Everyday Icons: The Nonprofit Founder

Need an inspired boost from an inspiring mother? Read our interview with Milk and Bookies nonprofit founder Meredith Alexander.

Image Credit: Gretchen Easton Photography

Milk and Bookies is a non-profit organization designed to promote literacy in underserved communities while also providing opportunities for children to participate in meaningful experiences. The organization itself is an inspiration indeed, but what's perhaps most inspiring is the passion behind the founder, Meredith Alexander. We were lucky enough to spend a few minutes learning what makes Meredith tick, how she balances her workload, and why she chose to release a few unrealistic expectations on herself.

Read her wise, inspired interview below!:

We love your impetus for launching Milk + Bookies: "I didn’t want to spend EVERY weekend going to birthday parties and soccer games with my kids. I was hungry for meaningful experiences with my small children, experiences that would reinforce the values that our family feels strongly about (like giving back and reading)." How did your family's life change after the launch of Milk + Bookies? How did you change?

Thanks!! Mostly our family life changed because my attention was suddenly divided. I think we will look back on that as a gift, since I can be quite a "helicopter mom" and having to share my energy between starting/running a company and home gives my kids a bit more breathing room. I also learned how to let go of perfectionism and live with "good enough" from time to time in all aspects of our lives (more on that below).

Since building Milk + Bookies, we've always had reasons to be donating books and spending our family time helping others, so I guess it was a matter of creating what I was looking for - it worked. I no longer had to seek out community service activities since I was so deeply entrenched in that world, it has become second nature for us all, and I love that!

What has been the most difficult aspect of founding a nonprofit?

I think that being a founder of a non-profit is a sticky wicket because you inadvertently end up asking your friends and family for money. All the time. You believe in your cause and you hope that your network does, too. But even if they don't, they will end up receiving newsletters and annual reports with donation envelopes in them. This gets to be quite awkward.

Another challenging aspect of the founding position is something I've heard people call "Founders Fatigue." There is just so much to be done starting up a non-profit (and a for profit, for that matter), you really need to keep up an extremely high level of passion and enthusiasm to maintain your momentum. Burn out comes easily and often.

Oh, we can only imagine! So how have you juggled your two passions: giving time and energy to your own children vs. giving hope and encouragement to many others via Milk + Bookies?

I work at compartmentalizing my day. My children are now in school most of the day which allows me to focus on Milk + Bookies work from 8:30 to 3. Of course I get back on the computer in the afternoons when they are home doing their homework. As everyone knows, work isn't over when you get home - our iPhones are still blowing up with texts and emails. I have to be very firm with myself about windows of time in which I don't check my phone or computer. Listening to a little anecdote about my children's day might only take 4 minutes and I certainly don't want to miss those delicious 240 seconds they want to share with me. I let my sons take the lead on when these moments happen so it's a fluid kind of juggling/gear switching. And then the day concludes with bedtime, which has always been a pretty sacred family time for us.

Like every working mother, I wish I were able to have less responsibility, focus on fewer things and participate more in the classroom activities (be the parent who brings the cupcakes and drives the field trips), but I also love my job and feel as though I not only do it for myself and the children we service, but as modeling for my own children to know that we are all here to make the world better than we found it.

My passion for helping others drives me from a completely uncontrollable place. Meaning, I don't control it, it really fuels me and I just have to keep doing what I can. When I can. Forgive the sappiness, but it's true.

What are a few ways you like to ensure a sweeter everyday for yourself and your family?

Chocolate. I eat dark chocolate all day long - I need the caffeine. ;)  When I pick up the boys from school, I always have a little chocolate treat for them to nibble on the way home. I like to indulge in a bubble bath most evenings, especially in the colder months. We live in a beautiful climate in Southern California with fresh ocean air and beautiful weather. That helps. My husband and I cuddle with our boys every night. (The older son wouldn't want this mentioned.)

What are a few expectations you've had to personally release to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

There is a huge difference in my expectations for myself as a working parent than those I had when I was a stay at home mom. My level of attention has lowered substantially, in my book. Everything from my sons' birthday cakes to winging it on holiday traditions, I have let go of my Martha Stewart details to maintain my sanity. I used to spend months wrapping holiday gifts. Each year they had to have a completely new color scheme with paper and ribbon combinations, all sorts of trinkets tied to the bows and gift tags. Now, plain kraft paper and twine have been the house staple for the last 4 years and they work just fine. Teacher appreciation day used to be spectacular homemade wonders, now, a plant and a thoughtful card are plenty. I used to remember Grandparent's Day. There used to be "the next size up" in my sons closets so that when they outgrew any clothing, the replacements were already there. Every toy bin, kitchen drawer and towel basket used to be cleaned out and organized regularly.

Now it is what it is. And it's fine.

I used to be disappointed in myself about these lower standards and now I feel absolutely fine about it, and most days, I'm proud of how productive I can be.

Favorite children's book?

My favorite from my own childhood remains my favorite today: Pickle Chiffon Pie. Thankfully it was reprinted and rereleased about 8 years ago and I just can't get enough of the gorgeous illustrations and sweet magical story of kindness. I give it to everyone I know.

What are a few everyday products you wouldn't want to live without?

SK II night cream, Justin's peanut butter cups, J.Crew Boyfriend fatigue jackets,Clarins bath gel, Pinterest for me-time inspiration, blue painter's tape (I use it for everything around the house) and hugs from my family!

And although it's not a product, what I can NOT live without are the people in my "everydays." I feel so blessed that there are very strong players on my support team that make life even more rich and gratitude filled.

Obviously, my sons and my husband are my Raison d'être, but there's also the Milk + Bookies Program Manager, Caitlyn, who is my right hand and helps me run the organization everyday. I have an incredible friend, Jaclyn, who helps me eat right and encourages me to take good care of myself and she is always texting me things I should be eating or new exercise classes to keep me recharged and healthy. Our "bro-sitter", Jonathan who helps enrich our family's lives. My dearest girlfriend, Kristin, of 30 years who is an awesome sounding board. Then my parents, step-parents and in-laws also get shout outs - listen, as we know, it takes a village and I sure love the village in which I live!

p.s. Can't get enough of Meredith's positivity and grace? Neither can we! Support Milk and Bookies here, or read more interviews from everyday inspirations here.