Jessica Burleson

  • Name
    Jessica Burleson
  • Title
    Executive Director
  • Organization
    Partners in Parenting
  • Number of Years as Executive Director
    2

What does your organization do?
At Partners in Parenting, we know that the stress of new parenthood can often leave families feeling isolated, confused, and anxious. That’s why our goal is to build a “village” of support for all new parents in Austin. We do this by providing neighborhood and community-based peer groups for parents of newborns and babies up to 10 months old. PIP groups are open to both parents within a family and are led by our trained facilitators, who use a research-based curriculum with a 35-year track record of helping parents feel more confident and empowered in their parenting abilities. But perhaps the best part is that PIP groups also help to foster new friendships among group members, so that participants leave with a network of parents who can continue to support each other throughout their parenting journeys. Connection Matters!

Newborn PIPsqueaks Groups--for families expecting Baby #1. Babies are 2-16 weeks old at the start of the group.

Baby PIPsqueaks Groups--for families whose babies are between 4-10 months old at the start of the group.

Second Time Around Groups--for families expecting their second or third child. Babies are 2-16 weeks old at the start of the group.

Community Based Groups--for any family with babies 0-6 months old. Open to both first-time and "veteran" parents. Some groups are led in Spanish.

How did you become interested in this work?
I am the mother of three children ages five and under. I moved to Austin pregnant with my first child and found the transition to parenthood challenging and extremely isolating. I found my “village” at the birthing center where I sought care and some of the friends I met in those first baby classes are still my closest friends today.

My background is in grant writing. Prior to this role, I was working as a contract grant writer for several small and medium sized nonprofits. I found myself coaching some of the Executive Directors on fundraising and I found the role intriguing. I started keeping my eye open for an opportunity at an organization where I could use the skills I had learned through grant writing and helping to develop programs with a birds eye view of an organization. When I saw the job positing for PIP, it felt like the perfect melding of my passion and professional experience!

What drives your passion?
I believe that connection matters for families in the postpartum period. When I have the opportunity to facilitate a PIP group it grounds me in the work and sparks my motivation. I have witnessed the power of dads sharing their own version of the birth story for the first time, the excitement of new moms who feel confident enough to venture out with their babies in tow for this first time, and the mother who, because of PIP, began speaking to her baby and describing the fruit and flowers when she went to the market. I want every family to know they have the support they need during this unique transition to parenthood.

Did you have a mentor or a role model?
Mentors are critical for this work. I am part of the One Voice Buddy Program and have a seasoned mentor, Ann Jerome from Explore Austin, whom I meet with regularly. I am so grateful for the time she dedicates to coaching me in this role. I also look up to Ronda Rutledge, a former supervisor and amazing ED from Sustainable Food Center who has helped grow that organization tremendously in her tenure. Kim Updegrove is another role model and mentor who has made significant impact in the birth landscape of Austin. As a former Milk Bank donor, I love their mission and how they engage the community.

What's the biggest challenge in your work?
Our pain point is capacity. We are a small but mighty organization and growing quickly. We keep our overhead low by using trained volunteer facilitators to run our program and they do a beautiful job. We boast an 87% net promoter score (how likely clients are to recommend the program). We have doubled the number of clients served annually and continue to expand our reach. Yet, we are only 3 part-time staff (1.65 FTE) so our bandwidth is quite limited. We know we could reach even more families if we were able to increase our staffing!

What's the best advice that you have ever received?
Value collaboration over competition. The nonprofit space in Austin is crowded and there are times when we must compete for funding but where possible, look for collaboration. We are a stronger, kinder, healthier community when we share resources and look for ways to partner. This advice has guided my work with Partners in Parenting, and I believe it has led to better services for the families we serve and has helped us grow our organization.

What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
Find ways to stay connected to the work. Take a call in the crisis center, collect donations, lead a group. It is important to stay connected to the mission through these experiences and it provides real-life stories to share when talking about your organization.

It is okay to let some fires burn. I learned this from the podcast Masters of Scale and especially for smaller organizations, this is a necessity. You can always circle back and fix those fires at a later date.

Find your rallying cry. For my first year at PIP, my rallying cry was “talk to everyone.” We needed to get the word out that we exist. I was that person who went up to the woman with an infant at Juiceland and handed her a PIP card. (She joined!) My next effort was to speak to anyone who might be interested in becoming a volunteer facilitator for PIP since we needed to recruit leaders for 40 groups last year and 70 this year. Now I’m working on finding speaking engagements where I can share information about the Power of Peer Support to larger audiences. What is your rallying cry?