We reached out to three nonprofit leaders in new roles to talk about how they made their entry into important nonprofits.
Vicki Watts is new to her position as the development director for a nonprofit called L’Arche. Its Forest Park headquarters is located at the corner of Madison and Marengo.
She describes herself as “a 45-year-old who is an old school scrappy fundraiser.”
When she stepped into that role a few months ago big things were happening. For example, L’Arche, Forest Park, was wrapping up a $2 million capital campaign to build a fourth house for its clients in Oak Park.
L’Arche homes are “dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs and support networks where people who have intellectual disabilities and people without intellectual disabilities live mutual relationships and share the daily life, building community together.”
With construction of the additional home well underway on East Avenue in Oak Park, Watts said, “It’s an incredibly exciting time. We’ll be in a position to welcome four new core members and our staff will grow, as will our financial needs.
Then there are the everyday expenses of maintaining the other homes. One of the nonprofit’s homes in Forest Park had galvanized pipes that needed to be replaced, and the organization was able to complete the costly project thanks in part to funds raised at their annual dinner event.
Regarding what lies ahead in terms of challenges, she said, “With three (soon to be four) homes and vehicles, there is always something that is reaching the end of its lifespan – and, just as it is for our personal homes, it’s important to make sure the washer/dryer are working. My goal is to help grow our endowment fund so we have the needed resources for on-going maintenance needs.
As a licensed service provider, the Forest Park branch of L’Arche receives funding from the State of Illinois through Medicaid, but the quality of services they provide costs more than that amount by over $300,000 a year. Watts’ challenge is to raise that money.
Founded in 1964, L’Arche is a nonprofit organization now located in 38 countries which, according to one of its websites,
For the 12 years before coming to L’Arche, Watts worked in the area of corporate/foundation relations “learning the ropes of all areas of fundraising.” She said her work with people with disabilities has taught her to be patient, to not take things personally and to see things from different perspectives.”
She said she came to L’Arche because of its holistic approach in which “core members,” persons with intellectual disabilities, live in the same home with their assistants who do not have intellectual disabilities.
“My whole life has been shaped by the experience of volunteering and then working with people who have developmental disabilities. It’s an incredible opportunity for the community to take the time to learn about L’Arche, meet our core members, and see how their lives can be changed for the better.”
PROGRESS CENTER FOR IDEPENDENT LIVING
Erin Hostetter started her job as program director at the Progress Center for Independent Living (PCIL) on July 17. Right from the beginning it has been a roller coaster ride.
On a positive note, the center had momentum. “Many things set in place by my predecessor, Gary Arnold, are going well,” she said. “The thing I am most proud of is the deep level of genuine care and empathy all staff have for the community and for each other. It’s so easy to come into work.”
Part of the work done by the center’s staff is advocacy. “One of the challenges I had to deal with right away,” she said, “is the Humanize Long Term Care bill we are advocating for regarding nursing homes and their reputation for mistreating the patients in their care.
“We’re fighting for the patients’ right to advocate for themselves without retaliation, which is unfortunately rampant in many nursing homes across the United States. We’re talking physical and mental trauma to these patients, just for trying to speak up for themselves. There are many other items on our agenda, but this is one example of the work we are doing.”
The ups and downs on her roller coaster ride have been due to personal concerns as well as work related challenges.
The week before starting,” she said, “I was in Texas finishing cancer treatments, packing up my apartment and driving a U-Haul for the first time.
“Moving cross-country is terrifying, but I am so glad I did. A new city clear across the nation and starting fresh at the center is different from the last one I worked at and has been a wonderful experience. I genuinely enjoy the challenges, the faces, and the opportunities afforded to me.”
Horacio Esparza, the organization’s director can empathize with his program lead. If Hostetter is a newbie, Esparza, who is blind, is an oldie, stepping into his position in 2008, and the list of challenges he has faced is long.
Esparza emphasized that the Progress Center is not only for people with disabilities but has its doors open for all who are interested in learning more about disability.
“Remember, sooner or later, we all acquire a disability, whether due to an illness, an accident or simply old age.”
NINETEENTH CENTURY CHARITABLE ASSOCIATION
Ray Ward became the executive director of the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association 11 months ago – Jan. 4 to be exact. On that first day he said he was “eager yet a bit nervous.”
“You never fully know the environment,” he said, “until you’re actually in it. Being not only the first man but also the first person of color to hold this position (in the 132-year history of the association), I didn’t quite know how I would be received by the members or how the staff would interact.”
He was relieved to discover that “while there will always be challenges, I am happy to say that 98% of everyone has been absolutely great to me.”
He had to hit the ground running. “Our biggest challenge in 2023,” he said, “was the remodeling of our full-service kitchen.”
In addition to managing that construction, he had to work with the association’s full-time staff including a chef, sales manager, and a part-time event manager to coordinate activities at the landmark facility on Forest Avenue in Oak Park.
“Since the kitchen was down for 2 months,” he said, “that set us back but due to the diligence of our staff, we are looking better than ever.”
“As a director,” he said, “there is an immediacy of needing to know how everything properly functions and who are my ‘go-to’ people. I tried to get acclimated as quickly as possible with the vital functions and the most effective ways to communicate and continue to move the association forward.
In addition to the challenge of “getting his feet wet,” he quickly realized that there were administrative and human resources holes that needed to be filled.
Along with those challenges, Ward embraced an opportunity when the association started live Zooming and recording their popular programs which they put on their website.
“We anticipate more opportunities than challenges going forward,” he said.
The Nineteenth Century Club was established in 1891 by members “who realized that charitable activities, education and civic involvement were essential elements in building a community.”
In 2010 the club founded a new organization, The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, a not-for-profit with a 501(c)(3) federal tax designation, “to further its charitable mission. In 2014, the association’s motto became Strengthening Our Community Through Learning.