At the end of September, our President and CEO Carla Roberts will retire after 10 years leading Fremont Area Community Foundation. Recently, we sat down with Carla as she reflected on her decade with the Community Foundation, what she is most proud of, what she will miss, and more.
As you think back to when you started, what has surprised you about the Community Foundation or Newaygo County?
Carla: Newaygo County has changed a lot in the last 10 years and one of the most salient examples is if you look at the Newaygo County Tourism Council. Everything about how they present the county on the web and in the publications, the things you can go do, the summer top 10 list—it is amazing to me how far that has come in the period of time I’ve been here.
We know anecdotally that now parents are much more engaged with wanting to see their students go on to post-secondary training. That starts with kindergarten through Kickstart to Career and, of course, all the work with WE CAN! Newaygo County and the Promise Zone. All of that has been put into place in the last 10 years. There’s a different climate than there was and a different kind of talk on the street than there used to be.
What are your proudest accomplishments over the last 10 years?
I would say our staff team is one of the things I’m most proud of. We have a good group of people who work well together and who are smart. I’m very, very proud of the team that we have created and know that this team will continue to do good work in the future.
What will you miss about this work?
I’m going to miss all the people I work with every day. I’m going to miss sitting here watching the prairie go from season to season. It’s a very peaceful place to work.
I’m going to miss the sense of achievement, of doing big things. The work here is very much oriented to building the best community that can exist. The levers of education, economic development, and reducing poverty I know in my heart are the right levers for achieving the best possible economy, and that’s what improves the quality of life. That’s what makes it a good place to live—when everyone is doing well.
We’re not there yet because these are long-term things. Then, when you’ve got big waves of activity like we had with the multi-pronged crisis last year, it feels like it washes away everything you’ve done. I know it hasn’t, but it feels like that at first. You just keep going. It’s like the stock market: it goes up and down but over time it should have an upward trajectory. When you do social change work, it’s the same thing. There are going to be setbacks, but you’re looking for a long-term trajectory toward betterment. If you’re achieving that, then that’s what you want to do and that’s the most you can do.
What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned along the way?
I have learned so much in the last 10 years! My biggest personal growth and professional development has come from the staff. Everybody here has taught me something. Every single person has opened my eyes to a new way of seeing something about life. I appreciate all of them so much.
I also learned how to put together a theory of change. I can’t say I had deep experience with that before. It certainly took us a long time to shuffle the pieces and figure out how it would fit together in a way that would make sense, not only to us but to our grantees and to other people in the community. And I think we landed on it.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to removing the clutter from my house. That’s what I want to do first. I actually want to simplify my life a bit.
I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica, and I would like to get the seventh continent in. That’s going to be hard, but can you imagine going down there and seeing penguins? Then I could say I’ve been to all seven continents in the world.
What are some favorite memories of your time here?
There’s a rhythm and a cycle to life and to the activities that happen in the communities, and it makes me smile just talking about it. And the parades! The parades in small towns are just so wonderful. I get the biggest kick out of those big pieces of farm equipment they bring out for parades. I’m going to look back and smile about that.
I always enjoyed trustee meetings because our trustees are so involved with the Community Foundation. They’re so engaged. They give a lot, especially this last year when they’ve been doing the [president and CEO] search.
[This job] has been the capstone of my career. That’s what I said I wanted it to be in my first interview with the board. It has been an opportunity to bring what I gained through a career in nonprofit work and in philanthropy into this place and try different things to see what might create real change for people and make improvements in the community. I’m really happy about that. I feel like my career is complete.