Ozarks helps Leeds find her career in conflict resolution

Release Date: 7/13/2011

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." -- Jimmy Dean

When Tabitha Leeds came to Ozarks from Emmet, Arkansas (pop. 506) in fall of 2003, she wanted to be an accountant. That was where her life was headed. “I was good at accounting,” she said. “It came easily to me.”

But her path since then has taken a different turn, proof that life doesn’t always follow a predictable course.

Initially, Tabitha stuck to her plan, signing up for Accounting I and II during her sophomore year. But during her third semester at Ozarks, Tabitha also enrolled in the International Relations class taught by Dr. Gilbert Parks, Ozarks Associate Professor of Political Science. “It was my first class in political science,” Tabitha said, “and it made me see the world in a different light. I decided I wanted to be an active member of the world, and I wanted to help shape the future. Dr. Parks really inspired me to just follow what came naturally to me, and when I need a push he was always there.”

Working with her accounting advisor, Deborah Sisson, and with Dr. Parks, Tabitha graduated in spring ‘07 with her accounting degree, plus a minor in international relations. By then, she wasn’t looking for a job as a corporate accountant…she had other plans. “After college I didn't go into accounting,” she said. “Instead, I used my degree to get a job while I went to grad school. I graduated with a Master’s degree in conflict resolution with an emphasis in children in violent situations.”

“Growing up in a small town, I realized that everyone knew everyone and they all worked to make sure if somebody needed something, they could have it,” Tabitha said. “Ozarks is like that, too. Not just one or two people were interested in helping me succeed. Everyone was. But I realized that very few communities run like that, at least in the grand scheme of things. I felt there needed to be more people trying to create a global community instead of the disconnected society we have as a whole. That helped shape my career plans.”

While doing her graduate work, Tabitha found herself becoming more interested in childhood developmental issues. “I realized it’s simply harder to get through to adults,” she said. “Not to mention that fact that children get hit the hardest in conflict and are the ones who benefit most from development work.

Tabitha now works as the Site Director for the Central Visitation Program in Denver, Colorado. The Central Visitation Program, or CVP, is a low-fee supervised visitation program that provides a safe and comfortable environment in which children and non-custorial parents may visit. The parenting time is supervised by volunteers and allows children the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with the parent that might not otherwise be possible.

As Site Director, Tabitha said she manages three staff and about 20 volunteers. “I also manage the parents and families in our program so that the children get the best experience they can in the situation,” she added. “I personally work with ten families a week and am responsible for the other 40 as well.”

“I had friends who told me about what CVP does and that they thought I'd be good there,” Tabitha said. “They were right, it’s a great fit. While ultimately I want to work with the UN or Save the Children or any organization that helps children in war zones, I find that my job is exactly where I need to be to start getting experience. The kids I work with are in the middle of little wars: domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, and really bad divorces.”

The work at CVP is challenging, but in a good way. “The atmosphere is always high energy. I’m working with people who love their children but do not have the ability to take care of them. Also, of course, I want to adopt every kid and take them home with me!”

Tabitha is philosophical about the decisions she has made that have led her to where she is now. “I don't know that I'd do much different, if I could go back,” she says. “I think everything moved me to where I am now. I do hope to begin looking for jobs with organizations that will allow me to work with child soldiers and kids in war torn areas, and I’ve recently applied to several new things, but I’m not sure I’m ready to leave just yet. Things are looking good for future prospects, though. There are lots of openings in this field.”

Tabitha describes her life as “fun but crazy.” She was married in 2009, and now she and her husband are raising her half-siblings. “My husband and I met in grad school,” she said. “He has a degree in international security with his emphasis in maritime security. He also has a degree in conflict resolution. He is from a small town same as me, except in Oregon rather than Arkansas.”

Tabitha’s advice for students: “I would tell them that it’s okay not to know what you want to do when you start school, or even when you finish. I had clear plans and schedules for my life, but I am not anywhere near that plan, and to be honest my life is better for it. Let Life take you where it will. Plan as best you can but don't freak if life has a different plan.”