Three Decades of Opportunity

Gary WolskyBy Gary Wolsky, President/CEO
The Village Family Service Center
From time to time the question of my tenure at The Village comes up, particularly since I passed the 30-year mark in August 2013. It’s a good question, as I suppose it’s not common to find someone who stays with an organization that long. As I reflect on my 30 years at The Village, I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you.
I consider myself immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for The Village—an unparalleled organization with a history in the region that is unmatched by any other nonprofit. I’ve never looked at this as a job, but more as an opportunity. People familiar with The Village know we’ve been committed to our work with kids and families now for 123 years. These same people would also have a sense that our organizational DNA is very, very different from most other nonprofits.
When I started at The Village, my predecessor, Harry Myers, had spent 15 years recreating The Village after it had been an orphanage for 78 years. The Village evolved very quickly under his tenure. We knew then, as we know now, that to successfully meet the needs of kids and families in a fast-moving society we had to know our communities well, know our families well, and know our funding sources well.
I doubt you’ll find many nonprofits that are more reliant than we are on the communities in which we work. A large amount of our income comes from the services we sell and donors throughout the community. When Wayne Gretzky was asked how he became such a great hockey player, he simply said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” At The Village, this means we must be able to anticipate needs.
We also have to find ways to fund services in a world that is changing very rapidly. Our donors, including United Way and corporate donors, deserve to know how their investment in our work has paid off. Without fail, we can explain this to them in detail. I just visited with some donors today who have committed tens of thousands of dollars because they know and understand that our neighborhoods and our cities are better because of The Village. These donors know very well their investment in The Village, our history, experience, and passion for what we do, will make a difference in people’s lives.
One of the people whose life has been changed by The Village is a woman we will call Cheryl. Cheryl, a young woman in desperate need of help, recently called one of our staff. She was pregnant and had just been released from an addiction treatment program. Because she had no place to go, Cheryl wound up going back to an old boyfriend, an addicted drug dealer who didn’t treat her well. The final chapters of this story are yet to be written, but so far we’ve been able to be of great assistance to Cheryl in helping her begin to address a multitude of challenges. Through a broad array of services and relationships we have designed over many decades, we are able to guide Cheryl as she reviews her options (options she didn’t even know were available) and makes decisions for both her and her baby. Our phone rings every day with people like Cheryl who need and deserve an opportunity to get things back on track.
I’ve stayed at The Village for 30 years because thousands of people like Cheryl need what we have to offer. When people ask about my passing the 30-year mark, my response is that it’s not about me. It’s about incredible staff who are passionate and committed to their work. It’s about an organization that’s not dependent on the government, but respects what tax-based money can do if it is invested well on good programming. These are things I believed in long before these concepts became popular, and why The Village has been such a good fit for me and I’ve been a good fit for The Village. It’s about holding ourselves accountable—both individually and as an agency—to the community we serve and the donors who fund us. It’s also about knowing that The Village is a business and if the business end of what we’re doing is not attended to, the service end will suffer.
That’s why, personally and professionally, this has been such a great 30 years. I trust that the next 30 will be equally exciting and productive!
The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of The Village Family Service Center CEO. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization, staff, or boards of directors.

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