Mariann Eitzman serves as the Next Steps Director for Adventure Bayside in Roseville. (Photo courtesy Mariann Eitzman)

From Travel Writer to Church Lady

How volunteering led one local woman to shift industries with intention

Back Web Only Sep 25, 2017 By Jennifer Newman

Mariann Eitzman has been in the workforce for several decades now, and her resume is long and varied. Currently the Next Steps Director for Bayside Adventure in Roseville, which is the organization’s newest church campus, she’s in charge of connecting new churchgoers to each other and to the new and continuing programs at the 3,000-attendee congregation.

But Eitzman’s career began in the travel industry, in which she worked for over a decade. So how does one make the big leap from one industry to another? In this case, volunteering served as the bridge. Volunteering for various nonprofits and organizations over the last 20 years not only helped her figure out what direction her career should take, it’s also made her better at her job, she says.

After graduating from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1985, Eitzman wrote for travel trade publications and traveled for years to report on promotions and trends. But something didn’t quite fit.

“A lot of times journalists are introverts and I traveled around the world for about three years writing stories and reporting internationally,” she says, adding that she is more extroverted. “I had a quarterly deadline to cover the news of the Hawaiian Islands and one of the Hawaiian wholesalers finally said, ‘You know you’re very outgoing, you’re a people person, you should try sales.’ And that’s when I went into sales.”

So she spent a decade moving around within the travel industry — from owning her own travel agency in Walnut Creek to working in corporate sales at the local level to leading international and regional sales for companies like Hyatt and Club Med, respectively. Eitzman covered a lot of ground in her career in travel and tourism, and notes that her job history probably sounds like that of a millennial, who research shows often plan to leave a job within two years.  

But Eitzman was finding that constantly being on the move made things hard to balance in her personal life. At the time, her husband also moved around a great deal for his job in the industrial food processing systems industry, staying in locations for a year or two.

By 1997, Eitzman and her husband were living in Chicago, had welcomed their second child and were looking to return to the West Coast — her husband soon got a permanent position that could be based anywhere in California and the couple chose Placer County as their new home.

By then, Eitzman says the glamour of travel had worn off and she wanted to explore other options. She decided to start volunteering at Centerpoint Church in Roseville, which offered her a glimpse into another industry without having to commit lots of time, and gave her a way to interact with the community as a newcomer to the area.

The church eventually wanted to hire her a staff member, but Eitzman resisted. “I was like no you don’t — I’m not your typical church lady — you do not want to hire me,” she recalls. “But meanwhile, I’d be like, ‘What do you mean you don’t have a promotional plan? What do you mean you don’t have somebody who’s doing XY and Z?’”

So she took the position as director of women’s ministries, for which she developed programs for both women in her church and for women in the larger community. While many of her friends were shocked to find out she was working for a church, she says she’s always been a person of faith and that her upbringing was a big part of not only the industry shift, but also her willingness to volunteer.

“My mom was on the board of the Salvation Army,” she says. “We always served and we always volunteered. I basically filled up my whole life — my free time — volunteering, whether it was in schools, churches, with the Boy Scouts, with universities. I am a true believer that, even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you’re probably working somewhere if you’re serving and that is great job experience.”

By late 2006, Eitzman and her family were attending services at Bayside Church, and she had left her job at Centerpoint. She volunteered to help organize a Bayside fundraiser and in January 2007, the church offered her a job as the director of groups. In 2016, she transitioned to a  position as the director of classes and connections and, just recently, she began her new role at Bayside Adventure.

According to Eitzman, the connection among all of her work experience has to do with being personable, energizing others to work hard and employing empathy. “The people who are successful in sales are the relational ones, because people buy from who they like,” she says, adding that her work in the church is the same.

“At one point, the ministry that I was directing had about 7,000 volunteers in it,” she says. “It’s all about: Are you being relational? Do you know their name? Do you appreciate them? It’s the same skillset whether you’re in sales or working with people in nonprofits. If they don’t feel like you care about them, then they’re going to go serve with somebody else.”

Eitzman continues to volunteer outside of the church, including stints with the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, where she worked regular four-hour shifts for six months to assist nurses on the mother and baby floor, and the 2016 Tower Bridge Bridge Dinner. On the side, she also helps people who run programs or events understand the best way to utilize volunteers and keep them happy.

Recently, she returned to the tourism and travel industry to help Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau with a workshop to teach people within the agency’s district how to organize, promote and create volunteer programs for events.

“Mariann and I worked together a lot when I was with Visit California [and] she was with a hotel in the Anaheim… but we always kind of kept in touch,” says Terry Selk, the bureau’s executive director. He adds that his community has plenty of people who want to run an event, but who lack the skillsets to make them successful. “She has such a broad range of experience with organizing events through her church affiliation and her past experience … She also has a very unique tonality to her approach where she can basically win over anybody.”