Full Interview with Heather Phan

SCBWI Southern Breeze Volunteer Spotlight Interview

Heather Phan

How long have you been a member of SCBWI? Southern Breeze Region? 

I’ve been a member of the SCBWI and the Southern Breeze region since 2018. I joined the organization to learn more about the children’s book publishing industry, develop my skills as a writer, and take advantage of the wealth of programming and professional development and networking opportunities available to SCBWI members.

What is your current volunteer role?

I’m the Conference Coordinator for the region’s annual conference, the “Writing and Illustrating for Kids” (or WIK) conference which was held this year in Homewood, Alabama, on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27, 2024.

How long have you been doing it?

I took on this role in June 2023. Prior to this, I did some blogging and social media support for Southern Breeze in early 2023 to promote the region’s annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

What do you enjoy about the role?

This role is a challenging one and there’s never a dull moment! Last year, as an attendee at the 2023 conference, I had no idea how much planning it takes to make an event like this happen. The regional team makes it look easy, but conference planning and execution involves a great deal of time, energy, effort, and enthusiasm! One of the things that I enjoyed most, though, about this role was that it allowed me to gain a better understanding of how conferences and other professional development opportunities help one develop a better understanding of the many people and parts of the publishing industry, and how these people and their roles relate to and support one another.

Tell us a little about your writing/illustrating/translating:

I have a background in marketing and communications and feel fortunate to have been able to write professionally for much of my career—unlike some of the other things that I’ve done (looking at you, managing the department’s budget), writing and communications work in general has always felt rewarding and fulfilling for me. Driving ideas and concepts into something useful or informative, finding their value and truth and making them relatable, creating stories that (hopefully) resonate and help readers understand, reflect, or move forward in some way, and using words to build, empower, and promote joy…this is what I enjoy and hope to do as a writer.   

What advice would you give to anyone considering volunteering in our region?

Unlike many other professions, there is no single or straightforward path to becoming a children’s writer or illustrator. No required credentialling process, no mandatory apprenticeships, no familiar and well-worn paths like there are for, say, engineers and doctors. Heck, there’s not even a standard checklist (I mean, if there is one, let me know, because I could really use that…). However, there is the SCBWI, and within this organization there is a vibrant community rich in knowledge and experience, passionate and committed to the craft and business of creating stories for all children, with the resources to help you develop your skills and gain the knowledge you need to have a career as a children’s book writer or illustrator.

In many ways, volunteering for an organization like the SCBWI is like a mashup of an internship, an apprenticeship, and a really fun job; it’s a learning path, and one in which you’ll learn more than you might on your own about the organization and the benefits and rewards of its many opportunities and resources, and the craft and business of creating books for children.

That said, I would encourage those interested to approach volunteering as a partnership and ask themselves these questions to find their best fit in terms of role, impact, and personal satisfaction:

  • What skills do I have? How can these skills benefit the organization that I’m supporting and in what capacity would they be best utilized? We typically think of things like accounting or carpentry as skills, but this is a narrow definition of the word; if you’re a warm and welcoming person who loves being around people then you might be perfect in an ambassadorial role at one of the SCBWI’s many in-person events! Cast a wide net when thinking about your skills and look for opportunities to use them. Conversely, you may choose to pursue a volunteer opportunity to further develop your skills or to learn something new altogether!
  • What types of tasks and activities do I enjoy the most? Do you enjoy stationary administrative tasks or more physical, hands-on work and moving about? Would you prefer to work alone or with groups of people? Do you prefer tasks that are limited in scope and well-defined or are you happier with a variety of tasks where no two days might be the same? Do you enjoy traveling to new places or do you prefer to stay close to home? The SCBWI and Southern Breeze run on the dedication and support of volunteers, and there are roles and opportunities for everyone! 
  • How much time do I have to commit to a volunteer experience? A couple of hours a month? One day a week? A weekend here and there? Take a good look at your calendar and ask yourself what is a right fit for you in terms of a time commitment. But don’t worry if you’re short on time! No amount of time is too small to help, and there are volunteer opportunities available to fit every schedule.  
  • What will be the (mutual) benefit of this partnership? Just as the organization will benefit from your support, I would encourage those considering volunteer work to ask themselves how they, too, will benefit from the experience. Will you acquire new skills or refine an existing skillset? Gain knowledge or experience? Make new friends or connect with others to grow your network? Give back or pay it forward? Perhaps you would simply like to become a part of a vibrant and welcoming community of like-minded people to support and sustain you, in any capacity. Knowing what you want will help you find a volunteer experience that is enriching, rewarding, and meaningful to you.

I would like to thank co-regional advisors Lisa Stauffer and Melissa Miles, and the regional team, for allowing me the opportunity and privilege to contribute to the SCBWI Southern Breeze region this year as conference coordinator. Working with this hardworking, dedicated, supportive, and talented group of creators has been an incredible experience, and I would encourage to everyone who is able to get out there and get involved!