Bev Soult, President & CEO
Cancer Support Community
Leading for the Greater Good
The only way Bev Soult, president and CEO of Cancer Support Community Central Ohio, knew how to do things growing up was with perseverance and determination, excelling in everything that came her way. Bev grew up in a home that presented daily challenges. She often felt that she wasn’t comfortable with who she was.
Then an amazing woman she idolized became a mother to her, loved, supported and believed in her. This support changed the trajectory of Bev’s life and gave her the foundation she needed to change the lives of those affected by cancer every single day.
Bev had the opportunity to manage a dental practice after high school and to obtain her certification and later her license in dental assistance. She was offered a job as a registered instructor and completed the requirements and education, but her career path changed when she met her husband, a pediatric dentist.
After they married, Bev was blessed to stay at home to take care of their growing family. She got involved in community work and volunteered at her children’s school. She championed each role she took on. “I loved events and asking people for money!” exclaims Bev. “It is so empowering to help make a change in someone’s life and really make a difference.”
While these were important to Bev, she wanted a broader impact, so she joined the Junior League of Columbus. “The Junior League develops the potential in women and improves communities through the leadership of those women as trained volunteers,” says Bev. “They work so hard to make great leaders that someone from a Junior League background would be the first person I would choose to fill a role today.”
Bev found that she had the talent and a love for event planning and raising revenue for causes she believed in. A friend suggested she could do this for a living. Ready to jump back into the workforce, Bev accepted a position leading sponsorship for First Night Columbus, a downtown New Year’s Eve celebration that is safe, affordable, fun and substance-free. After only a year, Bev was asked to be the executive director. “It was an exciting event to be a part of; we won every national award and became the largest New Year’s Eve in the Midwest.”
Next Bev helped launch “Walk with the Doc,” a program that helps people get moving with goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is now a national walking program for patients and patient care. She later became VP of partnership development with Athletes in Action headquartered in Xenia, Ohio, where Bev secured media and national sponsorships for major events. She was on a path of meeting amazing people in organizations all over the country.
Eager to be closer to home, Bev learned about The Wellness Community which addressed the mental and emotional side of cancer for patients, families and caregivers. It was located in the Columbus Cancer Clinic and Columbus Lifecare Alliance. When those two organizations merged, The Wellness Community was without a home, so community leaders worked together to find a new home.
In 2009 The Wellness Community merged with Gilda’s Club Worldwide and became the Cancer Support Community, the leading organization in cancer support and the only organization in the world with a dedicated research institute solely focused on the emotional aspect of cancer. Its mission is to provide emotional support, education and healthy lifestyles for cancer patients, their families, caregivers and friends, all at no cost. “It was lots of work to ensure a solid foundation,” says Bev. “There were many meetings with the national organization, but we knew it would make a huge difference and improve the quality of life for people impacted by cancer.”
Bev rolled up her sleeves and began the journey with Cancer Support Community Central Ohio. “We have one of the most distinguished boards in the city and have heard many times that our programs and services have changed people’s lives,” adds Bev. “Patients, survivors, families and caregivers are surrounded by those going through similar journeys. Our programs are for all ages, and any type and stage of cancer.
Life changes after you hear the words, ‘You have cancer.’ Research has proven that emotional distress is a significant problem for half of all cancer patients, and caregivers’ distress is even higher. We provide more than 70 monthly programs including educational workshops, support groups, counseling, and personalized care plans. We provide the resources and tools to ask the right questions and make the most of their time with their physicians. All our programs are facilitated by licensed and credentialed professionals.”
Because of her strong background with non-profits, Bev understands the details, hard work and resources needed to expand services and programs. Cancer Support Community Central Ohio was the first affiliate nationwide to be aggressive with education about healthy lifestyle choices.
The need spawned a program that brought in chefs and dietitians to teach cooking classes for patients, survivors, families, and caregivers. “From the program’s inception, Giant Eagle wanted to be a part of it. They sponsored the Cooking for Wellness program, and without hesitation, agreed to the kitchen naming rights that created the Giant Eagle Community Kitchen,” says Bev. This enabled the program to expand and serve even more people.
Though she sees great success with an annual gala called Night of Chocolate and an annual charity golf classic, Bev continues to ask: “How can revenue be enhanced?”
A partnership with Crimson Cup Coffee and Tea produced a product called Grounds for Hope, an organic coffee blend packaged for Cancer Support Community Central Ohio. It’s being promoted by NBC4, Lamar Advertising and Buckeye Lifestyle magazine and is sold exclusively at Giant Eagle locations in Central Ohio. “We’re about to launch a new product called Smart Life, a healthy chocolate with probiotics and antioxidants. Like Grounds for Hope, it will be packaged and sold with the expectation of taking sales to a national level,” Bev says.
Bev recently earned the Innovation Award for an employer-based program: When Cancer Comes to Work, offering support services for employees and their families. She reports that, “The impact of cancer to U.S. employers is about $264 billion per year, and over a quarter of employees are caregivers to family members with an illness, including cancer. We can help address the need and reduce costs.”
A 1-800 helpline and a digital URL — My Lifeline — is available nationally. “The digital platform allows patients to update friends, family and co-workers and schedule meals and transportation. It also provides educational resources for educated treatment decisions,” adds Bev.
Bev’s passion for her role doesn’t stop in Central Ohio. She was nominated to the national board of directors for Cancer Support Community. She also serves on the National Network Council, which acts as an advisory body reflecting the ‘voice’ of the entire affiliate network.
“I have been blessed to work on meaningful, high-profile events throughout my life, but people sometimes ask if this job is fun, and I say with all sincerity it is the best job I’ve ever had, and it is my privilege and honor to lead this organization and know I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
Family is a huge part of Bev’s life. Her three sons are her pride and joy. “They are tremendous human beings and gentlemen, a priority for me.” She has always been involved in their lives. “I never missed anything my sons did.” Now she has three wonderful daughters-in-law, a 3-year-old granddaughter and a 2-month-old grandson. Bev loves traveling with friends and family, playing golf, collecting antiques and watching the Columbus Blue Jackets and all OSU sports.
“My sons have been a part of everything I have ever done and have driven me to make a difference every day in the lives of others,” adds Bev. “I have always led by example with my family and my roles in all of the organizations I have served.”
Destined for Success
Always dressed and ready for success, Angel Harris knew that the combination of running a business and partnering with amazing leaders who have a passion for helping women succeed was the perfect fit for her. That is where her journey with Dress for Success Columbus began.
This Near East Side, Columbus native grew up and attended East High School. Though the area was marked by poverty, Angel was rich in support from a family who gave her the guidance and tools to help her believe that she could do anything.
From a very early age, her family helped her have a positive outlook and use that positivity to encourage others.
Angel attended the University of Cincinnati where she studied accounting in the hopes of becoming a managing partner in an accounting firm. Taking a small detour in her educational plans, Angel became a mom at the age of 20 and returned to the Columbus area.
She continued her education at Franklin University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems because of the way accounting was merging with technology. She went on to get an MBA and is currently working towards a Doctorate of Business Administration.
While completing her undergraduate studies, Angel worked at The Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus. The JCC offered child care for her daughter while Angel worked. “This was the best of both worlds,” says Angel. This was the first non-profit organization that she worked for, and she fell in love with it.
Upon earning her bachelor’s degree, she received a call from the United Way offering her a position in development that aligned accounting, systems and fundraising functions. She was excited to join the organization and in her words, “I felt that I was waking up with a purpose and making a difference every day.”
Angel spent 17 years at the United Way and held five different positions, ultimately becoming senior vice president and chief development officer and having responsibility for the annual $50,000,000 campaign. “My various roles at United Way gave me the opportunity to participate in leadership programs through the global office,” adds Angel.
“I taught classes, mentored people, and participated with leaders from all over the world in the advanced leadership program for United Way Worldwide.” Throughout her time at the United Way, Angel was offered many opportunities to advance and to consider options to relocate. But Columbus was home to her family, and there were many great aspects of being in our great city that made it important for them to stay.
By this time in her career, Angel knew that she wanted to lead, and that’s when the call came in with an opportunity with Dress for Success Columbus. “I had been a donor and been to the annual Beyond the Suit luncheon supporting Dress for Success,” shares Angel. “I was excited to be a part of the conversations for the position and was ultimately offered the role of executive director.”
Angel was most excited about having the opportunity to be singularly focused on a critical, yet multi-faceted issue in the community – empowering women to ensure they can achieve economic success. “Our women are so resilient and so worthy of having the lives they dream of, and we get the chance to make a meaningful difference every single day,” says Angel.
When Angel was interviewing with Dress for Success, she hired a coach to ensure that she was thoroughly prepared for each of the interviews. After ultimately being offered the position, Angel looks back on that process and sees the value of being a confident, prepared interviewee. Dress for Success is eager to launch their own Interviewing for Success program. This program will do much of what Angel’s interview coach did for her.
“My success and preparedness is the same reason to launch Interviewing for Success. We want our women to own that room, be confident and show they are not only the best candidates, but that they are also candidates for upward mobility.” This program is seeking out local corporations as partners so the women will gain guidance that is in today’s current work environments.
For Angel’s first 90 days at Dress for Success, she immersed herself in the organization and the community, learning what the community most loves about Dress for Success. She knew the good Dress for Success was already doing and wanted to be able to continue to support the current path while adding new opportunities for women to continue to achieve greatness
In mid-2019, Angel and the team launched Mobile Suiting. Knowing that transportation and childcare are the biggest barriers for most of the women they serve, she knew it was time to take their services out into the community. “This would allow us to share what Dress for Success is all about with so many more women,” adds Angel. The initial program allowed Dress for Success to visit five sites in the Columbus area. “The goal for the near future is to secure a Mobile Career Center, allowing the agency to align with even more nonprofit partners and visit new areas in Columbus and the surrounding counties.”
In keeping with the success of creating programs that connect with the women and provide guidance for more than just dressing for a new role, one Saturday and one Tuesday a month, partners will come in and teach sessions to the Professional Women’s Group on how to be successful with work/life balance, finances, etc. “This program has been well attended and is much needed for the women as they begin their new lives in the workplace. It’s a tough balance.” says Angel.
As they did with the Mobile Suiting program, Dress for Success has realized the value of making programs attainable for all the women they serve. For those women who can’t get to the Dress for Success office, the Professional Women’s Group sessions are available on Facebook Live. “Facebook Live has allowed us to broaden our reach to this group of women,” Angel says.
While Dress for Success keeps Angel very busy and isn’t your normal nine-to-five position, she also has a very busy personal life. She and her husband, Chris, have a blended family of seven children. The kids are involved in sports, and they enjoy camping and hiking as a family.
“I am grateful every day the kids wake up healthy and happy,” Angel says with joy on her face. She also has a passion for baking. In fact, Angel and her daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 3, started a business called Cakes for Hope where a portion of the sales of their baked goods are donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
This busy woman can be found in all areas of Dress for Success. Whether she is spending time mentoring a woman, connecting with members of the Dress for Success Sisterhood, helping a woman get ready for her first day of work, or meeting with leaders in the community to bring more awareness to their programs to gain support, she is living her passion in this role — ensuring that women are empowered and stylishly dressed and ready for success.
Compelled to Make Change
By: Kelly Moricca
Growing up in a middle-class family in Westerville, Michelle Heritage, Executive Director of Community Shelter Board didn’t witness much hardship. Once the high school graduate headed off to college at The Ohio State University, her eyes were opened wide to some desperate situations which set her in motion to change the direction of her future plans.
Michelle studied pre-law at OSU and planned to head off to law school, but while attending OSU she witnessed homelessness for the first time. It was very foreign to her. She was saddened and appalled to see someone in such a desperate situation and shocked that it was not only happening in our country, but steps away from the university where she was being educated.
Preparing to head to law school, Michelle did an internship with State Representative Mike Stinziano Sr. There she worked in his Constituent Services Program which offered a helpline that anyone could call if they had problems. Michelle’s role was to listen to the caller’s challenge and then advocate to get them the help and resources they needed. Often times callers were seniors on fixed incomes having a financial crisis and people who had been evicted from their housing because of their HIV status. Being able to have a positive impact on the lives of people in need had a profound impact on Michelle.
Michelle decided to hold off on law school. She took a position with Children’s Services in a rural county in Ohio and fell in love with the work. “It was difficult, but the idea that you can work to alleviate suffering was compelling,” shares Michelle.
With some experience under her belt, Michelle accepted a position running the Volunteers of America Family Shelter in Columbus. “I enjoyed working with the families. You really see the resilience of a human, and the people in the shelter have incredible stories of strength and perseverance,” adds Michelle. “At that time, there were many Somali refugees at the shelter, and it was incredible to learn of their culture and deep family values.” During her time at the Volunteers of America Family Shelter, Michelle became a certified chemical dependency counselor in order to serve with even greater capacity.
“I love the crazy, intense energy of children and teens.” exclaims Michelle, and this was perfect for her next opportunity. She was hired to run Steven’s House, an inpatient treatment facility for boys coming out of the justice system who need substance abuse treatment.
While building and exploring her path, Michelle realized that her strong suit was the business side of an organization. She flourished in putting together teams, programs and environments that were conducive to offering the best services to those in need. After working in the detox unit at The Ohio State University, Michelle took a position running an agency that focused on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse among youth.
Michelle was also fortunate to spend almost a decade as the CEO of St. Vincent Family Center, which provides behavioral health care for young children and their families. St. Vincent provides care through schooling, outpatient and residential programs. “Because of the work done at St. Vincent, little children are able to start school in a regular classroom and be successful,” says Michelle. “Leading St. Vincent was an extraordinary role to be able to have.”
While at St. Vincent, the leadership role at Community Shelter Board became available and Michelle jumped at the chance to work at a system level for those facing homelessness. For the past nine years Michelle has served as the executive director. “It has been a joy and pleasure, and also difficult on an extreme level,” Michelle says. “We are a basic needs organization, and because of limited resources, we have to parse out shelter and housing.” This deeply drives Michelle. “As a community, we must make sure we meet the needs of our most vulnerable.”
Community Shelter Board has become a model for other communities all over the country. People come from around the nation to Columbus to learn about the comprehensive, system-focused approach of Community Shelter Board. “The community is key,” says Michelle. “We believe we are owned by the community and only by intentionally coming together as a community will we solve the challenge of homelessness.”
The increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness is a growing concern, and it is expected to worsen. The city’s population is increasing at a significant rate and therefore, so is the homeless population. It is projected that the population of Franklin County will increase by 400,000 by the year 2050. With what is known (from data sourced by Community Shelter Board) about the rates of poverty and homelessness, we should expect to see at least 150 additional people experience homelessness in our community each year just because of the population increase. That number is independent of all other environmental factors.
The current number of housing units does not support the rise of lower income families who are relocating to Franklin County because they are seeking greater opportunity for themselves and their families. Michelle reports that, “There is just not enough housing, and families are having trouble finding affordable housing.” Due to the lack of affordable housing, landlords can be choosy about new tenants. Rents have increased and landlords are heavily screening applicants for backgrounds that include previous evictions, criminal records and credit problems.
In addition, the local shelters are at capacity, and they are forced to scramble to find accommodations for the overflow of families. Columbus does not turn families away that need shelter and our community has always been proud of that. The question that is on Michelle’s mind every single day is, “How do we get the resources to meet that need?”
While our business community and local officials are committed to not leaving anyone behind, the question still remains about what our city’s growth means for the vulnerable in our community. “We are at an inflection point as a community, if we make decisions to focus additional resources on preventing homelessness and quickly re-housing those that do become homeless, we can change the end of the story and not end up like Seattle or San Francisco.” says Michelle.
“We need to think about residential building at all levels.” Innovation will be key. In one new exciting program, Community Shelter Board is working with Columbus State and other partners to assure that no student has to leave school because of housing instability. “Education leads to economic mobility, which is a key to ending homelessness” says Michelle.
With such significant technological advances occurring across the globe, Michelle is excited to be part of a 30-year project to look at the ability of artificial intelligence and technology to help solve homelessness. “Using predictive analytics to show which families will become homeless will allow us to target interventions sooner, allowing for more effective use of limited resources.” says Michelle. Another example is using algorithms to identify the services and interventions from the outset and chat bots to extend capacity. Michelle adds that, “With better technology, social workers could serve so many more people and do it more effectively.”
Michelle’s position at Community Shelter Board keeps her very busy, but she cherishes the time she has to spend with her family. Michelle and her wife, Tanisha, have been married for six years. Michelle has two sons; Nate is 26 and Zach is 23. Health and fitness are very important to them as a family.
They enjoy spending time with each other traveling, hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding and trap shooting. Michelle is also passionate about cooking and has taken more than 50 weeks of cooking classes including classical French cooking. She most enjoys classes on cooking styles of the great chefs from around the world.
When you can’t find Michelle in the office at Community Shelter Board, she is likely out in the community searching for a resolution to our city’s homelessness problem. She is not afraid to meet with community leaders to explore different ways to address the issues. She believes strongly that as a community, we can come together to tackle the homelessness problem we are facing today and the expected growth we will face in the near future.
Hungry for Change
Growing up the youngest of four girls in a small town just north of Columbus, Judy Mobley had a love of numbers that set her on a path to become a CPA. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.S. in Business Administration. After marrying her high school sweetheart shortly after college, she decided with her husband Randy to put down roots in Columbus.
Judy accepted a position at Battelle where she remained for thirty years. She worked in the finance department and held various positions throughout her career serving as the vice president of corporate audit in her last role, with audit staff in labs all across the country.
While at Battelle, Judy had lots of opportunities for growth and guidance in her career. “I had great role models and mentors during my time at Battelle,” she says. “I was taught that no matter what needs to be done, no matter where you are in the organization, you get it done. We work together.” This is something that Judy has carried with her throughout her career.
After an extremely successful thirty-year journey with Battelle, they offered an early retirement opportunity which many long-term staff accepted including Judy. She knew it was the right thing for her. Many connections during her time at Battelle opened up a sea of opportunities. Judy knew she wanted to use her financial skills in a way that gave back to the community. As timing would have it, at the time of her retirement, there was an opening at Children’s Hunger Alliance. Judy joined the organization as senior vice president of finance and operations.
“This was such a great fit,” explains Judy. “It allowed me to use my financial background in a way that benefitted children in our community and across the state.” Judy hit the ground running and really dug into the finances and how all the programs were run. The experience of being in a smaller organization was much different than Judy expected. “In a smaller organization you do more with less, and there is always something else waiting to be done,” she says.
In late 2016, the CEO of Children’s Hunger Alliance left the organization, and the board asked if Judy would step in as interim CEO and be a part of the group of candidates being considered for the role. Judy was ultimately asked to assume the position, and she became the president and CEO.
Part of what Judy has been doing in her role is evaluating the organization from top to bottom. Every dollar they save can help feed a child. Judy is proud that Children’s Hunger Alliance operates at a low overhead rate and always considers ways to save money which ultimately allows them to feed more kids.
The mission of Children’s Hunger Alliance is to provide food to children struggling with poverty. Last year they directly served and collaborated with community partners to provide more than nine million meals. Judy is proud of the work being done and how far they have come to reach more children. The organization focuses on working with children in childcare centers, in-home family childcare, after-school programs, summer programs and works with schools to increase breakfast participation. They also provide nutrition and physical education to the children they serve.
Some of the funding comes from the federal government, but it doesn’t cover all of the costs of the programs therefore grants from corporations and foundations as well as generous individual donors are critical to support the mission. Recently one of their partners, the Columbus Metropolitan Library, talked to Children’s Hunger Alliance about the gap they faced in serving kids between the end of summer and the beginning of school. In order to fill this gap, Children’s Hunger Alliance stepped in to provide food for the children that relied on the library for their meals.
Another gap they recently began looking at is when schools are closed. “We are in the process of working to develop a program that provides food to children when their schools aren’t in session,” adds Judy. “When a school is closed for spring break, holidays, bad weather or other unforeseen issues, the children who normally rely on their school for breakfast and lunch face having little or no food during that time.” This program could help fill this gap for children in poverty.
There is additional government support coming in at both the local and state level for Children’s Hunger Alliance. It is certainly to their advantage that Governor DeWine is heavily focused on the unmet needs of kids. Judy and her staff have worked really hard to get funding for Children’s Hunger Alliance included in the state budget this year .
“We have to raise $3 million each year in addition to the federal funds just to sustain the level of work we are currently doing,” adds Judy. This is accomplished through funds from events, donations, grants and small and large corporate giving. “Receiving funding from the state in this last budget is critical to our organization being able to expand and help more children.” Adequate funding is what is needed to help provide more programs and feed more children.
This year Children’s Hunger Alliance will celebrate 25 years of hosting the Menu of Hope luncheon. The keynote speaker will be Sugar Ray Leonard as they highlight the work being done to end childhood hunger in Ohio. Program Partners who have gone above and beyond this past year helping children are recognized as Program of the Year awardees. “One of the greatest ways money is raised during this event is through our ‘text to give’ initiative,” says Judy. “Last year our goal was met almost before we even started to ask for contributions!” This year, Judy and her staff have set a goal of $50,000 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Children’s Hunger Alliance feeding children in need.
Ohio ranks 14th highest for childhood food insecurity with one in five children impacted. This statistic is what drives Children’s Hunger Alliance to find more ways to provide healthy meals to children struggling with poverty. A challenging time for kids facing food insecurity is during the summer months. That is why Children’s Hunger Alliance is piloting a program of Mobile Feeding. This program is positioned to begin this summer and will allow them to reach many more children.
There is also some revitalization being done on current programs. The Lunch Money Challenge is a perfect example of how individuals can make a huge impact by donating the lunch money they would spend. On average, Americans spend $11.40 on lunch. “We are challenging individuals and organizations of all sizes to take the lunch money challenge by giving up their lunch money to help us feed children,” says Judy. The Lunch Money Challenge program has all the materials a corporation would need, including leader boards to encourage a little competition! “This program is starting to pick up some traction and is a powerful way to fundraise,” adds Judy. To get involved, visit www.lunchmoneychallenge.org
Unfortunately, there are times a child finds themselves in a crisis situation through no fault of their own. An example of that is when a 911 call comes in about the overdose of a parent. If there are children in the home, they may not have food available and need to be fed. Children’s Hunger Alliance is working with emergency personnel (police and medics) to pilot a “Food First Aid” Program. The plan is for Emergency vehicles to carry shelf-stable meals that they could offer to a child when responding to an emergency call to their home. “We know there is a need. This is a program that we definitely plan to explore this year,” says Judy.
When Judy isn’t leading the way in tackling childhood hunger, she is often on the road visiting with her two boys and their families. One lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the other one lives in Chicago. With four grandchildren between the two families, Judy stays busy keeping up on their milestones. They love vacationing as a family, often enjoying the sunny skies of Florida.
Judy is a breast cancer survivor and devotes much of her time to Komen Columbus. She was a board member for six years and stays very active in the organization. To unwind at the end of the day, she enjoys reading, spending time with her husband and especially enjoys getting to see her grandchildren – Lucy, Avery, Wells and Callie via FaceTime.
Judy understands that the top goal of Children’s Hunger Alliance is to feed more kids. “I know what we are doing now is making a difference, but there are so many more children that need our help and we must continue to look for new and better ways that we can reach them every single day.”
When you grow up in a supportive family, it is hard to believe that so many struggle through life on a daily basis. With the support and inspiration of her parents, Marilyn Mehaffie knew that giving back would always be very important to her.
While attending The Ohio State University, Marilyn wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. She had always loved kids and found that a role in social work would be a good fit for her. Prior to graduating, she did some placement work at St. Vincent’s Family Center. Marilyn fell in love with social work and working with kids.
After graduating from OSU in 1986, she accepted a position as a case aid with Catholic Social Services. Although she enjoyed her time and training there, Marilyn felt a tug on her heart to try to find a role that allowed her to work more directly with older children and families.
She applied for a position at St. Stephen’s Community Center and got the job as a group worker. Marilyn loved the work she was doing and enjoyed interacting in such a hands-on way. She was mainly working with kids, running after-school programs and even on-site programs in some of the Columbus City Schools.
St. Stephen’s Community Center began as a settlement house based in the Linden community with another office on the south side of Columbus. A community-based agency helping residents grow and become stronger, the agency was designed to meet the needs of the community. “I fell in love with the settlement house model,” adds Marilyn.
While St. Stephen’s Community Center is celebrating its 100th year, Marilyn is also proud to be celebrating 30 years with the organization. Starting off as a group worker, she has grown up in the organization both personally and professionally. “There have been wonderful leaders in this organization, specifically the board of trustees. They helped me to see myself as a leader and visionary,” says Marilyn, who now serves as the president and CEO of St.
Stephen’s Community Center. Excelling at each role she was placed in, she moved through the ranks as a group worker, assistant director of youth services, director of youth services, vice president of programs and services, and finally to her current role. “I am blessed to have had so many different roles at St. Stephen’s,” says Marilyn. “I have evolved in each role, and that has helped me to become a better leader of this organization.”
The organization faces new challenges every day. Marilyn finds herself involved in areas that she has never dealt with before. “The agency keeps growing and evolving to meet the needs of this community,” she adds. Marilyn’s perseverance comes from seeing the potential of the children and families at the center and the strength of the community.
“There are so many people in the center and the community who are proud of the work we have done and really want to ensure our programming is making an impact, she says.
With the help of the Linden community and the staff at St. Stephen’s, the center operates on five core service areas.
- The early learning center is an accredited childcare center for children ages six weeks to five years old. There is a tuition cost for the care, but most of the families receive assistance to make it affordable.
- The youth program offers programs for children from five years old through their teen years. After-school programs are housed in the Columbus City Schools in the Linden area for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The center offers a summer science camp for school-age students. Their teen program is called AMP, which stands for Achieve More and Prosper. There are case workers who meet with teens with the end goal of seeing them through to their high school graduation.
- The center offers a Family-to-Family program. These families are referred by Franklin County Children Services, and the programs are designed to help build the family up to be healthy and strong.
- The senior program at St. Stephen’s Community Center offers case management and transportation to Linden residents.
- Something very important to the center is making sure that a family’s basic needs are met. Their neighborhood services program focuses on the food and nutritional needs of a family. Their food pantry helps a family or individual in crisis. They also support a Christmas Cares/Unions Share initiative, which provides approximately 2,500 meals to families in Franklin County.
“Collaboration is key! We can’t do it all alone,” says Marilyn. “I always put an emphasis on this with our staff. If we aren’t doing something well, we need to partner with other services to make it better.”
Seventy percent of the funding for St. Stephen’s Community Center comes from state, county, and city government. The remaining 30% comes from fundraising and other community agencies. “All services at the center are free, with the exception of childcare,” says Marilyn.
Marilyn and her staff at St. Stephen’s are working on a new initiative called the Neighborhood Leadership Academy. This program is modeled after a similar program that was started by the United Way. Community leaders are identified in the neighborhood, and they are given a platform to have a voice and bring about change. “This gives residents a chance to learn and develop leadership skills,” Marilyn explains.
The future is bright for St. Stephen’s Community Center. With emphasis on the Linden neighborhood, they are set to move forward based on what the community needs. The old ways of doing things will not continue to work. They are prepared to be flexible with an emphasis on collaboration to have the greatest impact. “Our services are making an impact,” shares Marilyn. “We are seeing high schoolers graduate, five-year-olds ready for kindergarten, and elementary kids being successful.”
Marilyn is an avid reader who enjoys traveling. She has some amazing friends with whom she spends time in New York City, South Carolina, California, and even some tropical destinations. But the light of her life is her nine-year-old granddaughter and three nieces. She doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to spending time with them.
Marilyn finds that her long commitment to St. Stephen’s Community Center presents some challenges when it comes to balance and delegation. “Because I have been here for so long and in so many roles, I try not to get burned out, and I try to help the rest of the staff do the same,” she says. “Everyone here wants to do the right thing, and that is what I love. St. Stephen’s is a stronger agency as it celebrates 100 years.”