We want to model to our children that “Succeeding in life is making sure our lives are focused on serving others”, with Nicole Suydam and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Anytime there’s a good story in the news about someone who has overcome a major obstacle, I share those stories with my girls. I’ll also take my girls to work events so they can see me in my work setting. We often volunteer together at food drives or food pantries so that they are exposed to needs in our community. I stress with them that part of dreaming big and succeeding in life is making sure our lives are focused on serving others.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Suydam. Nicole served nearly a decade as Goodwill of OC’s vice president of Development, returned to Goodwill of Orange County as president and CEO in 2018. She has more than 20 years of management and leadership experience working with local and national nonprofits dedicated to meeting human service needs.

Prior to returning to Goodwill, Suydam served as CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County where she oversaw the distribution of more than 25 million meals to Orange County families and guided a vast network of more than 200 community partners. She was recognized with the “2018 Women of the Year Award” by the Orange County Business Journal, and in 2017 was named one of the “Top 100 Most Influential” by the Orange County Register. In addition, Suydam was named “Altruist of the Year” by Modern Luxury Orange County for her tireless efforts to enhance the county and the lives of its families and individuals.

Suydam graduated from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, and today serves as president of its Alumni Association Board and is a member of the university’s Board of Trustees.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

I’ve dedicated my entire 24 year career to the nonprofit sector working for local and national organizations dedicated to helping people in need.

Growing up in a low-income, single-parent home gave me a unique perspective and passion to help families with children struggling to meet their basic needs.

My Mother was determined that I would have opportunities she lacked — to graduate from college and pursue a career that would lift me out of poverty. My Grandmother was very involved in helping take care of and raise me.

Both single mothers, my Mom and Grandmother had very little resources. But their faith, tireless work ethic and generous hearts made a lasting impression on me. These values inspired me to dedicate my career to helping others.

About five months ago, I returned to Goodwill of Orange County as president & CEO. It’s a full circle experience as I was away for more than six years leading anther local nonprofit organization. I’m excited to be back at Goodwill to help shape a strong culture of kindness and innovation and set a new strategic vision as we celebrate 95 years helping people facing barriers get and keep jobs.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

I have two girls. Lauren is 14 and Hannah is 10.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

I was about eight years into my career and actually working here at Goodwill of Orange County as Director of Development leading the effort to raise funds to support our mission.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

Right out of college I was focused on building my career in the nonprofit sector. So I hadn’t yet envisioned myself as a mother. A few years later, I was married and became excited about the idea of being a mother in the same mold as my Mom and Grandmother.

Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?

When I became pregnant at 30 — three years into our marriage and several years into my career — it seemed like the ideal time to raise a family.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

I normally wake up around 6:00 am. Between getting ready, helping get my girls get out the door for school and checking emails before I leave, I normally get to work by 9:00 am. I generally end my day at the office by 5:30 pm. At least three days a week I go straight to the gym to workout. When I get home, I catch up with my family and we have dinner together.

Because my schedule is tight at the office and I’m in and out meetings all day, I do spend some time at home a few nights a week responding to emails, working on projects or planning for the coming days. I try to get to bed by 11:00 pm, but honestly it’s still a struggle to get to bed in time to enjoy seven hours of sleep, especially as this is the first year of my new position back at Goodwill.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

No, I think being in the nonprofit sector offers a lot of flexibility for motherhood. The people I work with are easy going and compassionate people. So everyone is understanding when you need to leave early for your kids or other things that come along with motherhood.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Yes, definitely! It’s made me much better about time management and planning. Before becoming a mom, I could stay at the office late to get caught up or work ahead. That quickly ended when I became a mom as I had to pick up from day care by 5:30 pm.

I am also much more empathetic with colleagues and have learned to give grace and flexibility to others I lead. People who have worked for me appreciate my leadership style and that I trust them to meet performance goals on the schedule that works best for them.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

There are moments when I know that I let my daughters down. I have forgotten a school event. I’ve been guilty of not being truly present when they are talking to me or sharing a story. But they are very understanding. Sometimes they joke with me and say, “Mommy, were you listening to me? What did I just say?” Or they say, “Mommy, put your phone down.” Comments like those certainly catch my attention and challenge me to do a better job at being present.

Between my daily schedule and spending quality time with my family on the weekends, I get very few moments to spend time with my friends. I have to be intentional to ensure I’m scheduling time with friends who encourage me and make me laugh. I feel energized after spending a fun dinner with good friends, many of whom are moms as well.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

When my girls were three years and six months old respectively, my husband was traveling for work a lot. It was so difficult to get us all out the door to daycare and manage the evening without his help. One night a good friend was over and I was in tears about how I couldn’t manage everything. She looked at me and said, “Sweetie, you need to get a Mom’s helper.” She described someone who could come to my home — like a baby sitter –and help me with my girls while I made dinner and did other household chores. What a difference this made!

Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?

My family and I make it a priority to sit down at the table to have dinner together at least five nights a week. My husband enjoys cooking so we get a nutritious, homemade meal most of those nights too. We get caught up with each others’ days and talk about what’s happening in the world. Or we’ll do a bible study together. This is definitely my favorite time of day with my favorite people.

My girls and I always spend every Saturday afternoon together — either running errands, going shopping, seeing a movie or another fun activity just for us girls. This has become a fun, weekly tradition.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

  • Leave your mobile phone in the car for a few hours when you get home from work. Our phones are the source of our biggest distractions.
  • Schedule a time each week when you can spend quality time having fun with your kids and protect this time.
  • Make an effort to sit down at the dinner table and have meals together. This is the most simple way we can do to connect and bond as a family.
  • Let your team know that when you are on vacation you won’t be checking your emails or doing work. That way you can focus on your family. Your team can call you if there’s an urgent need to reach you, but otherwise you should protect your hard earned vacation time to really be present with the people you love and recharge your batteries. Once, I even took Outlook off my phone on vacation to ensure I wouldn’t get tempted to check my email.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Anytime there’s a good story in the news about someone who has overcome a major obstacle, I share those stories with my girls. I’ll also take my girls to work events so they can see me in my work setting. We often volunteer together at food drives or food pantries so that they are exposed to needs in our community. I stress with them that part of dreaming big and succeeding in life is making sure our lives are focused on serving others.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

Right now I’m really enjoying blogs from Working Mother and Fit for Mom. I can relate to the articles posted in Working Mother and I enjoy following Fit for Mom posts and learning ways to stay healthy so that I can be the best mom possible for my girls. My best resources to inspire me are also other friends who have kids a few years older than my girls.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

I stress what my Mom always told me, “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

  • I wish I could have known about the Fit for Mom programs when I was a new Mom. There are tons of great workout classes — including Stroller Strides — all over the country for new moms and they are great ways to build friendships with other moms. I take their Body Back workout classes and it’s inspired me to get in shape and as a result I’ve made some wonderful, new friends too.
  • Don’t overdo it with the baby gear. I didn’t use half of the stuff we had. Your baby — especially as an infant — doesn’t need many things.
  • People will constantly tell you how to raise your kids, what to do and what not to do, and most times this is unsolicited advice. Kindly thank people for their parenting advice and then confidently move forward in the direction that you know is best for you, your child and your family. It’s not worth getting into a debate or argument about who has the better approach to parenting.

Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.

About the Author:

Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.

An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.

Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.

When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.