Casey Wright ’16, of Birmingham, switched majors to a degree in interdisciplinary studies after she realized her true passions following a tragedy while at Auburn. She is now the development coordinator at the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, working to end the violent cycle of poverty in the state.
Auburn Magazine: What was your pre-Auburn life like, and why did you pick Auburn?
Casey Wright: My mom is an Alabama alumna, and my dad’s entire family are big Auburn fans. My grandfather, my dad and my aunt all went to Auburn. But I think if you ask anyone either Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Auburn, Alabama, there’s really no comparison. My younger sisters are twins, and they’ll be in the class of 2020 at Auburn, too.
Ultimately, when I got to school, what I wanted to do with my major was just help people. I started out in education and tried to figure out what I wanted to do; eventually it led to the nonprofit sector, working with and helping people that way.
AM: You were able to find your passion in nonprofit work during your time at Auburn?
CW: It’s funny. I started in education and thought I wanted to work with kids and help people that way. Late in my sophomore year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Life as I knew it kind of fell off, so I moved home and took a little time off. She passed away in 2015; when something like that happens, you realize your priorities. I stepped back from the picture, and while it wasn’t the best circumstances, it did give me time off of school to really evaluate what my priorities were and how I could make that a career.
I had some great advisors and professors who helped me identify different minors and turn that into a major through an interdisciplinary studies degree, which is ultimately what I graduated in. I think it’s one of Auburn’s hidden gems. I was able to get three different minors in three different colleges. I feel like it’s a very diverse major that I made into my own.
AM: What was the transition like when you switched majors?
CW: Birmingham is a very benevolent city, so I was able to get in touch with a few people here, for my capstone project and that turned into an internship with Woodlawn Foundation.
Woodlawn Foundation’s mission is to revitalize a very low-income community in Birmingham through housing, education and healthcare, which are three areas of life that vulnerable populations have virtually no access to. Working with Woodlawn Foundation opened my eyes to all the different challenges low-income populations face. I went home everyday and felt like I was making a difference.
After I graduated, I went to work for the Floyd Healthcare Foundation in Rome, Georgia. part of a nonprofit hospital. We were working on how low-income populations could break the cycle of diabetes, or working with people on Medicare and Medicaid and getting them durable medical equipment, like walkers or wheelchairs.
After that, I moved on to Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), which I’ve been at for a little over a month. PARCA is the only free-standing public research institutions in the state of Alabama and they’ve been around for over 30 years.
We measure quality of life, education and work-force development, as well as state and local government initiatives. Public education is not great here in the state. You also have prison systems, which could also stand to improve. It’s interesting learning about where Alabama can improve and how those improvements will affect not just low-income small communities, but the state as a whole.
The cycle of poverty is very cruel. It takes a village to get people out of that and show them the potential for what’s there. I’m very grateful that I’ve been led to this area and the path that’s gotten me here. If you look at it in the past 10 years, nonprofits have had a boom.
AM: What does your normal day look like as development coordinator?
CW: Ultimately, development coordinator is a fancy word for fundraising, but here at PARCA, that looks a little different. Part of what I’m doing is working with our researcher and project management, because my goal is to raise money through grants or fundraisers or individual donations. We want to raise more money, so we can conduct research for organization or cities around the state who don’t have the funding or the resources to do figure out how to solve problems. Traditionally, that’s the Black Belt area.
I was familiar with some communities in Alabama, but there have been other areas of the state that I’ve been just blown away with how good they are, and how much they have to offer, and how others around the state could benefit from partnering with them or looking at how they do things.
A few months ago, I was unaware of this organization and all the work they are doing. Now that I’m a part of it, I just want to share it with people, because I think if people aren’t aware that our public schools are failing, they’re not going to improve because no one wants to take action.
AM: What’s been the most rewarding part of the jobs you’ve had?
CW: Connecting people who never knew we had 164 units of affordable housing for homeless women and children right here in Birmingham. It’s been very rewarding to connect to those resources they need to get their lives back on track for themselves, for their children, for their children’s children.
AM: Was there a specific moment in your time since college that you realized you chose the right path?
CW: After my first few weeks with Woodlawn Foundation I was happy, and I was doing what I wanted to do. I felt like I could never get worn out or tired of this.