Smarties, meet Tricia Sistrunk, a mom on a global empathy mission! I met Tricia through The Lunch Project, immediately relating to her vision, while being drawn to her down-to-earth intellect and humbleness. Tricia sees life through an authentic lens and Smarties, I know that’s how you will see her too! This is a good one!
Smarty Mom: Tricia Sistrunk
Name: Tricia Sistrunk
Married to: George
Mom of: Garrett, Luke, Eliza
Alma Mater: Ohio State University and Wake Forest School of Law
Profession: Executive Director for The Lunch Project
Years in Charlotte: 20
Originally from: Ohio
Motherhood and life often take moms on career journeys. Where did you career originally begin?
I started my law career as an Assistant District Attorney. It was the job that I was most afraid of, but one that taught my naive, young self so much about human nature and the value of thinking through things from different perspectives. I also learned to think quickly on my feet. It was probably the most stressful job I have ever had but, in hindsight the perfect place to begin my career.
Did you always know that you would become a lawyer?
Not at all. I was a business major in college and thought I would start my own business one day. No one in my family was a lawyer, so I really had no idea what it meant to be a lawyer. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year of college that I thought about going to graduate school and I began researching law schools. I still didn’t really know anything about the day to day job of being a lawyer, but I liked the idea of being an advocate for people who needed help.
What did you learn from practicing law?
Law school and the practice of law certainly hones your analytical skills and requires you to analyze issues from every angle. As I mentioned before, the DA’s office taught me so much about human nature and enabled me to be a more critical thinker. After the DA’s office, I went back to the business world and worked as Corporate Counsel for a mid-size local company. The learning curve was steep! Jumping from a litigation practice to a corporate practice taught me that I have the capacity to learn new things in a short amount of time and that you shouldn’t let your fear of failure get in the way of trying new things.
Do you believe your vocation chooses you?
That’s tough to answer. In hindsight, I know that becoming a lawyer was absolutely the right path for me, despite the fact that I no longer practice. I am able to do my current job because of my experiences as a lawyer. But, I certainly had many days where I questioned my career path.
How did you decide to leave law and what do you miss the most about it?
I had a baby! I had every intention of going back, but at some point during my maternity leave, the reality of going back to work hit me and I decided to pause my career and stay home for a while. I don’t miss it! I appreciate all that I learned from practicing, but I have enjoyed having the flexibility to volunteer for a variety of organizations over the years.
How did law school link you to the organization that you now are a part of?
I went to law school with Rebecca Wofford, the founder of The Lunch Project. Our first borns were three weeks apart and they have been buddies ever since. In 2011, after Rebecca returned from her first trip to Africa, we were at the park with our kids and she was telling me all about her experience. I could see that something transformative had happened in her life. The following summer, I went to Tanzania with her and I was hooked. Rebecca asked me to be on The Lunch Project Board and I have been part of TLP ever since.
Tell us about The Lunch Project!
The heart of The Lunch Project’s mission is to transform communities. And, we are doing just that through our Tanzanian Lunch Program and our Global Empathy Education Program here in Charlotte. The school children we serve in Tanzania are getting lunch, a key ingredient to getting an education, which will be transformative for their community. In Charlotte, we are teaching kids empathy by using our Lunch Program as a model. We have hit an empathy nerve with kids in Charlotte through our Empathy Education Program and local kids are learning to see the world through another child’s eyes and they are feeling empowered to help another human on the other side of the globe.
Charlotte is so fortunate to have an empathy education program. Why is empathy important?
I think to understand why teaching empathy is important, we have to first think about the environment in which our children are being raised today. The headlines are filled with stories of how polarized and divisive we have become. We are seemingly losing the ability to see the world or even a single issue through another person’s eyes. You combine this polarization with the human disconnection that technology can create and it’s not surprising that research shows that we are experiencing an empathy gap or a general decline in our kids’ capacity to care. Teaching empathy to our kids is essential and a great way to combat the animosity and anger that has become part of our daily life.
How can moms, dads, and families get involved with The Lunch Project?
Anyone can get involved. It’s as simple as putting a bowl out on the table and collecting change for The Lunch Project. The cost to serve lunch to the kids in Tanzania is considerably less than what it costs to buy lunch in the school cafeteria. Kids get that and they feel empowered knowing that they can provide a hot meal to their peers on the other side of the globe by saving change each day or by having a lemonade stand, or a bake sale, or a basketball tournament, or whatever creative fundraising idea they can come up with. We would love to tell more kids about our lunch program and about their peers in Tanzania. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about bringing The Lunch Project’s Empathy Education Program to your child’s school.
What are the kids in Tanzania like?
The population at the schools served by The Lunch Project is predominately from the Maasai tribe. They have so little — no running water, no electricity, no stuff! Yet, they are so happy and curious and eager to learn.
Any upcoming trips to Africa?
A little birdie told me that you enjoy writing?
Writing is my creative outlet. Those days when I doubted my career path, I was dreaming I had gotten my MFA instead and was a best selling author.
I’m currently reading and fascinated with “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. But, some of my favorites include Maya Angelou’s, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “Runaway,” a collection of short stories by Alice Munro.
My favorite thing to do is run/walk (more walking than running these days) with my headphones on listening to music and brainstorming ideas or working through problems.
Favorite indulgent service?
Mobile Car Detail for my mini-van.