The health, well-being and safety of our participants and staff is our top priority. With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, we have decided to move our onsite conference online.

Speaker Profile: Tammy Jelinek

Jul 20, 2020

Tammy Jelinek
Partner, Wipfli

At the National Training Conference, Tammy Jelinek will speak about Head Start/Early Head Start regulations, requirements and best practices.

Tammy has a talent for “translating regulations” and responds to questions through the My Wipfli Membership Service. She has experience working with Head Start programs, so her sessions are both informative and practical (and, believe it or not, even fun).

What is your role at Wipfli?
I’m a principal in the firm’s Organizational Development & Governance consulting practice. Every day is different – and that makes me happy. I solve problems; I mentor and coach colleagues; I train clients; I answer regulatory questions; I build relationships and solutions.

My niche is in Head Start/Early Head Start and Uniform Guidance regulations. I got the opportunity to work in a Head Start program early in my career, so I understand what it’s like to be in the Head Start world. I want organizations to stay in compliance so they can continue to receive funding and serve children and families in their communities.

How did you find your career path?
I grew up in poverty so I can relate to being part of generational poverty – I think that’s why I’m so passionate about helping nonprofits.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. From high school, I went straight to work. I worked with Head Start and community action programs during the day and I went to school at night. I studied business and accounting – business because I thought it would be versatile and accounting because there was an idea that girls didn’t do it, and that annoyed me. I respect accounting, but I figured out that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was really drawn to the people side of the business instead.

I kept going. I completed three degrees (my associate’s, bachelor’s degree and MBA) during the evenings while I worked full-time and traveled for work. I worked in nonprofit organizations and in a few different industries, like manufacturing and banking. I always came back to nonprofit because it feeds a bit of my soul. Growing up, my family could have been a client of any of the programs I serve, and I know these organizations help break the cycle of poverty.

How did you become an expert in regulations?
I don’t speak a second language, but I can translate regulations. I try to make them less intimidating and easy for people to understand and comply with.

It started because I was curious and I had a great mentor who was willing to answer my questions. I started researching the regs and then asking my mentor if I got it right or wrong. I also started digging into the “whys” behind the regulations. I think you can get to the “how” (to comply) faster if you understand why it’s being asked of you.

Once I learned how to do the research, I got certified in adult learning and virtual learning because I thought it would be fun. I wanted to help leaders and organizations figure out how to comply with regulations so they could focus on their day jobs.

What’s a presentation on regulations like? Should I bring extra coffee?
It’s going to be fun! I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm about regulations and I even make it a little entertaining. Most importantly, I have really frank discussions with people about why something might be allowable (or not).

There’s no fancy footwork; I lead very down-to-earth, practical sessions. Attendees leave with an understanding of what’s being asked of them, why, and how to get it done.

Also, there’s an energy at the conference that you don’t feel everywhere. It’s always the most exhilarating week of my year. Even with the whole world being turned upside down, I have to admit I miss seeing my clients. I hope clients can still come together and feel some of the positive energy we’ve had for the past 20+ years whether it’s in person or in our virtual conference experience.

What traits have made you successful?
I’m patiently persistent, curious and willing to help. And I’m a lifelong learner. Dump me anywhere and I’ll figure it out.

As a leader, I hope that I coach when I need to coach; manage when I need to manage; and lead when I need to lead – and that I’m able to identify what each person needs in the moment. It’s surprising how much time and energy it takes to be a good leader. You can read all the books you want, but when someone in front you needs help, you learn as you go. I still learn something new every day.

What career advice can you offer?
Try things that are outside your comfort zone and know that it’s okay to fail. Try again and again until you don’t fail.

Don’t let anybody else drive your career path. Keep learning and growing, but don’t lose who you genuinely are.

And remember that nothing is handed to you. You don’t deserve anything – you have to earn it. And when you get to the level you want – the title or the office or the job – you still have to work hard the next day. Keep working hard.

Who do you admire?
My mom because she never let life get her down. She was always able to move forward; she had great resiliency. And my husband because he’s an advanced EMT, firefighter and police officer who serves with all his heart.  

What’s the most fulfilling part of your work?
I love it when a client learns something new or when they understand the “why” behind what they’re asked to do. It’s exciting to see them go home and upset the apple cart – to ask “why” instead of settle for the way it’s always been done.

It’s rewarding to see clients gain confidence and start their own path of learning. And I love to travel to client sites and watch organizations serve children and families. I work with boards of directors and parent advisory groups that are involved in the regulatory space; it’s fulfilling to engage with parents who are directly receiving services and watch them grow.

What’s the biggest challenge?
The challenge has always been change. Regulations change all the time and different people interpret statements in different ways. You really have to stay on your game to be helpful to clients and understand every new thing. And every once in a while, 300 pages of regulations can be tough to go through diligently.

Right now, I miss the client interaction. Right, wrong or indifferent, I’m a hugger – and so many people need a good hug.


Register today for out National Training Conference in Las Vegas where Tammy will hold a session exploring how the Head Start Act and the HSPPS impact each other.

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