Community-Based Board President

Emily Chittenden-Laird By Emily Chittenden-Laird

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the eighth in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. To start with the first entry, click here.

I know a woman who is brave, compassionate, fierce, hard-working, and nothing short of genius. She is a gift to everyone who knows her, and she is a special gift to us at WVCAN and the CACs in the state.

We at WVCAN recognized early on that we needed to diversify our Board. We had grown from an informal network of center directors to an incorporated nonprofit, and we needed to evolve again. Because our Board was comprised of all CAC directors, we found our network was too small – we were talking about ourselves to ourselves. We also knew we didn’t have the type of expertise to ensure our organization had the right type of oversight: legal, fiscal, and ethical. Thus, at a strategic planning retreat one year, our Board fired themselves (well, not outright, but over time…) and developed a staged-plan to diversify our Board to include members of the community.

I like to refer to those early years of diversification as our awkward adolescence. Our earliest community-based Board members (you know who you are, God bless you!) were imminently patient as we made sure we stopped talking in jargon, understood when to take off the CAC hat and put on the WVCAN hat, and begin to evolve our agendas to be meaningful to everyone around the table.

But it gelled. It began to work. We saw the tremendous benefit of having a diverse array of West Virginians from all around the state participate actively in our governance. And they helped us fundraise (hallelujah!). A few years into this process, it became clear that our Board leadership needed to reflect our new phase of life – we needed a community-based Board member to lead us.

Back to the aforementioned superwoman (I’m not exaggerating). I remember making the call when I asked Mimi Wilson if she would be willing to serve as our next Board President (a clear consensus choice from our then-Executive Committee); I was really nervous. But she didn’t just say yes, she said she’d be honored if we’d have her.

It was incredibly important as we moved our leadership outward that it be the right person, and she was. She got in her car and drove to meet with a community who was struggling to meet national standards. She met with a local CAC Board after a time of crisis. She called CAC Directors individually to get their input. She met in-person with development staff at one of our centers to share her expertise. Her heart was matched by her dedication and smarts. And CACs began to get comfortable with where she was leading us.

If I made a laundry list of the contributions of our first community-based Board President, this blog would far exceed the recommended word limit. But Mimi has given us a gift that will live far beyond when she reaches her term limit – the gift of knowing our community believes in us and supports us. For those of you who aren’t in the work, this may not sound like much, but I can tell you that when my heart is heavy and I feel the support of our community-based Board members, it changes things. I don’t feel alone. And our centers don’t feel so alone. We feel a part of a community who believes in the things we work for – safety, justice, and healing for children who desperately need it.

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