Members of search committees for United Community Ministries (UCM) and Good Shepherd Housing (GSH) spoke to candidates from around the country. They narrowed down their lists and interviewed candidates. The quest in both cases was the same — to find the best candidate for the job. In the end, that person was already working for the organization.
Earlier this month, Cheri Zeman assumed the role of executive director of UCM, while Shannon Steene was named as GSH’s executive director. They were both deputy directors in their respective organizations.
“It’s amazing that this transition is happening at the same time. It puts a whole new face on the non-profit community in this area,” said Steene, who has already communicated with Zeman. “There’s a great sense of community within the non-profits,” he said.
CHERI ZEMAN was well groomed for her new role; her predecessor, Sharon Kelso, made sure of this, not because she expected Zeman to get the job, but because that’s what she did.
“Sharon laid the groundwork very well; her staff was well prepared for the transition [of her leaving]. All staff members were well versed in all matters of the agency. Sharon and I worked extremely close together,” Zeman said.
As deputy director, Zeman was an advocate for UCM and Human Services at budget hearings and community forums. In FY 03, she organized the South County Human Services advocacy role before the Board of Supervisors and in FY04 gave public testimony that resulted in newspaper coverage for UCM.
Zeman said that she was responsible for planning, coordinating and guiding the daily operations of UCM through the direct supervision of department directors and program managers. She also directly supervised the Social Services Department, Human Resources, Administration, the Bryant Early Learning Center, the Workforce Development Center, the Sacramento Neighborhood Center, and the grant writer position at UCM.
Additional responsibilities included designing, writing and overseeing the agency’s Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Plan outlining the flow of information throughout the agency and the process of planning and evaluating UCM’s programs. Zeman was also responsible for maintaining accreditation standards by designing, monitoring and reviewing policies and procedures in the organization to ensure best practice standards. In FY 04, she took the entire organization through the re-accreditation process; this culminated in UCM being granted accreditation status with an unprecedented approval rating.
“IF ANYBODY knows the organization after that, it’s Cheri,” said Canny, president of the UCM Board. “We’re so proud that she took the reins of the accreditation and oversaw the process. She’s so bright and picks things up very fast. She works very well with the community and is a very worthy successor to Sharon. The board and UCM staff is very excited and know that she will continue the mission of the organization.”
Canny knows that Zeman loves what she does, especially given the fact that Zeman left private industry to come to social services at a significant financial loss.
“This is exactly what I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Zeman said.
Prior to her joining UCM, Zeman was the director of client relationships for BAIGlobal, Inc.; vice president of Martin Research and Martin Focus Groups Centres; and vice president of marketing for Definitive Market Research, Inc. Her background in private industry enabled her to implement more efficient ways of doing things in the organization.
“I have a strong background in analytical work,” Zeman said. “I internally instituted a Point of Service system and pushed for automating the whole computer system.”
She pointed out that she was the same age that Kelso was when she assumed the role of executive director some 24 years ago.
“What’s important is that even though there’s a different personality, people should feel a great comfort that I share a large part of the vision that has brought this organization to its success. The beauty is not feeling that we have to blow everything up and start over.”
ZEMAN RECEIVED BOTH a master of public administration and a bachelor of science in political science, communications/public speaking minor from Florida State University. She is a member of several civic and school groups in the Mount Vernon area. Although Zeman has only been in her new role a short time, she is already shifting her responsibilities.
“The way I use my time has changed. I have a much more regional approach,” she said.
As far as making changes, Zeman said that she is “strategically and critically looking at trends in the Route 1 corridor and the needs of clients. I will have a slightly different bent, but am looking forward to continuing the work of UCM and finding ways to be more efficient.”
Zeman said that many of the things that she helped Kelso put into place are now coming to fruition and the hard work continues.
Jeanne Mitcheler-Ficks, social services director, said, "I'm delighted — she was my choice. I've been working with her closely and being from the organization she can hit the ground running. She is very open and very friendly and delegates well."
Mitchler-Fiks said that Zeman sometimes refers to herself as a "social worker wannabee."
"She really cares about people in a way that a social worker would. You need administrative abilities, but at the same time you can't just plunk somebody in there who only cares about the bottom line, they need to keep people in mind as well," said Mitcheler-Ficks.
“I’d like to thank the community for their continued support through this transition. I’m anxious to continue working within the community,” Zeman said. “I knew I wasn’t applying for a job, but rather a way of life. That’s what makes it special.”
SHANNON STEENE was so focused on finishing graduate school that he didn’t even think of applying for the position of executive director right away.
“I waited for quite awhile before throwing my hat in the ring,” he said. “Once I finished [this session of] graduate school, I started mulling it over.”
Now that Steene has been selected as director, he said that he is putting school on the “back burner” and giving his new job “front-burner consideration.”
“I will focus solely on the needs of the agency,” he said.
"I can't think of anyone more capable who is knowledgeable of the work of Good Shepherd Housing and the area,” said Jean Scully, GSH president emeritus. “Shannon assures nothing but success."
Although there was a large search with applicants from numerous states, Steene thinks that what tipped the scales is his familiarity with the culture.
“I know where we’re coming from and the vision for the future makes sense,” he said. “Shirley and I were a pretty close team, especially more so at the end.”
Steene feels that his major preparation for this position was getting to know the community. “I know where it’s come and where it’s going,” he said. “As Richmond Highway revitalizes and gets a new face, housing will become even more expensive. Part of our job is to find a place for lower-income families to live.”
Karen Jupiter, director of development, said, "I'm very pleased that Shannon has been promoted to the position of executive director. He is extremely familiar with the organization's mission, staff and volunteers and can hit the ground running as the new executive director."
"Shannon Steene is the best possible selection for the position of executive director of Good Shepherd Housing. Shannon has an amazing amount of knowledge of all aspects of the programs at Good Shepherd Housing, its budget and finance, as well as an excellent relationship with the staff. Promoting from within raises the morale of the staff, and assures that a knowledgeable, qualified person will be able to take over the reins and continue the outstanding reputation of Good Shepherd Housing" said Gloria Curry, director of emergency services program
AS DEPUTY DIRECTOR, Steene served as second in command, developing and refining award-winning housing programs for people struggling with this basic human need. He supervised the staff, and reached out educationally to the community. Steene also provided fundraising direction and support. Now Steene will be even more involved in fundraising efforts. Money in non-profit groups is always an issue and Steene said that he wants to maintain the standard of quality of GSH’s programs and make sure that the staff has the proper resources. They are working hard to keep administrative costs down and are proud of the fact that they use 91 cents of every dollar for their programs.
“We’ve been in such a growing mode, and have solidified and anchored who we are and where our base of support is,” Steene said.
Yet he knows that while Good Shepherd Housing is known locally, there are other opportunities out there as well. Steene said that he has been making phone calls and has received very positive response from political leaders and businessmen.
PRIOR TO WORKING at GSH, Steene served as transitional housing coordinator and family outreach coordinator Central Nebraska Community Services. He was also the assistant director for K.C.Q. Supported Employment Program in Faribault, Minnesota. Steene received his bachelor of arts with a double major in American racial & multi-cultural studies and English literature from Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. He is currently working on a master's degree in public policy at the School of Public Policy, George Mason University.
Steene was a member of the Leadership Fairfax Class of 2003 and an Alexandria Choral Society member. He’s been involved in other community groups, both here and in Nebraska.
Kari Warren, family advocate, said, “Hiring an executive director from within promotes the stability and focus of the staff. Instead of trying to maneuver through new boundaries set by an ‘outsider,’ we are better able to keep forging ahead with client-centered goals as previously established."
"Hiring Shannon as the new executive director has been the perfect progression. He is a natural leader and has an enormous commitment to the agency. His focus and skills will help to move the agency into the future. Hiring from within facilitates a smooth transition and provides continuity and camaraderie," said Kay Haskins, family advocate.