Wendy Sims-Moten has served as Executive Director of First 5 Santa Barbara County for the past two years. However, she was passed up for the position when she first applied five years ago.
At that time, Wendy had been with First 5 for 13 years, working her way up from departmental assistant to business manager. She was being primed for another promotion. “I was told that I was not fully qualified,” she said.
But that temporary setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“That experience forced me to take a look at who I was and how I was perceived. It made me think about what I wanted and how I needed to get there,” she recalled. A natural leader, Wendy knew she wanted more professionally, whether it was at First 5 or elsewhere. Fueled by that delay, she completed her undergraduate degree, often doing coursework at 2 am, as she juggled her job and family.
“It was a transformative experience and I learned that difficult conversations and disappointments can be preparation for something greater on the other side,” she said. “Not everything that is hurtful or challenging is bad. Sometimes the storm is clearing a path for something greater.”
When the executive director position opened up again five years after the initial “not yet.” Wendy was better prepared and poised to accept the responsibility.
In the interim years she learned a great deal about herself, gaining experience through service with other organizations. Wendy saw a great deal of inequity and strives to impact change. That is one of the reasons she ran for the Santa Barbara Unified School Board, where she now serves as President. She explained the other reason was to give voice to a population that was not at the table.
“I felt that my voice wasn’t being represented and as an African American woman, I knew it was important to convey that perspective,” she said. She hopes to inspire others who may see themselves in her story.
“I appreciated that ELP didn’t tell you what you have to do, but reinforced the importance of listening to your own voice.”
“Voice is a powerful connector,” she said. “You must listen to your own voice to be confident.” It is a lesson she learned from the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). “I appreciated that ELP didn’t tell you what you have to do, but reinforced the importance of listening to your own voice,” she said. Another important lesson: “You can lead from wherever you are. Titles do not define who you are – you define who you are.”
“When I think about the power of one’s voice to influence and inspire, one of my favorite quotes by Howard Thurman comes to mind,” she said, quoting: ‘There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.’ Trusting her inner voice is what guided Wendy to pursue one of her passions – advocating for education in the first five years of life and supporting Santa Barbara’s students to be prepared for a world that has yet to be created. She hopes that young people will learn from their setbacks – and persevere.
Wendy said the ELP expanded her leadership skills in addition to giving her time to reflect. She credits her mother, a nurse, for demonstrating leadership and listening with graciousness and understanding. These influences inspired Wendy’s own leadership formula: “F3SOHR2,” representing faith, family, friends, a sense of humor, and Ron and RJ, her husband and son.