Up2Us Sports Chief Regional Officer Luella Provenza’s connection to sports is not unlike those of her peers. Like countless others within the organization, athletics played a significant role in the life during her formative years. “My high school coach was the epitome of an amazing coach,” she recalled. The special bond she had forged with her high school’s cross-country coach stuck with her into adulthood and when she read the position description for a position with Up2Us Sports five and a half years ago, she knew she had found the organization that was meant for her. Reading about how Up2Us Sports utilized coaches and sports to form mentorships and promote personal growth and development for youth, she was hooked. Though sports-based youth development seems like a natural fit for Provenza, her journey to her current position was an unorthodox one with many twists and turns.
Early in her career, Provenza had ambitions of breaking in to the medical field. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Science in 2006, she matriculated to Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland in pursuit of her MS in Social Development and Health. It was during this time that she was exposed to work that blended health with nonprofit work that positively impacted community. Having previously spent time in New Orleans helping during the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Provenza returned to the city to work on her dissertation focusing on how journalism impacts a city’s ability to recover from natural disasters. By immersing herself in the city, Provenza fell in love with it and decided to make it her new home upon graduation.
Provenza sharped various management skills by serving as a case manager for the American Red Cross for eight years and a manager in the housing department at Tulane University for an additional two years. Feeling the need to thrust herself back into work at the forefront of the community, she had brief stints with City Year and Leading Educators before making her way to Up2Us Sports. Each position throughout her journey increased her capacity as a leader and helped her better understand AmeriCorps supported programs, which really allowed her to flourish early in her Up2Us Sports career.
After starting with only 20 coaches in year one, Provenza was instrumental in growing the market to 65 coaches by year three and was soon tapped for a national role (her current position) with the company where she was tasked to provide programmatic support for the various Up2Us Sports offices throughout the country as well as work with the development team to ensure the organization is able to secure the funds necessary for operation. Provenza shared that holding a national position remotely for an organization based in New York City can be challenging at times due to communication issues and difficulty establishing relationships from afar, but there are plenty of rewarding aspects to the job as well. One of her proudest achievements to date was helping Up2Us Sports successfully expand into the Baltimore market.
Day-to-day as a Chief Regional Officer can be tricky, especially when having to serve as a liaison between local offices and the national office. Providing programmatic support, crafting strategic goals, constantly refining support structures to achieve said goals, and assisting with development to fund operations takes an immense amount of effort, but Provenza has found a way to thrive. A strategy that she is constantly trying to implement is the idea that you lead people and manage things. “I think often times people try to manage people without really understanding that you are supposed to lead and motivate,” said Provenza.
Another concept she attributes her success as a leader is to provide others the room to fail. “I think, often times, as a leader, when you see the train going off the rails your natural inclination is to jump in and say ‘this is the way it should be done,’” explained Provenza. The ability to discern when failure is acceptable and can be used as a teachable moment may seem counterintuitive, but Provenza has found this strategy to be effective over the years. She further elaborated that structuring subsequent meaningful conversations around those failures is where the learning and personal/professional growth really occur with people you are leading. With leadership qualities like this, it is clear Up2Us Sports is in great hands for years to come.