Merryman House director of grants and compliance Brianna Weitlauf, ’14, shares story in part one of ‘Your Story and Impact’ eight-part series highlighting program graduates

MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University’s Nonprofit Leadership Studies (NLS) graduates were recently asked to reflect on their career journeys, the impact of their work and their aspirations for the future. 

This is the first of an eight-part series by Visiting Distinguished Professor of Nonprofit Leadership Dr. Bob Long, with an additional seven stories to be published in the months to come. Each piece will feature a Q&A with a program graduate and tell the story of their commitment to making the world a better place for us all.

Part one tells the story of alumna Brianna Weitlauf, who graduated in May of 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in business administration and a minor in NLS. She lives in Paducah, Kentucky, and currently serves as the director of grants and compliance for the Merryman House Domestic Violence Center. For over forty years, the organization has served counties across the region with the “mission, purpose, and passion to answer the calls for help, assist victims to find refuge from the risk of death and serious physical injury, provide food and shelter, support them in court and help them become financially stable and visibly strong.”

Long: How did the NLS program at Murray State help guide, inspire and support you?

Pictured is Brianna Weitlauf, a 2014 Murray State graduate currently working as director of grants and compliance for the Merryman House Domestic Violence Center.

Weitlauf: I began my studies with a major in business administration at Murray State University. While I knew that I wanted to work in a management or administrative role, I found myself feeling that something was missing. I did not feel compelled to work solely to make a profit for a company. I wanted to work for a cause that would make a positive impact in the lives of others. A friend recommended that I take a class within the NLS track (youth and nonprofit leadership back then) and I signed up for my first course. Within the first few classes, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I quickly declared NLS as my minor and found myself excited and eager for each class. 

I chose to pair my business administration major with a NLS minor because it was my goal to secure a supervisory position in a nonprofit. In my current role as the director of grants and compliance, I utilize skills learned in each track on a daily basis. My business administration degree equipped me with proficiencies in statistical analysis and management that aid me in grant reporting and the daily supervision of the grants and compliance team. I use program analysis and grant writing learned through my NLS courses to secure grant funding for programs and to ensure that the programs funded are effective. By combining these two studies, I have the knowledge and experience needed to successfully and confidently fulfill my role as a nonprofit professional. 

Years later, I still look back on my NLS minor as one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I not only learned about the basic structure and management of nonprofits but also how to develop programs that are efficient, effective, and transforming for the clients served by an agency. Beyond education, the NLS courses connected me with students that have remained some of my dearest friends. Within these classes, I found myself surrounded by other people whose goal in life was to equip themselves with the tools needed to make meaningful change in the lives of others. This is a pattern that I experience to this day in my work in the nonprofit industry. I am fortunate to spend each day surrounded by passionate, empathetic people working together to save, build, and change lives of those who have experienced violence in their life.

Long: Tell us about the work you’re doing today. How has your degree helped advance your career? 

Weitlauf: I am currently employed at the state-designated domestic violence service provider for the Purchase area of western Kentucky, the Merryman House. I began my employment with this agency as a housing counselor assisting survivors of domestic violence in locating and securing safe, sustainable housing. After a year of employment, a grants manager position opened within the agency. In large part due to my NLS minor and corresponding grant writing classes, I was able to obtain this position. In this role, I was responsible for overseeing the grant writing, reporting and compliance monitoring for the Merryman House. While in this position, annual grant funding for the Merryman House increased from $897,740 to $1,842,675. I held this role for three years before being promoted to the director of housing and grants management. In that position, I managed five housing programs, supervising the housing team as well as a compliance team, responsible for monitoring compliance with funding guidelines and programmatic reports. Increased funding allowed the agency to separate the housing and compliance departments. With this expansion, I am now the director of grants and compliance, focusing exclusively on grant-writing and supervision of the compliance team. The Merryman House recently received our largest grant award in the history of the agency through the Victims of Crime Act in the amount of $2,261,988, bringing our grant funding for this year to $3,203,010.

Long: Describe some of your biggest accomplishments in nonprofit leadership since graduation.

Weitlauf: Since graduation, I have seen success in my career as well as within the agency where I work. I have received two promotions since I began my employment with the Merryman House. I started as a housing counselor, was promoted to grants manager and then to director of housing and grants management. With agency expansion, the housing and grants departments were able to be separated, which resulted in my role shifting to the director of grants and compliance. In collaboration with our executive director and director of finance, the agency has secured funding to expand our staff from 16 to 50 employees. In addition, we have received funding to expand existing services, as well as develop new programs and partnerships. New grant funding has allowed the Merryman House to expand its Lethality Assessment Program to two additional counties within our service area, add a week-long summer camp for children who have experienced trauma and allow us to begin offering parenting groups and established partnerships with agencies such as Legal Aid and Child Watch, which come on-site to meet with survivors confidentially in a secure location. The Merryman House now operates a 36-bed emergency shelter and outreach offices in five of the eight counties we serve: Calloway, Fulton, Graves, Marshall and McCracken. I am honored to be a part of this essential family and community support organization.

Long: What sort of impact has your work at Merryman House had on the community? 

Weitlauf: While I no longer provide direct client services, grant funding secured over the course of my oversight has funded 71,432 services provided to 2,715 survivors of domestic violence and their children over the course of four years. Services within this count include, but are not limited to, assistance with emergency protective orders, safety planning, individual and group counseling, advocacy services, economic stability services, immigration assistance, resource connection, transportation, therapy, housing search and placement and youth services. While overseeing the housing department, over 100 survivors of domestic violence secured safe and sustainable housing.

Long: What do you aspire to do in the future?

Weitlauf: In the future, I aspire to return to school to obtain a graduate degree in psychology with an emphasis on occupational psychology. It is my goal to utilize this degree to further improve my leadership as well as to strengthen the ability of nonprofits that work with survivors of trauma to recruit and retain qualified staff and reduce the impacts of vicarious trauma for both the employees/volunteers and the organization as a whole.

“The NLS program is enormously proud of the impact that Brianna is having on this critical social issue and the success she is experiencing in pursuit of the Merryman House mission,” Long said. “We are honored that her work is a reflection of the value and quality of our program of study in the real-world challenges of increasing the impact of the nonprofit sector. We look forward to sharing additional alumni stories going forward.”

The NLS program at Murray State University is committed to building a coordinated response to growing educational, research, and service needs of organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in communities around the world. The program offers a broad-based approach to the development of the future leaders of the nonprofit sector through undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as leadership, networking, funding, and promotion of quality practice. For more information, please visit murraystate.edu/NLS.

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