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Q&A with a winner: Laura Whitaker

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As executive director of the Watkinsville-based nonprofit Extra Special People, Laura Whitaker (B.S.Ed. '07, M.Ed. '10) helps children with special needs reach their full potential. She began working for the organization as a counselor, and then was named director of the organization a year later. Whitaker was named to both the Bulldog 100 and 40 Under 40 lists in the past year and shared some advice and insights into her role and her inclusion on both alumni award lists.

You were named to both the B100 and 40U40 lists—did one award surprise you more than the other?

To be honest, both of them were a total gift and just as much of a surprise. I don't do my job for personal recognition or award. These opportunities were an incredible affirmation to me and my team to keep doing the work that we are doing, and an opportunity to share with people who are unaware about our mission.

What does it mean to you to see Extra Special People included on a list of growing businesses across Georgia?

It makes me proud to be a part of my alma mater. The perception of nonprofits is changing, and I'm so glad that the University of Georgia and the alumni association puts at the forefront that we value nonprofits as economic contributors in our communities and recognize the efforts in not-for-profit growth. NPs use the same tools as for-profit businesses, but simply have a different means for the contributors of the growth.

What advice do you have for other College of Education graduates who are working in the nonprofit world?

One thing that I have found in many College of Education graduates is that they have one key quality that leads to success: passion. Passion combined with vision can be a dangerously beautiful combination. This is a great place to start. However, it was those around me who were experts in business who fueled the knowledge I needed to take that passion and vision and move ESP to a new level. I would encourage these graduates to surround themselves with thought leaders and doers who differ in their education and experience. The mark of a good leader can be found in the brilliance they surround themselves with.

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