February 23, 2018

Jen Muzia (MPA ’04)

Executive Director, Ballard Food Bank

Jen Muzia spent many successful years working in high tech, but after 9/11 she reconsidered her career path.

“I wanted to do more,” she recalled. “I thought, I should do more.”

Jen did more than think about a change, though; she resigned her marketing position and applied to the Evans School.

“I wanted to pay my dues, not skip any steps,” she said. “I really wanted to learn about nonprofit management.”

She did so by focusing on program development, budgeting, and grant-writing courses during her time at the Evans School. After graduating with her MPA, Jen joined the Girl Scouts of Western Washington as a development associate. She later progressed to Chief Strategy Officer.   

“Our big task was figuring out an answer to the questions, ‘How do we resonate with the girls of today? How do we recruit volunteers?’” she recounted. “What I learned from our many attempts was this lesson: Be willing to take risks.”

In an attempt to determine what the girls who participated needed, Jen and her team convened a State of the Girl Summit, bringing together stakeholders such as business people, elected officials, and policy experts. The group realized they needed more information and conducted a research study aimed at informing what type of support all girls need to be successful. Only then did Jen realize she had reached a point in her career where the next step was running an organization. She had volunteered at the U-District Food Bank on the recommendation of a fellow Evans School student, and learned about food security (and its flip side, food insecurity). That knowledge led her to the Ballard Food Bank, where she serves as the executive director.

“It’s a well-run operation that uses a unique ‘grocery-store’ model,” Jen explained. “But we wanted to grow, to become a hub of resources for the community.”

Doing so required strategic planning, involving the numerous stakeholders (think clients, places of worship, housing groups), that took three to four months. The process began in 2015 and is only the start of a three-year plan for the food bank. However, changes have already been implemented, including ways to strengthen clients’ access to nutritious foods and to community resources and partners. The food bank also partners with WorkSource for employment assistance; Veterans Affairs for the many homeless and hungry military vets; and WithinReach, a nonprofit that provides access to food- and health-assistance programs.

Juggling the numerous agencies, regulations, and overlapping nonprofits takes skill. Fortunately, Jen’s time at the Evans School prepared her well.

“I see an MPA degree as a tool that provides the foundational skills to operate in the world of social capital,” Jen concluded. “We’re in the business of running public services.”