By Michael McKitish, The Peddie School
Just as any independent school strives for financial balance, I have always believed in finding an equilibrium between my work in the business office and service to the larger community. Working closely with community organizations has been one way I’ve been able to connect these parts of my life.
I’ve been involved in athletics all my life, from pickup basketball in high school and college to leading my son’s little league team to state championships. I’ve always seen athletics as an integral part of education — a commitment to sports has helped me understand the value of teammates, the importance of losing with dignity, and the meaning of self-determination.
Prior to joining The Peddie School, I served as vice president of finance and business affairs at Drew University. My sports involvement there started as simply going out to the field to toss the baseball with the college kids — I could throw a pretty good curveball back in those days. It turned into many years of mentorship and advocacy on behalf of the college’s baseball team, and in 2007 I was honored to be inducted into university’s athletics hall of fame. Now I’m happy to serve as Peddie School’s varsity baseball coach.
With my own children, I’ve had the opportunity to act as their coach and manage their teams. In the case of my daughters, I helped establish a community softball league for girls when there was none. These experiences have taught me that that as a coach or teacher, one of the best things you can do is let kids learn for themselves. During one practice when I was coaching my son’s little league team, the other coach and I walked away for a cup of coffee, leaving the kids to pick their teams for a scrimmage and determine their own batting order. When we returned, we were delighted, though not surprised, to see that they had made incredibly fair deliberations, evenly distributing the players based on skill and position. The lesson here is that sometimes the best thing you can do as a leader is to trust your team to listen and lead themselves.
In 2013, I became a board member to The Seeing Eye, which raises and trains puppies to be seeing eye dogs before being paired with a blind individual across the U.S. and Canada. I served as treasurer for several years, during which time I helped the organization achieve financial balance. I’ve found that nonprofit leaders, often humble, are not good at asking for money, so a big part of this role was keeping staff and volunteers aware of the money available and helping them access the resources they needed to meet their goals.
Besides being able to interact with cute puppies on a regular basis, one of the most rewarding aspects of my time with the organization has been learning more about accessibility and interacting with people who are differently abled. About a quarter of the board is visually impaired, and the organization provides engaging resources to those interested in learning more about vision loss and rights of people who use guide dogs.
When I first became a board member, I took part in a tradition in which I was blindfolded and set to do an obstacle course with a trained guide dog. It’s truly an experience like no other. The whole time you’re thinking, “We’re going too fast,” and, “Will the dog know there’s a curb?” In this short time, I realized how difficult it is to navigate without sight, especially when an environment is not designed for accessibility.
I have made other commitments equally rewarding, and I know I’m not alone in contributing my skills as a business officer to organizations in my community. I encourage fellow business officers to reflect on your accomplishments and celebrate all that you’ve done. Personally, I choose to celebrate every six months by opening a good bottle of wine and spending a night reflecting on the things I’ve accomplished and aspects of myself I’ve improved upon, and another night mapping out what I may like to do in the next six months. There is always room to grow.
Unsung Hero: Michael McKitish, The Peddie School (web-only, Sep 2020)
After School: Story Time (Jan/Feb 2020)
After School: Recipe for Success (Nov/Dec 2020)
After School: The Home and the World (Sept/Oct 2020)
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