Checking in on staffing, strategy shifts at local nonprofits

NEW HORIZONS: A summer enrichment program for kids from low-income families will add a second grade level to its six-week session this year. In addition to practicing academic skills, students also learn to swim, thanks to a partnership with the YMCA of Western North Carolina, says program director Monica Antonazzo, Photo courtesy of Horizons at Carolina Day

How many nonprofit leaders does it take to change a lightbulb?

  1. We won’t know until the five-year strategic plan is completed, which is unfortunately tough to pull off in the dark.
  2. One, as long as she has a team of volunteers to execute the vision.
  3. That depends. Do the stakeholders really want the lightbulb changed?

But seriously: Area nonprofits of all shapes, sizes and focuses are pursuing a wide variety of missions in service to Western North Carolina. At the same time, the region’s needs and social climate are constantly changing. For public charities, that means making the best of every opportunity to tweak staffing, vision and tactics to best benefit the communities they serve.

When the time comes, then, for a new leader or a new strategic direction, nonprofits recognize that sound decisions can mean the difference between a sustainable future and irrelevance. That’s why Mountain Xpress took a look at a spectrum of local nonprofits that have recently experienced significant changes or are now in the midst of transformative shifts in management or focus.

Follow the leader

Asheville Gay Men’s Chorus took a big leap this year and hired its first executive director. Butch Thompson started as a singer with the group in 2015 and became the president of its board in 2017. His tenure saw growth in visibility, funding and audience size and, according to board Vice President Susan Wilson, sparked the expansion that enabled him to be brought on as the paid director.

Also covering fresh ground with an inaugural executive director was Light a Path. The wellness resource nonprofit chose Kristy Johnson to foster the next stage in its evolution.

On the other end of the spectrum, Friends of the Smokies has kept on its president and CEO of 16 years, Jim Hart but added a new leadership role in Tim Chandler, hiring him as executive director and chief operating officer. Chandler is a longtime volunteer with the organization who comes from television sales and marketing with Discovery Inc.

This winter, Stefanie Gerber left her position as executive director of the Asheville Area Arts Council to take on a commensurate role at N.C. Glass Center. AAAC board Chair Gar Ragland commented that “her legacy is the tremendous new momentum, credibility and solid organizational infrastructure we’ve established to better serve our community. … We take comfort knowing that she’ll continue to serve our community through the arts, and we’re very excited for the new adventures that await both her and the arts council in this next chapter.”

All Souls Counseling Center announced the appointment of Leslie McCrory as the organization’s new executive director. She has worked for 30 years in Asheville in the field of mental health and substance use services as a therapist, supervisor, educator and manager.

YWCA of Asheville head Beth Maczka retired after nearly seven years at the helm. “A wise woman recently told me that our work is neither a marathon nor a sprint, as it is often portrayed,” she noted in a press release, “but a relay where each person does their part when it is their turn.” Last month the board of directors announced its selection of Asheville native Libby Kyles as CEO; Kyles, who will begin her new position on June 17, is a teacher in the Asheville City Schools and the co-founder of the YTL (Youth Transformed for Life) Program.

After a national search, the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County named Asheville resident Dan Leroy its new president and CEO. Leroy was a co-founder of nonprofit Green Opportunities in 2008 and was most recently development director for the N.C. Outward Bound School.

On the four-legged front, last fall Friends of the WNC Nature Center installed Karen Babcock, formerly of Folkmoot USA, as its new exec. And in Hendersonville, Blue Ridge Humane Society promoted its community outreach and volunteer director of three years, Angela Prodrick, to executive director.

Amid concerns about mission creep and financial stability, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue founder Denise Bitz stepped down as executive director. Bitz tapped Leah Craig Fieser, who had previously worked at Brother Wolf and was most recently director of engagement for the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, to lead the organization. Fieser says she is pursuing financial retrenchment and a renewed focus on Brother Wolf’s original core mission of rescuing imperiled companion animals in need of a home.

The board of directors of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation announced the appointment of Bill Tiller as chief executive officer and president on Jan. 29. While the foundation is a nationally active organization, it is headquartered in Asheville.

In the market

At press time, several notable local nonprofits remain on the hunt for new leadership:

  • Asheville Area Arts Council, following the departure of Gerber as noted above.
  • Asheville Jewish Community Center, following the departure of Lael Gray to become CEO of the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, Calif. Her last day at the Asheville JCC will be Friday, June 14.
  • Green Opportunities, following the departure of J Hackett, who was named the organization’s director two years ago. The Green Opportunities board has started its search for a new leader and posted a job for an interim position.
  • Asheville Humane Society is looking for a new director for the 35-year-old organization. A position description says, “Last fiscal year AHS adopted over 3,800 animals into loving homes and supported or saved the lives of 9,300 additional local animals through their innovative support programs.”
  • Asheville City Schools Foundation, following the departure of Kate Pett, who led the organization for 11 years. According to a letter from board Chair Robin Payne, board member George Sieburg is serving as interim director, and the organization’s goal is to have a new director in place by Aug. 1.
  • Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards announced that Meryl Harrell, the vice president of its board of directors, will step in to lead the organization as interim director during its search for a permanent head.

Bill Murdock, longtime executive director of Eblen Charities, retired in March after a new revelation of his guilty plea for taking indecent liberties with a minor three decades ago. Susan Riddle has taken on the interim director role. So far, she says, the board of directors has not assembled a search committee.

The highest perch of them all — at least in terms of dollars under management — is the top spot at mega-foundation Dogwood Health Trust, created to administer $1.5 billion in proceeds from the sale of the area’s largest nonprofit, Mission Health, to the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America. According to the position posting, it is the nation’s largest health care conversion foundation on a per-capita basis.

New to do

Some area nonprofits are upping their game by adding more programs or services in support of their current mission. Within the last year, for example, the YMCA of Western North Carolina became just the second YMCA in the country to qualify as a Medicare provider of chronic condition management services, which help seniors manage problems such as arthritis and diabetes. The Y also opened a nutrition hub in its downtown Asheville location to process food donations for its mobile markets.

Last summer, MANNA FoodBank sprang into action with a new Pop Up Markets program. Through this initiative, anyone in MANNA’s 16-county service area can set up a distribution point and request a truck of fresh produce and grocery staples to give away to community members. This approach helps the nonprofit respond to unexpected needs, as MANNA spokesperson Kara Irani recalls: “In January, we provided several Pop Up Markets at the Asheville airport for TSA workers not receiving a paycheck due to the government shutdown.” She says MANNA has completed 53 markets so far, distributing 180,730 pounds of food.

Also in the sphere of food access, Bounty & Soul launched a new collaboration with Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry and the Mountain Area Health Education Center in January. Bounty & Soul now brings fresh produce, as well as cooking demonstrations and wellness lessons, to the ABCCM’s Hominy Valley Crisis Center at MAHEC’s Enka/Candler location. “This is three successful organizations contributing what each does best to create a comprehensive support net for individuals and families who find themselves hovering around that flimsy line between just getting by and going under,” says Bounty & Soul Executive Director Bruce Ganger.

Carolina Day School is broadening its Horizons summer enrichment program, which provides six weeks of learning to low-income students at the school’s Asheville campus. The program is adding a new class of 15 rising first grade students as its original class moves into another year of enrichment; Executive Director Monica Antonazzo says the initiative will eventually reach nine classes, with potential expansion into high school programming.

And the Community Housing Coalition of Madison County — previously focused on the rehabilitation of homes and improving accessibility for elderly and disabled residents — opened ReClaim Madison in April. The social enterprise will use retail sales of hardware and salvaged building materials to provide a sustainable funding stream for the CHC’s work.

Muddy Sneakers found a new home for their summer day camps at REEB Ranch. Its 145 acres adjacent to DuPont State Recreational Forest include lightly traveled woodland trails that lead to creeks, waterfalls, rock formations, meadows and pine groves. Photo courtesy of Muddy Sneakers

Covering new ground

Brevard’s nature-based experimental science education organization, Muddy Sneakers, which was recently recognized with a $25,000 gift from Paul Simon, expanded this spring. The organization added service to two more schools in Polk County, a school in Jackson County and, for the first time, it is offering programming to schools in Madison County, bringing the total number of school districts served to 18 (43 schools in all). Additionally, Muddy Sneakers’ summer camp operation has a new home at REEB Ranch, adjacent to DuPont State Recreational Forest, between Hendersonville and Brevard, with a shuttle running from Asheville.

Mercy Urgent Care, a local, not-for-profit health care provider, has just reopened a renovated Brevard facility for service seven days per week. The organization also will open a seventh location in Columbus in June.

Expanding its list of service counties helped Pisgah Legal Services serve 16,800 people in 2018, providing free, civil legal aid to more people in a year than it ever has before. Avery County brought its list of counties receiving specialized legal help to eighteen and the addition of Mitchell and Yancey makes 8 core service counties.

The Bob Moog Foundation announced that it will open its new Moogseum at 56 Broadway on Thursday, May 23, on what would have been the inventor’s 85th birthday. Exhibits will explore Moog’s life and work, as well as offer interaction with theremins and synthesizers.

Meanwhile, in Candler, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity broke ground in December on the new Curry Court neighborhood, which is the first implementation of an expanded housing model for the organization. The new development will include four traditional single-family homes as well as eight townhome units. Communications Director Ariane Kjellquist says “building a mix of housing types more fully addresses our region’s housing needs, offers choice to buyers [and] maximizes land use.”


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About Able Allen
Able studied political science and history at Warren Wilson College. He enjoys travel, dance, games, theater, blacksmithing and the great outdoors. Follow me @AbleLAllen

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2 thoughts on “Checking in on staffing, strategy shifts at local nonprofits

    • Able Allen

      Thanks, Laura! It was Virginia’s idea to try a joke and we ran with it.

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