By David Blanchette

What was your first job after graduating from college?

I grew up in Peoria, and my first job after college was working at Illini Bluffs High School as a high school teacher and middle school volleyball and basketball coach.

I became interested in the nonprofit world after years of working with people from various backgrounds and interests. I like to work in environments where you can really make a difference, make things better, and grow and challenge one another.

How did your experience at the Salvation Army prepare you for your new role at the United Way?

My most recent position was as the divisional development director of the Salvation Army Heartland Division, which covers 72 counties across central Illinois and eastern Iowa, and has 28 locations. I oversaw all of the fundraising from major gifts to planned giving, to digital to our data entry team. I also handled all of the aspects of community relations and development.

I sat on a leadership team where we would meet each week. I enjoyed having that broad-based experience where we could sit and discuss opportunities and challenges and how we could work together to make a difference, whether that was financially, in fundraising, or in improving our programs. I think that opportunity and well-rounded experience really paved the way for the next step and the next opportunity for me.

Is it daunting to take over for John Kelker, who had been at United Way for decades?

John’s done a great job; he’s been there 26 years and has built a really good foundation. I think building on that foundation is what we’ll be looking to do. I want to listen, to hear what is happening. Find out the things we are doing well, the things or areas that we can improve upon, or maybe do things a little bit differently.

It’s all going to be a process to get to know everybody, from staff to the board to community partners and agencies — really hearing what they have to say, getting their advice and input, and starting to make a plan moving forward as one team in our community.

I’m someone that enjoys a challenge. I don’t always know how I am going to get there, but I know I’ll get there. My friends and colleagues maybe knew that before I did, because they would always say, “You’ll do great things.” I never really knew what that meant, but I enjoy taking on challenges. I enjoy learning.

I think the United Way is a great opportunity to lead and to continue to be a coach: to be able to put pieces together, to develop a plan and then be able to implement it. I’m excited about working with the United Way, with the board, the staff and the community partners. I’m excited to bring us all together and work as a team to try and tackle some of the most pressing issues in the community.

You continue to be a sports coach for young people. How important is coaching to you?

I think it’s everything. It’s really my foundation. When I was little, I knew I wanted to play college basketball, and it’s really been the foundation for everything that I do. Being able to compete, being able to understand success and failure and to learn from it. The willingness to be able to adjust when things aren’t going well or it’s not rolling out like you thought it would.

If you look at how the corporate world has changed, a lot of people won’t say “boss” any more, they are now your “team leader.” You need to be sure you are recruiting the right people to your team, that everybody knows what their role is, and you have to work together to implement a game plan.

What is your greatest professional satisfaction?

The most important thing for me is how much I believe in the team concept, when you see people working together. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit because you are going for something bigger. You are trying to accomplish a goal, you are trying to be mission-minded. I enjoy watching people come together from different segments to work on something and accomplish a goal.

What would people be interested to know about you?

I’m very passionate about young girls in leadership finding their voice and really being able to believe in who they are.

I also love to cook and bake. I find enjoyment being in the kitchen. I like family dinners and my two kids having their friends over and being a part of that extended family dinner.

What advice can you give to young people today?

If you have a dream, go for it. Even if somebody says you can’t do it, just keep pushing forward and believe in who you are. Take the good with the bad, so if you hit a roadblock, just keep working to get around it. Don’t let it stop you.