Karren Alexander has worked for the Forest Service for almost 30 years, recently accepting the position as Special Assistant to the Director of the Controller's Operation Division Chief at the National Finance Center in New Orleans.
Karren started her Forest Service career the last summer before graduating from college and all of her federal career has been with the Forest Service. She was a quick study and very eager to learn and moved up in the organization. It is no surprise that Karren is a motivational speaker as well.
What makes you want to get up every morning to go to work?
Actually, what gets me up and going in the morning is my ability to impact the lives of other people. I come to work and demonstrate perseverance, motivation, and values that have been profound for so many other people, especially as a person with a disability. Often time people will say, “I don’t even see how you keep going.” Somehow people think that if you have a disability, you should be sad, depressed or your mental state should be other than joyful. That is not to say that I don’t have challenges like other people, but knowing that I have a staff of people depending on me keeps me going. Knowing I can help develop them is important.
As a child, what did you really want to be?
My passion is truly teaching. A lot of people have told me I am in the wrong field, that I should have been a teacher. I impart passion on the job by constantly instructing, guiding, and teaching the folks in my staff. I want them to achieve what they view as impossible. I get a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing other people get to the next level or have that ah-ha moment or get to a point where they can pat themselves on the back and say, “wow, this is something great that I’ve done or accomplished”.
If you could live in another time or place, what might that be?
Actually, I’ve never thought about living in another time. Being born and raised in the 60’s, I’ve seen so much change that’s occurred from a technology and inclusive standpoint. Although as a child there were so many obstacles for a person with a disability. But not so much for me because I am physically mobile. Just being in the era that I’ve lived thus far, has been so phenomenal to see change come about for people with disabilities.
I remember times when some of the doors were so heavy to open that I couldn’t really carry something and open the doors at the same time. Now, I can just push a button; doors will open. Just having lived through those important times where people began to embrace disability for whatever reason and to think about it from a technological and/or architectural standpoint to accommodate everyone.
Is there a hobby outside of work few people know about you?
I sew clothes and have made a couple outfits and worn them to work. I’m pretty crafty with making window treatments for the home, like valences and curtains, as well. I enjoy doing things like that.
Did you have any favorite singers or movies during your childhood?
Oh, I was a Chaka Khan fan and oh gosh, I remember dressing and trying to make my hair big like hers. I’m old school and love Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye music. Both of my parents were musicians as were their parents, so we had a lot of music in our home. My father loved to sing and always had us singing while he played the piano and organ. It’s my heritage and I truly love good old gospel music as well. We were a musical family.
I would have been a guitarist, or played drums, piano/organ, if I had hands. So I just migrated to singing and dancing. Today, I still like to sing and sometimes, I’ve graced my staff with a song or two just to mess with them.
If they made a movie of your life story, would it sell?
It’s interesting that you asked. I am a published author. My book is entitled, ‘Invisible Hand. I’ve had people who’ve read it say I should send it to Hollywood.
If there’s one word to describe yourself, what would it be, and why?
Um, I guess the one word that probably comes to mind is tenacious. I have a spirit of determination. It’s hard for me to see a problem as insurmountable. I always tell people, “God made me to be just who I am with my physical disability, because I don’t look at things and see them as being impossible”. All things are possible, but we have to be able to use whatever we have available to us including assistance from others to make it happen.