age: 38

Current city of residence: Richland

How long have you worked for The Children’s Reading Foundation?
2 years

Briefly describe your organization.
The Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia (CRFMC) serves all children and families located in Benton and Franklin counties.

Our mission is to encourage and educate families about their important role in raising a reader, support schools in assuring that students read at grade level by the end of third grade and facilitate community involvement that ensures young readers can be successful.

Founded in Kennewick in 1996, five citizen founders and eight Washington school districts came together to start the foundation with the belief that the entire community is responsible and part of the solution to reading proficiency.

CRFMC provides READY! for Kindergarten, Team Read Tutoring, First Teacher Libraries, Books for Babies, Resolution Read and READ UP Summer Reading program to families.

CRFMC targets parents and children aged birth to 8, serving over 40,000 families each year with educational programming, resources, tools, books and information about the importance of reading 20 minutes every day with a child.

Education and certifications:
Concordia University Portland: Master of Education, educational leadership and administration.

American College of Education: Master of Business Administration.

Washington State University: Bachelor’s of elementary education and teaching.

Briefly describe your job and how you got into it: Being an executive director of a nonprofit requires the wearing of many hats.

I lead an incredible team in providing educational resources, tools, programming and books to our community.

I raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding through grant writing, fundraisers and community partnerships with local school districts that are spent on providing the educational resources to the community. I am the face of our organization to the community.

I work with local business leaders, community partners, schools, community members and others to share the importance of reading 20 minutes each day makes on a child’s life and the huge impact this makes on our community on the generations.

I got into leadership when I was teaching kindergarten in Egypt in 2011.

The Arab Spring happened, the country broke into revolution and half the staff of the school I was teaching at left the country.

My husband and I decided to stay and work as long as the school stayed open to provide a safe haven for children and a refuge for the parents. At that time the early childhood principal left and I was promoted.

I was thrust into a position that I never thought I would want and loved it. Since then I received my master’s degree in educational leadership and have held two different principal positions at international nonprofit schools where I provided education to families and children in need.

When I moved back to the Tri-Cities two years ago, I was looking for a nonprofit education-related job and found the position of executive director at The Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia.

I interviewed for the position before even arriving in the country and accepted the job a few days upon arriving. I have loved how quickly this position allowed me to get to know this community. After being gone for 16 years, it has been wonderful to dive right in and rediscover the place I now call home.

How long have you lived in the Tri-Cities?
8 years in total with a gap in the middle.

How did you earn your first dollar?
When I was 6 years old my sister and I started a cookie-making and selling business.

She and I would make the cookies together, me using a picture recipe card my mom made for me, and then I would go door to door around the neighborhood selling our homemade chocolate chip cookies. We sold two for a quarter.

I used my hard-earned cash on candy from Circle K. We did this for the next six years until I was old enough to babysit and bring in the big bucks.

Did the pandemic affect your daily work life? If so, how?
The pandemic greatly affected my work life.

My normal day before the shutdown consisted of me dropping off my son at before-school care, running to the office, then to a luncheon, back to the office for an afternoon meeting, out to a restaurant for a fundraising meeting, stop at the YMCA to pick up my son and then finally home.

After the shutdown, our office was closed so I worked from my bedroom office, the couch or the backyard for a year.

My son was home so I was also homeschooling and being the primary care giver to my aging parents. It was quite challenging.

What was your dream job as a child?
When I was a child I met some missionary children who were visiting from Senegal.

They told me about their school and the teachers they had who were from the U.S. or the U.K. and I thought, “Now that’s the job for me.”

I loved playing teacher and I always wanted to explore the world. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be a missionary but I could be the teacher of missionary kids so that became my dream job for a long time.

Tell us about your community involvement/community service.
I joined the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and became an ambassador for the chamber, which has been mostly on pause for the past year. I joined the local Young Professionals Kiwanis group just two months before the world shut down.

Through the YP Kiwanis group, I helped fund raise for school supplies for a local school.

I am a member of the local Society for Human Resource Management chapter, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Early Learning Alliance.

I am a fosterer for Little Lives Small Animal Rescue.

I am currently fostering a rabbit that was abandoned in Columbia Park a month after Easter.

Since the world shut down, I have spent much of my community involvement focused on ensuring the community is getting books through community organizations that are providing basic needs like food and shelter.

I am looking forward to being able to get out and support the community in other ways at opportunities present themselves.

How do you achieve work-life balance?
Prior to the pandemic, I worked very hard at only working in the office. I kept work at work and home at home with little cross over, and this was how I kept my balance. This past year having a true work-life balance has been really difficult.

Working from home for the past year has created this strange limbo where I was always kind of working and at the same time always kind of being a parent, wife, daughter, sibling and friend.

This created a lot of stress and anxiety so I finally created my own office hours where I work specific hours from my home office and then spend time with family in the afternoon and another set office hours time in the late afternoon.

This allows me to reduce my anxiety, meet my deadlines and still meet my family obligations while working from home. It has taken me a while to figure out what works for me.

Do you have family? Pets?
I have been married to my husband Gordon for 13 years. He and I met and fell in love in Cairo, Egypt.

We had a whirlwind romance and traveled the world for the next 11 years. We have a son named George who is finishing first grade. He was born in Thailand and raised in Cambodia and Guatemala before we moved to the Tri-Cities.

I am the middle of five children. My parents and youngest brother live in Kennewick and my other siblings live in California, Virginia and Idaho. We currently have one rabbit named Ryker that we are fostering but no other pets at this time.

What brought you to the Tri-Cities?
Did you grow up here?
I moved here with my family when I was 13 and left for college after doing two years of Columbia Basin College.

I whipped the dust off my shoes as I left as I was sure I would not be coming back to live in this town.

I spent the next decade traveling and working but when my father’s cancer returned my mother asked if we could move back to help support her in taking care of him. We moved back in summer 2019 and lived with my parents for the first year and a half. We just purchased our first home in Richland in April.