Jackie Northacker: The young manager who’s making big changes in a small nonprofit

Jackie Northacker, REACT to FILM’s 22 year-old Operations Manager, always knew she wanted to change the world. Already heavily involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Northacker wanted to reach out and inspire social change. She discovered the non-profit, REACT to FILM, as a senior at SUNY New Paltz, while looking for an internship.

“I wanted to work with film and production but also utilize my public relations education, so it fit perfectly,” she said.

Dahlia Graham, the organization’s education director, was Northacker’s supervisor during her internship. She saw the potential in Northacker, and took the young intern under her wing, trusting her as more of an assistant than a typical intern.

When Northacker went back to New Paltz, she founded the SUNY New Paltz chapter of REACT to FILM’s College Action Network. Still in operation today, the club remains one of the nonprofit’s strongest chapters.

After graduating with a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations, and minor in Psychology, Northacker went to work for an advertising sales company. There she sold advertising space in USA TODAY specialty publications to various businesses, but was unhappy.

“When I graduated college, I wanted to love going to work every day. I wanted to be a part of something that was greater than myself,” said Northacker. “A lot of kids just graduate college wanting a paycheck, not caring about what work they do. I knew that I didn’t want to limit myself to a job that just paid my bills. I wanted a job that would challenge me and also reward me in a very deep way instead of just a monetary way.”

She joined the REACT to FILM team again, though this time full-time, after Graham notified her that Lindsey Jacobson, the former Operation’s Manager, was leaving.

As REACT to FILM is such a small organization, the responsibilities of running this non-profit almost seem endless at times.

“I was basically thrown right into the mix my first day and hit the ground running,” said Northacker. “I do event planning, public relation efforts, social media, overall logistics/scheduling, assisting Dahlia with the educational programs, and of course billing and office upkeep.”

Northacker admits that it is definitely frightening to come out of college and have such a strong position at an organization. She wondered if I would be good enough, but believes that every newly graduated student feels that way.

“I try to think of my responsibilities as a motivator to become greater, better and stronger, instead of using them as a way to doubt myself,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if Dennis, Coralie, and Dahlia didn’t believe in me!”

After being in her position for nearly three months, Northacker learned that she’s more capable of things than she ever imagined.

Northacker feels that it’s easy for people her age doubt themselves when you graduate because of endless “We will keep you in mind!” email responses from jobs. However, she realized that she can do whatever she puts her mind to and doesn’t need to limit her goals due to what others say or believe about careers.

“I do what makes me happy, not based on what makes other people happy,” she said. “I learned that if something doesn’t work out, you move on, you grow, you become better because it happened.”

After being part of the organization for so young, Northacker feels that REACT to FILM has become part of her identity. She’s the type of person who advocates social issues, desires change in the world, is passionate about education, and has a great love for documentaries.

Though she believes her greatest achievement has yet to come, Northacker refuses to fail and is extremely proud of every REACT to FILM screening event she books through the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The most recent one, held on April 6, will screen the Academy Award winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”

“It is quite challenging to plan a 400 person film screening event at the MoMA in a month time and to make sure it is a huge success,” she said. “The night of when everything is running as planned is my sign that I did a great job.”

Many of REACT to FILM’s documentaries have touched Northacker deeply, though nothing has affected her as strongly as “The House I Live In.”

This Sundance favorite captures heartbreaking stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. The documentary is a penetrating look inside the United States’ longest war, and a portrait revealing the profound human rights implications of the country’s drug policy.

“The War on Drugs in society is something that isn’t talk about enough. Most people don’t understand the vicious cycle of drug abuse, drug selling, and prison time for drug dealers/users that goes on in our culture,” said Northacker. “It’s too taboo to talk about. Our society is so eager to point the finger at drug dealers and drug users, but refuses to understand what the real problems are. Such as drug addiction, low socio-economic status, lack of prisoner rehabilitation. Why doesn’t America help those who are living with drug addiction? Why doesn’t America help prior convicts become better citizens in society to give them another chance at life? These are topics that are talked about in the film in a very personal way, which is why I love it so much.”

Northacker has big goals for REACT to FILM, including developing a college curricula to bring the College Action Network into college classrooms. Currently, she’s working closely with Graham in hopes that within a few short years, the organization will be in over 100 colleges and 1,000 high schools across the United States.

Though her work life isn’t the only thing that’s taking off, as Northacker is also taking her first steps into fiscal and emotional independence. Recently, she’s moved out of her parent’s home on Long Island and into an apartment in Brooklyn. As she hits her one year anniversary since graduating, Northacker is excited to embark on the adventure that is the beginning of her adult life.

“Adulthood is a new freedom that you can’t understand till you get there, but when you do, it’s incredibly amazing.”

About Caroline Albanese

Caroline Albanese's is a Journalism student at Baruch College, Class of 2013.

28. March 2013 by Caroline Albanese
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