Saturday, December 20, 2014

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work

Happy Holidays! It’s hard to believe this is the 11th edition of my annual holiday letter. I hope this one finds you and your loved ones happy, healthy and at peace.

I spent almost all of 2014 in Washington, DC. (Alert: Wanderlust warning is high.) You know, when I moved to Rwanda for a year in 2013 I was ready for culture shock, and there certainly was a lot to learn, but the real culture shock has been coming home and living in DC. It is pretty amazing what we all take for granted every day and I have a lot less patience than I did before for people complaining that their latte order is not quite right or their steak is closer to medium than medium-rare. Deal, people!

I spent the the first four months of 2014 looking for a job and really did not enjoy that, which I’ve documented here with a few tips and suggestions (mainly to avoid the process at all costs if you can help it).
Chilling in my backyard in DC in February
That search ended with my accepting a position at GlobalGiving! GlobalGiving is the first and largest global crowdfunding community for nonprofits and I’m excited to bring my years of working on the internet to the nonprofit field. Working at a nonprofit is very different than I ever could have imagined and feels in some ways like an even bigger culture shock than working at a youth village in Rwanda. What I love most about my job is that my efforts go towards supporting amazing community based organizations around the world like APOPO’s Hero Rats finding landmines and diagnosing TB in Tanzania, XS Project working to improve the lives of the trashpicker community in Jakarta, or the Warrior Canine Connection training adorable puppies to be service dogs for our veterans in need. (I can’t fail to mention my favorite ever project, a certain youth village in Rwanda.) These organizations are doing important work, and if I help them at all, everything I do is worth it.

Not a sponsored endorsement (I promise!) but if you are still thinking about annual giving, please check out our site. With more than 3000 individual projects fundraising, you are bound to find one that aligns with your interests and is doing amazing work. (Added bonus about my job: I get to bike to work most days, which I really enjoy and my route takes me past the Supreme Court, the Capitol and the White House.)

I’m so excited to share the biggest development of the year: last year’s holiday letter had a bit of  a cliffhanger. I told you about our how I was supporting some students from the school where I had worked in their search for university scholarships and our efforts studying for the TOEFL and ‘application boot camp’. In early 2014, while I was looking for a job I was also still editing essays and checking with universities to see if required documents had been received. I am so thrilled to tell you that for four of those students that effort has really paid off! This spring we learned that these students were awarded full MasterCard Scholarships: Innocent to McGill, Libia to UBC in Vancouver and Immaculee & Jeannine to Arizona State University. (Three more students from that same class have received scholarships this November though their efforts at Bridge2Rwanda. Congrats to Claude, Peace Grace and Pacifique!) In November, I went to ASU to check on Immaculee & Jeaninne and they are really adapting well and enjoying school.

Me at ASU visiting Immaculee & Jeaninne
Oh and I had a relatively minor toe surgery in February which had me off ultimate and running for about 6 months which, if you talked to me at all this year, you know I more than made up for by whining and whining and whining about it. It is all fine now and I’m back to running but mostly retired from disc. I did play Sectionals and Regionals this year with a wonderful bunch of ladies from Philly, Breakfast Club, and we won (the party).

Epic Halloween with Sussman. I'm mummified on the right.
In March, I saw my nieces Kate and Lindy both dance at the Rainbow Dance Company annual modern dance concert in Raleigh, NC. They are both doing well in life and in school. Kate has her driver’s license now, so stay off the roads if you are in the Raleigh area.
Lindy and Kate, aren't they cute?
I did make a few quick trips to NYC throughout the year for job interviews, to volunteer at the annual Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Gala Fundraiser and most recently to represent GlobalGiving and attend a panel at the UN on the psycho-social response to the Ebola epidemic. I really need to get up there more often.

Innocent and me at the ASYV Gala in NYC in May
In November, I spent #ThanksGambling14 with my extended family in Louisville, KY. In what has evolved into something of a tradition, my aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins all bundle up and head out to Churchill Downs and watch the races on Thanksgiving day. It was wonderful to see everyone. For Christmas, as usual, I’ll be in Raleigh to see my Mom, Sister, Brother-in-law and Kate & Lindy.

Looking forward to 2015, I’m planning to make some more college visits and hopefully get back to traveling internationally again. Please let me know if you pass through DC. (I’ve got a partial season ticket plan for the Wizards and I’m pretty excited about watching John Wall ball in the East this season.)

As always, I hope you enjoy my holiday letter and don't find it too obnoxious.  You can 'opt out' by sending an email asking to be removed from this distribution list. For those of you looking for more frequent updates, you can find me online at and @CourtneyMFK on Twitter.

Happy New Year!  May your 2015 be joyous and peaceful.

Arizona in November

So, this is overdue, but as you've noticed I haven't been blogging much this year.

In November, I went to Phoenix, AZ with Keri Dorko to see two students from ASYV that received full MasterCard scholarships to Arizona State University and to hike in Sedona. It was great to see Immaculee and Jeaninne and they are fitting in well in school and seem fantastic. It was wonderful to see them.

Sedona is beautiful and like I always do (see previous posts on Wilson's Prom and Zanzibar) I mused on what it would take to stay there forever.

I'll just add a few photos and leave it at that. Working on the xmas letter now and this is old news anyway:
Immaculee in front of her dorm room

Me, another MC Scholar from Rwanda, Immaculee and Jeaninne on the ASU campus near the library

Me in on a 12 mile hike in Sedona where we stopped for lunch

Keri being sun safe on the hike

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kafkaesque Bureaucratic Health Care Nightmare - HELP!

(Ed note: Sorry it's been a while. I've been quite busy with the new job. I need a place to publish and tweet to the anguish that this 'Kafkaesque Bureaucratic Health Care Nightmare' has become.)

Courtney M. Kelly
614 D St. NE Apt. B
Washington DC 20002
(917) 405-5829

December 19, 2014

United Healthcare
PO Box 30555
Salt Lake City UT 84130-0555

To whom it may concern:

My name is Courtney Marie Kelly (DOB June 2, 1976).  My member ID is XXXXXXXXX. My Health Plan is (XXXXX) XXX-XXXXX-XX. My group number is XXXXXX.

I am writing to formally protest that my medical claims are being rejected for OI (other insurance).  I have had health insurance only from UnitedHealthcare from July 1 2014-present. I have attempted to clarify this with my previous health insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente on multiple occasions, as I will detail below.

I received health insurance from Kaiser Permanente (KP) purchased through DC Health Link, the Washington DC Health Insurance Marketplace. I was insured by KP from February 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014.

I started a new (full time) job on May 12, 2014 with, and this employer provides health insurance (through United Healthcare). My insurance through United Healthcare became effective June 11, 2014.

I called Kaiser Permanente (KP) (877 608 0077) on June 24, 2014 to cancel my health coverage. I was informed by the KP representative (Adelpho) that KP could not cancel my health insurance because it was purchased through the exchange. On that same morning (6/24/14) I called the DC Health Link (855 532 5465 & spoke with agent Keisha at 9:24 AM, call record: S-165-414-478) and cancelled my health insurance, completing a disenroll order effective June 30, 2014. (I have paid all my monthly premiums to KP through June 2014.)

On August 13, 2014 I called KP again to confirm the disenroll order had been processed. I spoke with agents Arielle and Tiffany. I was told my coverage was still active in the system. I was repeatedly told there was no escalation point and no one I could speak with because I came through the exchange. I asked that they at least record my attempts to cancel in the call record and they refused saying that they could have nothing to do with an account that was purchased from the exchange. On that same day, I spoke with a DC Health Link agent again (Keisha, call record #S-167-749-611). She assured me the June 30th 2014 suspension had been processed and noted in my record that I contacted the carrier.

On September 4, 2014 I again called KP to confirm the disenroll order had been processed. Again, I was told I was still active in KPs system and no one could complete a disenroll action because I came through the exchange. I requested any kind of escalation or assistance and was told that none was available. Again, on that same day I called DC Health Link and spoke with Nyisha (call record: S-168-688-788). She confirmed the disenroll process was complete and had been “acknowledged by Kaiser Permanente on August 19, 2014”. At this point, I was satisfied the matter was finally resolved because DC Health Link had a record of Kaiser Permanente acknowledging the disenroll order.

In November and December I began to see my health care claims denied by my health insurance provider United Healthcare (UHC). These claims were denied for “OI, Other Insurance”. I called UHC several times in November and December to have these claims processed and explained that I had no other insurance and I had disenrolled from Kaiser Permanente in June of 2014. On December 15th 2014, Sharon G, the agent from United Healthcare explained to me via chat session that at this point to have these health care claims processed, I need a certificate of creditable coverage from Kaiser Permanente to show the start and end dates of my coverage.

On December 16th, 2014 I called the DC Health Link again (and spoke with Angela at 9:19 AM) who once again confirmed that my disenroll statement had been acknowledged on August 19, 2014 by Kaiser Permanente. Angela informed me that she would resubmit the termination request, confirming this was back-dated to June 30, 2014. I requested a physical letter or fax confirming this request and was told by Angela that this was not possible, that DC Health Link could not provide this per HIPPA requirements.

Also on the morning on December 16, 2014 I again called Kaiser Permanente (301 468 6000) and spoke with agent Seisey who again told me that I was active in the KP system and that there was nothing she could do to help me. She transferred me to Denise in ‘KCC internal department’ and both Denise and Seise said ‘As soon as I head DC Health Link I can’t do anything.”

So  I am trapped between these three health care systems. Please assist me. I am writing to request that all my medical care claims that have been denied for ‘OI’ be resubmitted. I have not paid any KP monthly premiums beyond June of 2014. From July 2014 to the present, UnitedHealthcare has been my only health insurance provider and it is unfair and unacceptable that I am being punished and charged for health care services that are covered under my current UHC plan because  Kaiser Permanente is too incompetent to process my dis-enrollment. As my health insurance provider, I trust you to treat me fairly and not punish or charge me for the unfair business practices of Kaiser Permanente.

Rest assured that I have sent a similar letter (and fax) seeking redress from  Kaiser Permanente, and to DC Health Link.  However, the resolution of this matter is entirely in your hands, as you are my only health insurance provider and should process my claims as such.

If you have any questions or concerns with this matter please call me at 917.405.5829 or email me directly at or postal mail it to me at:
Courtney M. Kelly
614 D St. NE Apt. B
Washington DC 20002

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I will fax, mail and blog post this letter in an effort to resolve this matter.

Courtney M. Kelly

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reflecting on the Job Search Process

Some Stats:
  • 17 Informational interviews (8 in person in DC, 9 on the phone)
  • 10 Physical business cards collected (I had no idea this practice from the 80s was still in use.)
  • 9 different online placement services registered for (This is a complete waste of time and never generated even one lead.)
  • 57 Cover letters written / resumes sent for posted positions
  • 9 Screening/ first interviews
  • 4 Lengthy exercises completed after screening interviews (3 of which led to offers)
  • 23 Total job interviews (13 in person, 10 on the phone/Skype)
  • 5 Job offers (3 Interview processes terminated after I accepted an offer.)
  • 86 Days of Job Search (27-Jan-14-wrote first cover letter to 23-Apr-14-accepted offer)
Ratio of First Interviews to Applications: (9/57) 16%
Ratio of Offers to Applications: (5/57) 9%
Ratio of Offers to First Interviews: (5/9) 55%

So from the 'stat shot' above my main conclusion is that I had a pretty low conversion rate for my applications, but once people met me, I had a solid conversion rate from interview to offer.  Maybe my cover letters were crap.  I tried hard.  I do not know.  (Part of the reason is that the app number is a bit inflated because in the beginning I was applying for some jobs I was not quite qualified for.  I now think that is a complete waste of time.  For every job posting they will get 1 zillion qualified applicants, why would they even look at an applicant missing one of the desired qualifications?)

  • Of the 5 offers I ultimately received, I had an introduction or some kind of connection for 3 and the other 2 were cold, unconnected applications.
  • In interviews people only asked me about my time at Accenture, even though I left there in 2009.  The work I did for a small agency was irrelevant, despite being essentially the same.  Big firm management consulting experience is viewed as some kind of talisman.
  • HR screening interviews are absurd, because the girl from HR (always a girl) does not understand the job you have applied for, and could not perform it, but attempts to assess your ability to fill the position.
  • HR/Recruiting personnel are the club bouncers of the job application process, irrelevant and drunk on their own power.
  • I still CAN NOT BELIEVE how many people were willing to meet me for informational interviews. It is shocking. It is a waste of their time.  And yet they agree.  Distant connections and friends of friends spent an hour with me on the phone or even in their office.  NO ONE I asked for an informational interview said no.  Not a single person! I met VPs, Directors and in one instance, a CEO.  My only rationale for this is that the HR/recruiting prices is so broken that meeting people and expanding your network is the only way to identify and hire quality resources. If I were billed for the 17 hours of informational interviews I got for free from senior resources, the value would be over $10K.  It is shocking to me that this is the natural course of events.
  • Some recruiting blogs will tell you that even when interviewing in this era of business casual, "Dress for Success" is still required.  That is complete BS.  I was always overdressed for my interviews in a dress and matching cardigan from Banana Republic with low heeled 9 West pumps. At least in the non profit space, casual clothing was the norm and I was a weirdo that escaped from a Talbots or Ann Taylor catalog. Dress young and hip if you can pull it off.
  • Devex are a bunch of jerks that wouldn't let me PAY to come to a job fair because I wasn't DEV enough.  Well, I got a job in the field anyway and you guys can GTH if you ever want anything at all from me.
  • Jobs posted on job boards like Idealist get 1 zillion applicants per position.  Identify 20 or so companies you want to work for and look at their online internal job posting page to find roles you qualify for.  Many of the postings on job boards have already been filled or are no longer current.  Check the company pages for new postings regularly and apply ASAP for roles you are 100% qualified for.
  • I was notified that my LinkedIn was viewed by almost everyone scheduled to interview me, so worth it to make sure that everything there is scrubbed and shiny.

Searching for a job is the worst, most soul crushing experience. Every single day of it I was sure I would never work again.  You can't even get a job bagging groceries any more (at least in DC the Giant is self-bagging).  I was sitting in my basement firing off cover letters that felt like messages in a bottle from a desert isle. It felt hopeless and impossible.  It was hard to see I was making progress.  I HATE asking for favors and sorting through my LinkedIn for friends of friends I hadn't talked to in years to ask if they would introduce me to someone at their company seemed soooooo transparent and self-serving.  I was ashamed.  I owe SO SO SO SO SO many favors now. If I can ever help anyone to get a job so help me I will do anything I can do.

Interviews are complete agony.  I struggled to find a balance to describe my accomplishments so I did not sound like a pompous ass and also so I did not sound like pathetic loser who has never achieved anything.  Confident but humble?  Principled but flexible? It is an exercise in contradictions. It is a hard tone for me to strike.

I owe so many people thanks for help with informational interviews but also advice and help with the agonizing self-loathing and indecision the job search brings. "Should I use a colon or a comma here?" with the implication that the right answer gets me the job and the wrong answer loses it.  Maybe the course of my life hinges on if I save this file in .docx or .pdf? So many of you listened to me complain about the job search, advised on clothing, helped with wording choices (managed or led?), discussed job options and supported me in one way or another.  THANK YOU!!

86 days seems like a terribly long time, but actually now I think that part of it is just a long recruiting cycle.  Just the other day (in May) I got an email asking to schedule a screening interview for a job I applied for in February.  It takes HR a while to pull all the resumes and sort through them.  The bigger the company, the slower they move. 

During those 86 days I worked pretty hard on the job search.  I was either researching job boards, writing cover letters, tuning my resume, completing exercises, emailing to ask for a connection to an informational interview and attending interviews (informational or aspirational). I did not do a whole lot of anything else, though I did take 3 days off and visit family in Raleigh at one point. I would say I spent over 60 hours per week on job search activities.

In the end, for the offer I accepted, I never actually wrote a cover letter.  I went in for an informational interview, mentioned a job that was posted on their website to ask if I was the type of applicant they were seeking, and was referred to a screening interview from that and went on from there. They met me before I was an applicant.  My second option though, and one I considered very seriously, was a complete cold call online application.  I sent them a PowerPoint in addition to my cover letter and resume addressing each qualification and function listed in the job posting and explaining how specifically I had already succeeded at that task. Maybe that is nerdy overkill, but it worked in that instance.

So, if you are thinking about changing jobs, my opinion based on this process is that you should get a new one before you leave your old one.  If you're between jobs, hang in there.  You are not alone and the situation is not as dark as it seems. Aim to connect directly at the peers and supervisors you would have at your ideal employers and avoid HR and recruiting as much as possible.  (Unless you were also in a sorority, then go nuts). 

Saturday, May 3, 2014


I have great news.
Maybe the best news of my life.
Okay, maybe not my achievement, but I was right there.  I am so excited. I am over the moon.

You remember Application Boot Camp.  20 of the top kids from ASYV in their final year spent an extra two weeks in the village working on university applications after the end of the year.  It was hard, and we had no way of knowing at the time if it would work out.  I have recently learned that 4 of those students will receive full MasterCard Scholarships!!! 

They are the ones who worked so hard, overcoming incredible backstories, getting impressive grades, studying for the TOEFL English exam and the National Exam. They are the ones who wrote the essays and filled out the applications. But I was right there, and I helped. I helped with getting the TOEFL test paid for and scheduled.  I helped with looking up all the forms, editing the applications, explaining terms like 'address' (no one has one in Rwanda), First Name, Family Name, Surname (they just do it different there) and about 1000 other application fields.  I helped to organize the camp and research the different processes for each school.  I've never been more proud of a work output in my life.

Here's the news:

  • Libia Niyode will attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver
  • Innocent Nzayisenga will attend McGill University in Montreal.
  • Jeaninne Ingabire will attend Arizona State University.
  • Immaculee Mugwaneza will attend Arizona State University.

Deepest of thanks to the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program who is providing total scholarships including airfare, stipends, books and all expenses for these four great kids to the partner schools ASU, McGill and UBC. I may never use Visa again.

Here's a quick hall of heroes. Rwanda, rest of world, get to know your future leaders:
Libia is seated in the center, smiling
Libia Niyode studied History, Economics and Geography in high school.  He was the school valedictorian, with excellent grades all 4 years.  He scored a perfect 73 (yes the scale is out of 73) on the national exam! He is an extraordinarily dedicated kid, always studying. He loves to play and watch football (soccer) and I know he will love UBC. (Somehow I don't have a good photo of Libia. That is CRAZY.  I will have to take one when I go to visit him in Vancouver.)  Libia was also received a full scholarship to McGill University, but chose UBC. Libia wants to study economics at University.

Jeaninne wearing a cute bow at s fashion show in the dining hall with her buddy Julien.
Jeaninne Ingabire was third in her class by GPA, which is an amazing feat given that she studied the dreaded Math, Physics and Computers combination, and no one in the school is ever awarded good grades in Math. She was the point guard on the basketball team.  She is so independent and needed very little help with her applications.  (She was also accepted to MSU, but didn't get a scholarship there.  That is a miss for Sparty.)  She will be kicking ass at ASU.  Jeaninne may pursue Women's Studies at university.

Immaculee looking like herself...
...and here, a bit more dolled up.
You remember Immaculee Mugwaneza, who wrote the essay that was Part I in this series.  She is my inspiration.  In high school she studied Math, Chemistry and Biology.  She wants to study modern agricultural techniques to take back to Rwanda. Macky, as her friends call, her has overcome a lot and I am so proud of her.

The one and only Blameless, (Innocent Nzayisenga)
Innocent Nzayisenga studied English, French and Kinyarwanda for his combination and also had a great score on his national exam and 4 years of excellent grades.  Innocent is a singer, songwriter and a music producer.  He also got in to ASU, but chose McGill.  He wants to study journalism, but may have to put that on hold while he tours with his album. Do you know anyone who knows Pharrell? I am pretty sure Pharrell and Blameyface will be besties if I can just make the introduction.

 You remember when I blogged about my top 6 students:
6 scholarly young men
As it stands now, Innocent, in the top right, is headed to McGill.  Claude (top left) and Pacifique (bottom center) have been accepted into Bridge2Rwanda.  B2R is a one year prep program that helps promising students improve their TOEFL and SAT scores and apply to many universities.  They have a great placement ratio and I am really hopeful that those two will end up with scholarships as well, so three out of six with very exciting futures indeed.  My other three sons (Maurice, Serge and Jean Claude Du) will go to university in Rwanda.  They didn't quite achieve their dreams yet, and there has been some disappointment, but I hope that striving for these scholarships taught them some lessons and this was just one step on the way to their own success.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Search is Over: GlobalGiving!

I spent the last 3 months looking for a job. (More on that process and what I learned from it soon.)

I'm thrilled to announce I've accepted a new position at GlobalGiving.  GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that gives social entrepreneurs and non-profits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities.  

Check it out: 

I'll be a Senior Development Manager there, contributing to a team that is working towards significant expansion of the already successful platform.  I'm excited to continue working in the online industry, and to join an organization with a mission I am passionate about: To catalyze a global market for ideas, information, and money that democratizes aid and philanthropy.

I was fortunate to have some great choices and thanks so much to those of you who listened to me whine on ad nauseam about them while I tried to make a choice.  In the end this role and organization was the place I felt most comfortable.

The position is in DC, so I'll be staying in town. 

I am grateful to have received so much help and advice in this quest to change careers.  Tons of friends (and friends-of-friends) sent me links, job postings or suggestions of people who I might be able to speak with. Thanks! It worked.

I start May 12 and I can't wait.  I'll let you know how it goes.

(File under 'well, obviously': After a hiatus for the job search I'm back to blogging periodically here at 'Spondence.  I have some things to share but I doubt I'll be writing as much as I did last year.  We'll see.  I just got a cable package with NBATV so I may be posting a bit about the #Playoffs.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

is that me?

Tag cloud of my resume from the kind folks at .

The job search is a strange exercise.  I want to be choosy, but open-minded; Principled but flexible; Working soon, but not at the expense of working wrong.