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It Starts at Home

Kian Schuemann, Finance Assistant & Office Administrator, REI HQ

REI is best known for its international work of building people to build nations. But what does it look like to build people to build nations from an office in Colorado Springs? Admittedly, it looks a bit different from the photos captured by staff in places like Djibouti or Mongolia; however, speaking as a veteran homeschool mom, I’d argue that building people to build nations starts at home. In REI’s case, home, or headquarters, is an office in Colorado Springs.

This month, I celebrate my one-year anniversary with REI. I spent much of that first week learning about REI’s holistic approach to building people to build nations: providing solutions to real problems people face and, in the process, building leaders in communities around the world.

To welcome me to REI, Doug and Joyce took me to lunch. We shared details about our histories and families, and, among other details, they learned that I live in a log cabin that is heated exclusively by a wood-burning stove. I shared that I’d taken a week after leaving my previous job and before starting with REI to get ready for winter. Since my husband’s death, I’ve had to learn many things, not the least of which is learning how to wield a chainsaw. I’d accomplished much during the week, but I confessed I still had a great deal more wood to move. That next weekend, several of the headquarters’ staff showed up at my home to help me move the wood. I realized that building people is not something REI simply puts on its brochures, it’s who REI is—starting right at home.

The REI crew and my grands Winston, Ella, and June after moving the large pile of wood in the photo

Here at headquarters, I am privileged to work with the finance team headed by Jay Smidt, the Vice President of Administration. Jay exemplifies so much of what makes REI a successful organization. He cares deeply about small details, from accounting for each dollar that REI receives and spends to the big picture of supporting and empowering people. Something he is often heard saying has guided my personal perspective in my role here at REI: “Serving and supporting others is what puts wind in my sails.” As his assistant, I attest to the fact that he receives much joy from and is deeply invested in the success of each staff member on the field and at home.

The Finance Team - Kian (Finance Assistant & Office Administrator), Janet Smidt (Donor Relations Coordinator), and Jay Smidt (VP for Administration & CFO)

This has been an exciting and eventful year for the finance team. Over the past year, we have implemented some important changes in our inner workings: we have a new donor system, a new expense reporting system, and a new payroll system. We are taking advantage of the tools at our disposal, such as our smartphones, to streamline our systems and better serve our staff and supporters.

In addition to working closely with the finance team, one of the more rewarding aspects of my position is the connection that I make with members of the community who support the projects REI is involved with around the globe. In a time when the daily news is grim and division is so prevalent, it’s both humbling and encouraging to see so many people investing to support communities worldwide. Every day, I interact with people who sacrifice resources and time because they see the value in building people and leaders in developing countries, and I’m grateful for that fosters this kind of holistic perspective to global relationships.

REI HQ team from Staff Retreat hike

In the last couple years along with learning how to use a chainsaw, I’ve learned how to use QuickBooks, process payroll, manage an expense platform, and earn excellent marks on a corporate audit. These are exciting times at REI headquarters, and I’m thankful to have an opportunity to work hard at work worth doing alongside the home team.

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