Leading Ladies: These Women Head Charlottesville Nonprofits - Charlottesville Woman: Hot Topics

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Leading Ladies: These Women Head Charlottesville Nonprofits

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Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012 1:58 pm

They raise funds, balance budgets and care for families. Then they go home and do it all over again. Their jobs won’t make them wealthy, but their work enriches the lives of thousands. Here are just a few of the growing number of women who lead our local non-profit organizations.

Keila Rader/ Red Cross


In the sixth grade, they told her she would grow up to be a newspaper editor. And Keila Rader did.

“I used to write a lot about the Red Cross,” she said. “They would yell from the back room, ‘Keila, you have all these white holes to fill,’ and I would write on deadline stories about the Red Cross.

“I actually have always admired people who give so much of themselves. Red Cross volunteers caught my eye a long time ago. It is a strange breed. They are folks who usually never know whose lives they have saved. They plan and prepare every day to do things they hope they never have to do. It’s why they take CPR and First Aid. They are never going to use those skills on themselves. It is something they are going to give away.”

Rader was such a familiar face at the non-profit agency, that when a job opened, the Red Cross came calling.

“They called me up when they had a vacancy and said, you know you are one of our best fans, have you ever thought about managing the Red Cross? I said it must have been a bad news day, because I jumped ship right then and there,” Rader said.

They knew she had organizational skills—drawing from her combined family of seven children.

“During the interview, I saw somebody nudge the guys next to him, ‘We have to hire this woman. She had seven kids. She runs a shelter every day’.”

“In raising a very large family, you develop a lot of coping skills and you develop an intense sense of humor,” she said. “And you find joy in small things, because they are sometimes the things that sustain you in the worst of times.”

Now she only has one child at home, the 19-year-old. Her oldest is 34.

“Looking back and I was one of those fortunate ones who was mentally very organized. I always had vision,” Rader said. “I knew where I was going and what I was going to do.

“Having my work in Red Cross, I live what I do. We are all about preparedness. I believe everybody should be prepared. When you have seven kids you’ve got to be. You have to think about what is going to be for dinner next week and next month and a year from now.”

It serves her well as the executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.

“Things have really changed in the 10 years that I have been here,” she said. “When I started it was a small single chapter that served five counties in our planning district. But we have emerged as one of the chapters in the state to be a regional chapter with lots of responsibilities beyond these five counties.”

Rader oversees smaller chapters in Woodstock and Winchester and serves a total of 19 counties, with three-quarters of a million people in that jurisdiction.

Rader knows firsthand that there are a lot of folks who count on the Red Cross every day. During her years with the Red Cross—in Alabama, Illinois and Virginia—she has traveled to more the 40 of the country’s worst disasters.

“I was on the scene of 9-11 the day it happened,” Rader said. “I was one of the silly ones driving north when most everybody with any sense was driving out of [Washington] D.C. I have been in Manhattan at Ground Zero helping the Red Cross, but I have also been to a number of others all over the country.”

She was at the Superdome after Katrina hit New Orleans.

“One of the experiences I think about was in Oklahoma City, where some of the highest winds on Earth were recorded,” Rader said. “We think of tornadoes knocking buildings down, but these kinds of winds exploded buildings and at more than 300 mph, driving pieces of wheat straw through a telephone pole. It changed my life.

“I am now a part of that group that gets up at two in the morning and donates blood and learns skills that I hope I never have to use. That’s why I do what I do.”

She certainly appreciates the giving nature of the people in Central Virginia.

“I lived here about 25 years ago. It was during my first marriage, and I fell in love with this area.”

She was more than pleased to return when the director’s position came open in the fall of 2000.

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life here,” she said. “Folks here hold hands in the toughest of times. They come together to help people. That kind of desire to make a difference…I want to be a part of that. I want to live in a community that thinks beyond themselves.

“That is what I have seen again in Haiti. We have seen it with every disaster. People want to give blood or do what they can. Some of the calls that I take just break your heart with the love that people want to share for people they will never meet.”

A woman whose husband was out of work called and said she had a lot of baby clothes and she knew she couldn’t send them. But the woman said she was going to organize her neighborhood to have a yard sale and sell the things they don’t need and give the money so that someone can have something.

“It’s sacrificially giving,” Rader said. “And it really does make a difference.”

Erika Viccellio/ Charlottesville Free Clinic


The mother of two didn’t plan on a career in the medical field, but as executive director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic, Erika Viccellio is part of the organization that has treated more than 11,000 patients since its founding in 1992.

Viccellio hadn’t planned on coming to Charlottesville either. After graduating from college in New York, she packed her bags.

“I was going to go to San Francisco with my friends, but I decided I wanted to stay closer to home,” Viccellio said. “I was at the Chautauqua Institute in New York, when some friends told me that I would love Charlottesville.

“I came down and ended up staying here, going to school, and I never left. I can’t image living in another place.”

She went to graduate school at the University of Virginia, met her future husband after a football game and ended up in the non-profit sector thanks to an internship.

“I took a circuitous route,” she said. “I was in graduate at the Curry School of Education, working for my master’s in education. I was interested in counseling teenagers.”

She started working at Virginia Institute of Autism as an intern. By the time she left, seven years later, she was the executive director of VIA.

“I ended up growing up with VIA and learned about non-profit management while working with them,” Viccellio said. “I had a mentor, Betty Ketron, who shepherded me through a lot. I found it was much like running a business.”

Then someone from the Free Clinic called her about their open director’s position.

Since her internship had evolved, she said that she had never had to interview for a serious job. She learned more about the Free Clinic and found an opportunity to help the health concerns for the community.

“It really has been a great experience,” she said. “We have 12 paid staff who support the volunteers, who run the clinic each night.”

It’s been even more challenging as the economy took a downward turn.

“I think everyone in every sector is feeling the impact of budget cuts and finding ways to stretch dollars,” she said. “You have to make tough choices…and find thoughtful and creative ways of getting resources and expanding services. It has been very challenging because simultaneously you  have an increased demand for services and a decrease in resources.”

The Free Clinic is trying to recruit more doctors and pharmacists to keep up with the demand for services.

“We were fortunate to get a challenge grant from an anonymous donor, $50,000 at the end of last year that really helped us weather the storm,” she said. “We also have been planning for our annual benefit concert in the spring.”

Viccellio also has made a few choices to balance that work world with raising a family. Her son, Jack, will be 4 in June, while Margaret just turned 1

“I always imaged that I would continue working when I had kids,” she said. “I never imaged how I would be spending time with them each and every day and watching all the wonders that come each day. I never realized that my family outpaces my career goals. I am very fortunate to be able to be at the Free Clinic and to be a mom.”

She budgets her time so that she gets quality time with her children and at the clinic.

“I want to honor my family and to be that very best mom,” she said. “Some days I get it right. Some days I have to regroup and try to find that balance.”

Among the cutbacks are time she spent with other organizations.

“I had to narrow my focus,” she said. “I had been the Junior League president and had remained active in that for years, but I had to cut back.”

She also has had little time for another activity that she enjoys—running.

“When that alarm goes off at 5:30, I have to decide if I really want to get up or if I want to sleep another 45 minutes,” Viccellio said. “It is really hard to do when it is so cold and dark outside.

“But I have run several marathons, and it is just in my blood. I need to try to get it back. Running doesn’t just help physically; it is my chance to regroup with myself. If I make that right decision in the morning, I am actually less tired than if I slept that 45 extra minutes. I think I need to go buy those new running shoes.”

Ruth Stone/ Piedmont CASA


When Piedmont CASA was founded 15 years ago, Ruth Stone signed up to be a volunteer. The board of directors had other ideas.

“I actually had trained to be a volunteer, and was offered the position as director,” Stone said. “We started out in 1995 with two volunteers and we were housed in the old Jailor’s House behind the juvenile court. It had a small founding board of five.

“We now have on average around 100 volunteers over the year and probably serve 190 to 200 children.”

CASA—Court Appointed Special Advocates—recruits and trains volunteers who are appointed by juvenile court judges to serve as court advocates for abused and neglected children.

Volunteers conduct independent investigations, file written court reports, monitor cases and make sure children and families get the services that they need.

“I am very fortunate to have a job that is my passion,” Stone said. “I love what I do. I love the people that I work with. I work with all different kinds of people. I work in a great community where agencies and individuals collaborate well.

“I am one of the lucky ones to have a job that blends both my interests—my background in law and social work, and my passion—helping children.”

Stone, a self proclaimed military brat, was born in Canada and lived in California, Japan and Louisiana before her father retired in Tidewater. She went to Virginia Commonwealth

University to study social work and went to law school at William and Mary.

“My husband and I moved here in ’79,” she said. “My husband had gone to U.Va. undergrad and he was a couple of years ahead of me in law school. He came back to this 

community, so we decided to have our family early and we have been here ever since.”

For a number of years, she said, she raced the school bus home.

“I remember sort of tongue-in-cheek saying, when I took this job helping abused and neglected children my daughter became a latch-key child,” Stone said. “She didn’t really, though. She came over to my office and would spend the last hour and a half of the day with me. The juggling [job and family] is the challenge.”

Her two children are now 30 and 25.

“It is something I am sympathetic to with my staff,” she said. “I try to be family friendly and flexible. The snow days are obliviously difficult for many people, but deadlines need to be met. I think technology has both helped and hindered over the years. I can work at my home at night if I need or I can work at home if somebody is sick. I think that is what women do in many careers. But for us [directors]… the buck stops here.

“I think I also have been very fortunate to have a partner, my husband. We both originally worked in the same firm. We were both under the same pressures and it was easy to cooperate.”

She also said she feels very fortunate to have found Piedmont CASA.

“I have worked with excellent boards of directors over the years,” Stone said. “We have always had strong visionary leadership from our boards and strong support for the organization out in the community. Things like that make it easy to do this work. I know a lot of people burn out on non-profit leadership after a few years, but I feel very fortunate to feel energized and enjoy what I do.

“I have the benefit of seeing many facets of this community. I think many people don’t understand that there are really in many ways two Charlottesvilles. I work in an area that many people aren’t even aware of.”

Many of those faces in the director’s seats are held by women.

“We are good managers and we are good multitaskers,” Stone said. “I am not saying that men can’t do the same, but I do think that is an attribute.”

She hopes more people will accept the challenge when CASA starts the next spring training class in March. Applications are available online.

“Sadly, child abuse and neglect is something that has never gone away. I often said that I wish we could put ourselves out of business.”

Colleen Keller/ PACEM


One of the newest directors is among one of the busiest, especially this time of year. Colleen Keller was in Charlottesville 20 years ago as a Darden graduate, but for the past year she has been directing PACEM—People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry.

PACEM, which opened in 2004, helps the homeless find shelter at night.

“I have lived in Charlottesville for four years, but until this summer I was working for a non-profit in Santa Fe, that is where we came from,” she said. “I finally decided if you’re going to be here, you should be here and work on something local.”

Last year she heard Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris speak.

“He talked about the founding of PACEM and the concept of recycling space, using available space and that very fine line between you, me and the homeless,” she said. “It really appealed to me. I think the concept of it is extremely simple and efficient.

“It worked out. This was a good size organization for my experience, and I really like what they do.”

PACEM also became a part of the Haven, a community space managed by the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for Homeless.

“We are definitely the beneficiary,” Keller 

said. “We moved our intake there, which is every

night everybody comes in and signs up for a bed. It had been in Holy Comforter, in the church basement for five years, and they were exhausted. So for the first time we have a permanent

home that is very centralized. Which also means in the morning, when they leave the shelter, we are not dropping them off at the transit

center downtown; we are taking them to the Haven. It is infinitely better for them and a little bit less stressful to the whole community.”

PACEM also does advocacy for the people in shelters. “We meet with them every 14 days and try to get them identification, benefits, and we refer people to housing,” she said.

Unfortunately, there is more need than ever for their services—due to the winter weather and the downturn in the economy.

“We don’t want the shelters to grow,” she said. “That was never the intent. The intent is to offer some compassionate shelter then help you move on and get back into a more productive place. But we have had a pretty unbelievable year. We were up to about 153 individuals coming in, and that is high.”

Many people said the reason they were there was because they had been evicted from rental housing and that is not really the norm, she said.

“I think we have had a tremendous influx of people who are just without shelter as opposed to the chronically homeless. I believe we have a higher percentage of people from last year who are working. They are painting, hauling, towing, [working in] grocery stores, but they are not close to being able to sustain some sort of rental. The face of it is different this year.”

With the influx of homeless, Keller’s hours have increased, which makes if difficult balancing family and work.

“It is very hard,” she said. “This is my first season, and definitely there is a big learning curve. My husband was unemployed for the last seven months, which helped in a way [with care of their children], but it had its own set of trials. Now he is employed again.”

But the nighttime requirements at the shelter keep Keller away from home.

“I have been gone a lot,” she said, “and I have one kid in high school and one still in elementary school. Right now they are little and they see it as a bit overwhelming, but I think we are in winter time and right in the thick of it.

“Organizationally, there are some growing pains. But…it will become better.”

Keller was so committed to her work, she agreed to a salary that is nearly a fifth of what she had been making.

“I worked on Wall Street, which I did not like,” Keller said. “I came back to Darden, then worked for Trigon and in corporate marketing. Then about 10 years after business school I just decided I wanted to work for a nonprofit. I think all of us who work in these roles are income challenged, but past corporate jobs have made it possible to be in my late 40s and take a lot less money, but to do something that is really intrinsically rewarding.

“It is the first time in my life that I have worked right downtown on something that is intensely local and that has been incredible.”

Susan Friedman/ Alzheimer’s Association

of Central and Western Virginia


Susan Friedman said she didn’t really know what she wanted to do when she grew up but she knew she was drawn to nonprofits.

“My wonderful partner in life discovered community colleges and the presidency of Piedmont Virginia Community College came open and he was accepted,” she said. “He knew early on what he wanted to be when he grew up; I just knew I loved the non-profit sector.”

Born in Indiana, Friedman spent time in Alexandria in the mid-80s, South Georgia, Hilton Head, S.C., and Austin, Texas, and had an opportunity to work in the non-profit world in all of those areas.

Three years ago, she found the perfect fit at the Alzheimer’s Association in Charlottesville. 

“I was at a point in my career that I chose to look for a new position, and a position that would allow me to show leadership to a nonprofit. At the same time, Joyce Robbins ran a blind ad in The Daily Progress that said an association nonprofit was looking for a president. It was great timing.”

We have 15 employees spread across five offices,” she said. “But we know with the nature of our work, we will never have enough staff to do the work we need to do. We need trained and supported volunteers to help out with more than 40 support groups for caregivers. All of them are run by volunteers.”

The group serves 37 counties and 15 cities and towns.

“I go up through Culpeper and touch the edge of Winchester back down through Woodstock, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, Roanoke all the way down to Danville and Martinsville.”

With Technology, she says it is easier to get things done.

“We do a lot of Webinars and teleconferences, those kinds of tools allow us to maintain our team even though we are at different locations,” said Friedman. “We also bring all the staff together monthly. I like technology, but nothing replaces face to face.”

She also knows how to manage a balance between home and work.

“I made a commitment,” Friedman said. “I have one child, who is now an adult, but early on we made a pack, he and I, that I would not leave for work before he left for school. So I always found non-profit positions that allowed me that flexibility. Sometimes it meant staying at home late and other times it didn’t.

“Also with the advent of technology, on snow days and sick child days, you can do a lot of work from other than your office. I tried to model that here at our office. We try to be flexible because we have several folks with young children.”

A graduate of Purdue with a master’s in agency counseling from Indiana State University, Friedman continues to take advantage of courses and programs.

“Take advantage of whatever is out there,” she said. “Back when I went to college, there were not majors in non-profit management. There are now. At any given time we will have several interns from James Madison University. U.Va. is starting a non-profit management major. Syracuse has a master’s program. Finally, the employment is seeing non-profits as a true business sector.”

It’s business, with a heart.

“Someone said you seem to party all the time,” Friedman said. “And I said, it’s not really a party, but we do have fun and we do celebrate. Alzheimer’s is a sad disease, so we need to celebrate the successes that we have in programming, fundraisings and serving folks along the way until we get to the cure part.”

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