Tough love, second chances, and The Road Up

100 Inspiring Voices | Episode #29 | Maria Kim | Tough love, second chances, and The Road Up


Maria Kim is the President & CEO of Cara, a nationally-recognized program to help people experiencing poverty get back to work.

In this conversation, I speak with Maria about the origin of Cara, what makes the organization unique, and why they decided to make a documentary.

We also talk about “leading with your ugly,” tough love, second chances, and the difficult decision to leave an organization you love.


3:15 – “It’s not just about the skills to re-enter the workforce, it’s about the skills to re-find yourself. To figure out the skills that you already have deep within you, even if life has served you multiple curveballs, just to remind you of the talents you have within you.”

3:45 – “Life continues to come at you when you re-enter the workforce, so the ability navigate the noise of life in tandem with being successful on the job – that 1-2 punch is a little bit of what differentiates us.”

4:45 – “You can imagine, poverty does not discriminate based on your education, pedigree, life experience, etc.”

10:00 – “If you get struck down so many times, you start to forget the assets you have inside of you. And sometimes you need somebody to help you discover that.”

11:00 – “The universality is the existence of the strengths, but I do think that they’re unique to each individual… the mission is to unlock the power and purpose within our communities and within ourselves.”

13:00 – “The Road Up is kind of a euphemism. It’s not necessarily a road up out of poverty. We know this. There are so many externalities and internalizes that clash when we think about poverty.”

15:00 – “Sometimes, in order for us to get better as a society, we have to show everything warts and all.”

15:30 – “My first date philosophy was ‘I’m going to lead with my ugly.'”

25:30 – “When 9/11 happened, I lost my way a little bit. I thought to myself ‘if this is how fragile the world is, am I really walking in my vocation?'”

26:45 – “In the beginning I had a rough go. Nobody wants to take this random woman whose an IT person from an insurance company to go do a job in the social sector. It didn’t make sense. So I was battling a lot of what our participants might confront.”

29:00 – “We are not charity. We are trying to right systemic wrongs that this society has experienced for gobs of time, and we have one very unique way of going about doing that.”

31:00 – “People find their way to Cara by way of injustice, misfortune, or misstep… we have to zoom out and understand the situation that made a Cara necessary in the first place.”

36:00 – “You have to contemplate whether you’re leaving to leave or leaving to go.”

36:30 – “I am absolutely not leaving to leave. This place has my whole heart. Everything about this place is a manifestation of me personally and professionally.”


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