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Life & Work with Rina Rhyne

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rina Rhyne.

Hi Rina, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Serving my community by leading a nonprofit has been my dream since becoming a social worker. I’ve come a long way from my corporate job in the early 2000s, something that provided the financial stability my immigrant parents understandably wanted for their children but was not fulfilling to me. I was 16 when I went to college, so I did what I was supposed to do and majored in information technology, starting a job at IBM soon after graduation. On paper, I was living the dream. However, I couldn’t shake the urge to work for the betterment of my community. I enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill’s part-time Masters of Social Work program and spent three years between full-time work, internships, and classes. I thought that a fulfilling career would follow once I relinquished years of sleep to get my graduate degree. But we all know life rarely goes as planned! The years that followed involved a few moves between Maryland and North Carolina for my spouse’s work. Along the way, we welcomed a preemie baby (now a thriving tween!), and I looked after my aging parents in my mid-30s. These life circumstances altered my dreams for a time – it certainly wasn’t the way I planned but working part-time, or not working at all at times, felt necessary during these years.

When the pandemic hit, we collectively realized that a family could lose their sense of financial security in one moment. Since my husband and I could remain employed, we donated to the Student Support Network to help families struggling in our community. Many months after being added to their listserv, I received an email saying they were looking for an executive director. I had not worked full-time since 2010, but once I saw that I could serve the same community I live in through this leadership role, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do what I had always planned to do with my MSW.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Is it for anyone? 🙂 There were obstacles along the way, but a good friend of mine once told me that if your heart is in the right place and you keep trying for what you want, something, SOMETHING, will work out. I found that to be so true. There were times of unemployment, jobs that weren’t the right fit, caring for and losing both my parents in a short period, and having a baby on top of that. Through all the twists and turns, I tried to be cognizant of remaining grateful for what I did have – people to love me, a roof over my head, and food in my refrigerator.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
What do I specialize in? I would love to give a straightforward answer like photography, baking, automotive repair, etc. – I envy those who can! It’s taken me years to summarize what I feel most passionate about. If I had to summarize it today, I’d say I am in the business of community – whether it be serving my community, bettering my community, creating community, and so on. I do this through writing, traveling, reading, discussions with my book club and my work as the Executive Director of the Student Support Network. I can’t tell you how much has shocked me, saddened me, and warmed my heart in this role. From work we do in the schools for students in need to the meetings I have with generous folks who want to fund our mission, I get to fulfill my need to be deeply involved in my community daily. I am proud and thankful I didn’t take the easy path – it would have been much easier to stay in my corporate job, financially and even as far as optics in the community I was raised in, but I have never regretted making a change. Seeing the Student Support Network’s dedicated volunteers, our local businesses and organizations donating their time, skills, and equipment, and people who I have known for years quietly making donations that far exceed my expectations makes me realize that what we see on the news or in social media does not tell the whole story of what goes on in the world. I am glad I have a front-row seat to see the good in the world while also providing help and hope to those who need it most.

So maybe we end by discussing what matters most to you and why?
Have I mentioned community? I believe we are all obligated to look out for one another and not just think of our personal matters and conveniences. It is heartbreaking to see how divided we all can be, and I am not just talking about politics. How many people invite their neighbors into their homes? Do we talk to the person behind us in line or stare at our phones? Do we default to ordering online or doing self-checkout instead of interacting with those who work in our community? I could go on – and certainly, I have to keep myself in check with these questions! Human beings need a real connection with one another, and I want to raise my child in a world where we remember that basic need.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Julie Linz Photography

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