Nine years ago, I went to a presentation at the Arizona Transit Association Conference about the need for transit in the Northwest Valley and the proposal to start Northwest Valley Connect to fill that need.
Jennifer Drago, then Sun Health vice president of business development, gave the presentation along with Amy St. Peter, then Sun Health human services manager, and Michelle Dionisio, then Benevilla president and CEO. They were looking to hire an executive director/mobility manager interested in taking up the challenge. I had worked in school bus transportation for 4.5 years and as the paratransit and mobility manager in Flagstaff for 10 years, but the only nonprofit experience I had was as a Girl Scout leader and at church.
My experience in transportation served me well as I took on this new opportunity, but my inexperience in the nonprofit sector made my biggest challenge the funding. Finding enough time to learn how to raise enough money to meet transit demand and NVC’s growth, including service delivery, and at the same time writing our 5310 federal funding grants for accessible vehicles. Such vehicles provide special transit accommodations for Northwest Valley’s target population of 8,500 seniors 65 years and older, those burdened by disabilities and veterans, all without access to public transportation. While developing the funds and fleet needed, I also found that recruiting a volunteer force presented its own challenges.
I was the only paid staff for the first 2-plus years. As the needs of NVC grew, I had the pleasure of developing my team of staff and volunteers and I am very proud of the organization’s culture of care for our transit clients. NVC has earned a very positive reputation for the culture that we have cultivated. I am proud of our giving effort and how the excellent staff and volunteers have stepped up to meet the transit challenges in the area head-on.
Over the years, our board members, such as Bonnie Boyce-Wilson, Joyce Stoffers, Frank Joyce, Sharon Hettick, Jenifer Drago and so many more, provided a sterling effort to develop the organization going forward. Great support has also come from our community partners Sun City West Foundation, Sun City and Recreation Centers of Sun City West, Sun City Community Assistance Network, Olive Branch, city of El Mirage, Peoria, Surprise, the posses in Sun City and Sun City West, Benevilla, Sun Health, Maricopa Association of Governments, Valley Metro and others. NVC’s partnerships with philanthropic foundations like Arizona Community Foundation, BHHS Legacy, Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and so many corporate foundations provided program funding for the capacity building of NVC’s mobility nonemergency transit services received by anyone of today’s 4,000 clients.
Experience Matters, now part of Arizona State University Lodestar Center Nonprofit Management Institute, provided several professional people to support NVC’s program development. The support we have received in the last almost decade has been overwhelming and invaluable.
I have met many wonderful people, made some incredible friends, and I’m leaving NVC on solid footing for a new executive director to take the reins. The transportation industry is changing, and the new executive director will have experience in management and boardmanship that continues the growth and development of Northwest Valley Connect.
He/she/they may need only some information about transit from me. But I would remind anyone seeking this position to take care of themselves so as not to be overwhelmed by the professional skills needed to conduct the organization’s operational activities and the caregiving sensitivities required by our target population. As anyone in the transportation industry knows, no vehicle — or person — can run on empty.
NVC has a competent staff with open arms, ready to assist the new executive director in succeeding. Best of luck always.