Michelle Javian is the co-founder and CEO of Harboring Hearts. She started the non-profit in honor of her father, who lost his battle to heart disease after a heart transplant in 2008. During the time she spent by her father’s side in the hospital, Michelle witnessed firsthand the need that existed for refuge and community support for heart patients and their families. It was from this realization, and devotion to her father’s memory, that Michelle and Yuki Kotani co-founded Harboring Hearts to do just that in April 2009.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
For two years, I was by my father’s side in the hospital as he awaited a heart transplant. In 2008, my father received his transplant but ended up passing away a few months later. The needs I witnessed in the hospital – the families that were traveling for hours and days for high quality care, the lack of basic necessities like a place to shower, healthy food and warm clothes, drove me to this work. I founded Harboring Hearts in 2009, in memory of my father to support families traveling for cardiac care.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
The ability to wake up every morning and feel good about the impact Harboring Hearts has had on hundreds of heart patients and their families makes everything worthwhile. The families I have met and the gratitude in their eyes and smiles, that is what keeps me going.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I did not really follow a traditional path. I gave up a job at Bank of America to launch head first into the journey of starting and running a non-profit. I learned as I went, I talked to everyone that would listen and I would not take no for an answer.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
In this work, you run into both kinds of people. When someone was discouraging, I would just think of the families that needed this support and I would ask someone else. I would tell their stories and I would find the incredible people that believed in what I was trying to do. So many people joined hands in support of our work. I am so grateful for all of the friends of my father’s, the local businesses we frequented as a family, and my friends for their incredible support to this day. I always say “if someone says no, you just are not asking the right person.”
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
In my generation, careers are a bit fluid. I never doubted that this is where I wanted to be. My role in Harboring Hearts has morphed and changed over the years and I am happy with where I am. I look forward to seeing what is next for me and how I can take what I have learned in founding Harboring Hearts to impact more people and to bring support to families when they need it most.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
You know, I am not really sure. Harboring Hearts gained a lot of momentum in 2015 – this was three years after we launched our big program and we found ourselves starting to gain more support from a broader range of people and companies. Our Partner Hospitals began to really see the impact of our program on their patients and we started to gain traction in deepening our support within our key stakeholders. In 2015, we brought on our first Executive Director, Missy Rahman, and over the past three years we have really stabilized as a non-profit, grown to nine partner hospitals and are helping over 140 families each year with financial support and nearly 1,000 people are attending our community events each year.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
For me, the biggest challenge was to put one foot in front of the other after my father passed away. Founding Harboring Hearts helped me to focus my energy on something positive while honoring his memory every day. This helped me to grieve and it helped me to heal.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Persistence! People want to help you, but everyone is busy! Follow up is the most important thing for anyone starting a new business or initiative. You have to share your story, share your passion and garner interest….and then follow up like your work depends on it! Because it does.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
April 2019, will be our ten year anniversary as a non-profit and I am so proud of the fact that we are still here, a small but mighty organization impacting hundreds of heart patients and families each year. What started as an idea, a way of healing has turned into a real service that is a safety net to so many families in need.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
If you are thinking of entering the non-profit field, think of a way to offer an innovative service or product that can offer financial sustainability to you work. If you are able to lessen the amount of time you spend on fundraising, you can maximize the amount of time you spend on what really matters – those you are helping. Do not give up!
For more information, go to the website for Harboring Hearts.