Elizabeth McCain

Elizabeth McCain Irwin

Executive Director

Elizabeth (she/her) first connected with Second Breath in her early 20s. Her husband, John Wilson, was completing a post-baccalaureate at UNC-Greensboro, and they both decided to take a course with Second Breath (then known as the Servant Leadership School). It made an impact. So much so that, years later, after having lived on the west coast and worked on teams with operations spanning 14 countries, she decided to come back to the South and to Second Breath – this time as part of the executive leadership team.


After a period of contract work, Elizabeth joined the team full-time in the role of Chief Operating Officer, guiding business operations and analysis, leading product strategy, and serving as an honorary member of the programs team, just for fun. In 2023, she stepped into the role of Executive Director, steering the organization as we move through several big shifts: rerooting in the Greensboro community with in-person programming, partnerships in co-creation, and a framework for community-led inward exploration and outward service; diversifying our development portfolio to ensure sustainability in our 501c3 nonprofit status; and overseeing ongoing technological and organizational system builds to power first-in-class learning experiences, data security, and information architecture. 


Before arriving in her current role at Second Breath, Elizabeth studied American History and Creative Writing as a Morehead Cain scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill. Thereafter, she worked for several nonprofit organizations, and valued being a student of the communities she was serving; but also desired to learn how to bring such good work to scale.


In pursuit of this knowledge, she earned an MBA and then went to work for several years at Amazon, serving first in Core Operations for the delivery of XL shipments, and then as Manager for Associate Experience and Chief of Staff for the Career Choice program. At Amazon, Elizabeth learned a great deal about large scale business operations, but maintained a pull toward supporting the growth and development of something she really loved and sensed the world really needed. She and her husband decided to return to the South to be near family, and Elizabeth reached out to Second Breath.


Elizabeth takes a “back of the room” approach to leadership. She’s much more interested in passing the mic than taking center stage. Her favorite part of her job is conversations with the community (don’t be surprised if she calls you up out of the blue for tea – make Elizabeth’s day by inviting her first). She particularly appreciates the organization’s commitment to embodying the values it espouses in the way it operates. She says, “I think that the practices themselves and those practices being a part of our culture makes us more open to new ideas, more willing to question deeply held beliefs, and more ready to enthusiastically recognize the gifts and talents of those we encounter. It creates a culture of abundance…recognizing that we are working together on something much greater…imagine if more settings in the world were this way!” Her personal favorite practice is The Lazy River, which she likes to sit with at the beginning of busy days.


Elizabeth lives with her husband and her children, Blythe and Henry in Greensboro, and enjoys spending time on the water and in the woods with her family and friends.


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