A Good Pour: Erin Birch

How I Know Erin

Funny story – I first met Erin Birch back in 2001 or so when she was Erin McKittrick. She and her then-fiance, Travis, knocked on my apartment door after Seth  and I had visited Hendersonville First United Methodist Church one Sunday morning. They brought us some kind of baked good as a thank you for attending church, and we exchanged brief introductions. The funny part of this story is that it would take us until 2007 to return to HFUMC. So instead, Seth and I traveled down 65 to attend church at Brentwood United Methodist Church. No offense, Erin. 

 

Erin and I began to get to know each other well in 2008. We’ve seen each other through difficult times like job loss and child illness, and we’ve had the joy of starting new ministries together and attending our children’s baptisms and confirmations. She has been such a prayer partner, dream listener, and cheerleader as I’ve walked through starting my own business. And this year, I’ve gotten to pray for and watch her assume the role of CEO of United Way of Sumner County. Our friendship has a history with peaks and valleys, but we both feel grateful for the journey and know that God has been at work through it all. 

 

Erin is a rock in her family, friend groups, church, and our larger community. It has been a joy to watch her nonprofit career go from special events to chief executive officer (read more on that below). She expects fairness and demands that we improve in how we care for those around us. She is a bold force and a caring friend, and I have no doubt we are getting ready to help her do big things in this community.  

 

Erin’s Sumner Story

Erin followed a boy to Tennessee from southern Illinois in 2000. She had just graduated college and had dated her high school sweetheart, Travis, for five years. Despite having several job opportunities across the country, Erin came to Tennessee to be with Travis, who had come here to be in the music industry. (Side note: Travis sang on Monday nights at The Stage on Broadway for years. Yes, Erin was the tip girl, and yes, it was fun to watch.) When she first came to Tennessee, Erin sought work in public relations or broadcasting, but nothing seemed right. She then called an old mentor who had given Erin her first experience in service work several years earlier. You see, during Erin’s college years, Erin’s mom passed away after a hard battle with cancer, and this extraordinary professor allowed Erin to work in disability support in the on-campus services. This opportunity came at the perfect time because as she was grieving her mom, she understood the joy and felt the healing that comes from helping others; plus, Erin loved the work. 

 

So when Erin called this same professor to say that she was struggling with her career opportunities, the professor told her that she was chasing the wrong dream. Instead, she told Erin that she was born to serve others and should go into nonprofit. Smart mentor. From there, she followed some guidance to stop by the local MS office where Erin was offered a job on the spot. (Isn’t it awesome to look back on small moments that make up God’s larger story for someone? Do you see the God moments in the little bit of Erin’s history so far??) So let me sum up Erin’s successful nonprofit career:

 

  • National MS Society 2000-2005: Special events and development; this opportunity gave her the knowledge of the mechanics of nonprofits.
  • Special Olympics Tennessee 2005-2012: Events and fundraising; this job taught her the importance of building relationships.
  • Nurses for Newborn 2012-2017: Grant writer; this job was an opportunity for her to go part-time to be the mom of twins, including one child experiencing undiagnosed health issues. This job also introduced her to the United Way model because she worked with five different United Ways.
  • United Way of Sumner County 2017-Current: Erin finally came home to Sumner County when she started as the United Way part-time campaign manager. So yes, that means she has gone from part-time manager to full-time CEO in just four years. But, of course, this is no surprise if you know her! 

 

I asked her what being a part of our United Way has taught her about Sumner County. She answered that the number of people who desire to be involved is impressive, saying, “There is a concentrated and conscious effort across the board from schools to businesses to churches to individuals to be involved in this community and love their neighbors.” 

 

Here’s what she wants you to know about United Way:

 

  • When you give to United Way of Sumner County, you give to a collective impact of caring, local agencies. No community need is isolated; no one nonprofit can help everything. Our community relies on collaboration, and United Way of Sumner County has the systems and processes to provide that collaboration. 
  • Your gift is 100% local. If you give to United Way through a business not located in Sumner County, make sure your designation goes to your home address so you can give where you live. 
  • Information about all their fantastic partner agencies is available on their website
  • There is so much more that we can do because United Way serves as the hub of community needs. Local government, small businesses, larger corporations, churches, school system – they all look to United Way to know how to help. 
  • 211 is the local assistance number and is a way everyone can help. If you find yourself with someone that needs shelter, food, or other basic needs, ask them if they have called 211.

What is helping her right now?

Her inner circle. The people around her all have different strengths and want to use their gifts to plug into the community. 

 

What is an organization near and dear to her heart?

  1. United Way of Sumner County (of course) 
  2. Local School System; one of her daughters has dyslexia. She says they wouldn’t be where they are now without the teachers, administrations, and intervention specialists who help her daughter gain confidence and walk alongside them.  

What is a movie, television show, podcast, writer, song, etc., to add The Good List?

  1. Podcast: Nonprofits are Messy with Joan Garry
  2. Book: Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge by various authors

 

In honor of Thanksgiving month, I’m asking two different questions this month: 

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?

The stuffing that her family makes together and root veggies (boiled and mashed veggies like turnips, carrots) from her Irish background 

What’s something on your gratitude list this year that wasn’t on it last year?

Freedom to vision and dream; the end of 2020 felt scary and unknown. Erin says it is invigorating to be able to plan and actually believe it can happen 

Erin – So incredibly proud of you and honored to watch and pray for your journey. Thankful for our friendship – past, present, and future. 

 – KG

For fun, here's a throwback to about 10 years ago when Erin and I did a Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.

A Good Pour is a series of good conversations with good people. It is inspired by the 100 Cups Academy with the awesome Jason Elkins through the very helpful TN Small Business Development Center at Vol State. Learn more at https://100cups.coffee/.