We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Shahnaian and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risks are crucial for growth! I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t believe in risks. I believe that taking risks allow us to challenge and grow ourselves in areas that we’d normally settle into comfortable routines. I took a risk transitioning from a corporate environment to leading a non-profit organization. That very big risk, that was based on a sense of leading or calling into an unknown direction, allowed me to start something that would fill a void: to serve a population of women who desperately needed the tools and resources to feel confident in embracing their new lives. Some risks can be calculated and others based on a deep feeling or ‘hunch’ that can lead to life changing outcomes. At Two Wings, taking risks is part of our organizational DNA. Everyone from staff and volunteers to participants is encouraged to think bold and take risks.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Two Wings has a unique approach to empowering women to pursue their dream careers. We thoughtfully took the time to create an academy that would eliminate potential barriers for attendance while providing comprehensive training through professionals volunteering their time to facilitate classes. Through a partnership with Occupational Therapists, we are able to provide a holistic approach to employment preparation. We serve survivors of trafficking and women at the highest risk of being trafficked. It is inspiring to come alongside such brave and courageous women. We have learned so many lessons along the way, and continue to learn daily, to ensure we are always serving our participants the way they need to be served. I think one of the biggest mistakes organizations or companies make is refusing to find the time to review and evaluate programs and how services are delivered. You learn so much through connecting with the clientele you serve. We pride ourselves in always accepting feedback from graduates on future programming. I believe that if you don’t take the time to make those evaluations you can easily lose focus, and lose track of who you have committed to serve or provide services for. What would we want the world to know about our work? I think it would be that everyone has something to offer to someone in need. I know that sounds like a broad statement. In Two Wings’ case, this means that you have the ability to help someone launch into a career or educational path. You might be a professional who has a couple hours a month to teach a cohort on professional or personal development. You might be an employer that has a job opening that our graduates can apply to. You might have a passion for mentoring and decide you want to volunteer as a career mentor. Or you may not have the time to give but have the resources to give to expand our mission. Your investment, whether its time or resources, will have a lasting impact on a woman’s future as she launches into her dream career.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I love the beach and any opportunity to include it into a travel itinerary. I would probably take my friend on a coastal tour along the beautiful beaches in LA county. I would start the tour at Venice beach, perhaps taking the bike path North towards Santa Monica. We would stop at Cha Cha Chicken for lunch and continue the ride towards Will Rogers Beach. On our way back we would stop at Shangri La for happy hour eats and drinks and then after returning our bikes back in Venice, we would end the night at James’ Beach for some tasty fish tacos.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
At Two Wings, we love to remind the people in our surrounding community that the reason they are currently in their particular place in life, or successful career, or specific industry, is likely thanks to someone, or many someones, who chose to invest in them. And in return, our goal is to provide opportunities for these individuals to now invest in our participants’ future. I love being able to recognize the people in my life that have influenced me or pushed me to take this big risk to start something new. The first person I would like to recognize is my boss from my corporate days, Alice Vestergaard. She saw something in me that would have never been satisfied if I stayed in that career path. She pushed me, to the point where she asked me to report back every week on the places I was applying to. She insisted that I pursue what I was passionate about or else I would find myself with golden handcuffs in a job that did not give me life. Another person that made Two Wings possible was Dr. Alexis Moreno. She took a risk in joining our team when we were just an idea. She spent countless hours researching effective methodology to ensure our programs had a strong backbone.