Compassion and connection: KACS appoints new executive director
● By Richard Gaw
If there is any doubt as to the compassion that Leah M. Reynolds will bring to her position as the new executive director at Kennett Area Community Service (KACS), then it was her experiences in Pittsburgh that will forever end that doubt.
During her 24-year career as a development director, fundraising executive and executive director at several non-profit agencies in Pittsburgh, Reynolds created her own homeless outreach in the Market Street vicinity, a center of business and commerce during the day, but very often a pocket of despair at night. With the help of friends, Reynolds distributed gift bags of home made bagels, candy and apples to individuals who were destitute and in need of food.
“After 5 p.m., the business community would leave the city and leave behind people struggling with all kinds of issues related to poverty – drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, the loss of a job – whatever life circumstances had brought them to their knees,” said Reynolds, who began at KACS last week. “Instead of setting up a location for them to go to, we went to where they were.
“My compassion for these individuals was deeply rooted in trying to make a connection. When we handed them a bag of food, we would look them in the eyes, and the connection would begin.”
For Reynolds, who replaces Melanie Weiler as KACS’ executive director, linking connection through compassion is a gift that she inherited from her parents, Tex and Theresa Reynolds, as a child growing up in West Virginia. For the past several decades, her mother has attended to the sick and home-bound, and operates a Christmas and Easter project that helps assure that gifts and well wishes reach ore than 100 people in Martinsville, W.V. every year. Meanwhile, here father is a long-time Mr. Fix-It who has made repairs in hundreds of homes in the town.
“There were no conversations in my home about issues of poverty, and no intellectual exercises about racism, sexism and any topics things that divide people,” Reynolds said of her parents. “What I continue to see in them today is seen, rather, in the form of action. They go out and do the thing that the person might need help with.”
Reynolds’ transition to KACS is the accumulative dovetail of her upbringing, her professional and personal experiences in Pittsburgh and the agency’s ongoing initiatives. KACS has a long history of providing services to fight hunger, homelessness and poverty in Southern Chester County through the food cupboard, homelessness prevention, emergency services and Bridges Out of Poverty training.
“Leah brings an expansive wealth of experience in leadership, fund development and nonprofit management to our team,” said Board President L. Peter Soraruf. “KACS is now positioned to expand services that meet the needs of so many families and individuals struggling with limited resources in the Southern Chester County area.”
While Reynolds has marked her career in the non-profit industry by accepting new challenges rather than “be fitted into a pair of comfortable old shoes,” she said that her transition has been made smoother by the fact that she shares Weiler’s belief that the success of a non-profit arrives through the symmetry of creating collaborative relationships and community building. Continuing to serve the local community will depend on being able to make a “collective impact,” Weiler has told Reynolds.
“What Melanie has done in this community has been to elevate those two points and connect them,” Reynolds said. “It’s about establishing connection, merging our internal and external partners and executing the mission in the community. How can we build on what we have, continue to meet other needs, and create sustainable projects and resources that won’t dissolve when future transitions happen or funding changes?”
Ask anyone involved in the non-profit industry in southern Chester County to indicate where the heavy lifting is heaviest, and the answer is likely to found in the challenge of leveraging corporate funding in a crowded field of other non-profits. While the machine of non-profits will always rely on the financial kindness of larger companies, Reynolds said that one of her goals will be to help create a sweat equity commitment from employees at these businesses.
It’s the companion of fundraising, Reynolds said.
“There is always the need to get the larger corporate community to substantially support all of the elements that make up the whole,” she said. “My goal is to help the corporate community see that there is a value for them in caring for their community. Often, it begins with a conversation: to tell them that their involvement in our organization is as an investment in their own community. In order to create action, we need to be strategic partners, together.
“The fact that this organization exists – that any organizations like ours exist – is a political statement, but underneath these politics, we’re trying to get people to understand the human element of our initiative – that all of those things that make us separate and different unite us in our humanity.”
To learn more about Kennett Area Community Service or become a volunteer, visit www.KACSonline.net.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.