Kerrie Wilson spent sixteen years of her career building and shaping a government relations and advocacy program for the American Cancer Society. She had worked on legislation, managed policy and grassroots efforts, and built partnerships. Her work had been extremely satisfying, but she was beginning to feel the need for a career course change. Her hometown Herndon newspaper had an employment ad for an executive director for Reston Interfaith, an organization she knew nothing about, except that it was associated with the local homeless shelter. Wilson didn't know it at the time, but her previous job was the perfect training ground for the job she was about to take.
She had never worked in a community-based nonprofit and had never done any direct fundraising. Yet she had a policy and advocacy background, an understanding of nonprofit culture, staffing boards, and managing budgets. And she had been a long time Herndon-Reston resident.
Wilson applied, was hired, set to work. The organization serves thousands of people each year in Reston, Herndon, and surrounding areas. It operates an emergency shelter, a food bank, a childcare center, and a transitional housing program for homeless families and has purchased and renovated hundreds of units of affordable housing. Reston Interfaith was thirty years old when Wilson came on board and was doing great work, but there was an underlying uncertainty about what to do next. Resources were tight, and the board and staff weren't working together effectively.
She tackled many issues right away: instituting new planning and budgeting processes, securing grants to overhaul technology and connect the organization's multiple sites. The board downsized, restructured, and developed an annual goal-setting process to guide its work. She learned quickly and found that the work brought her immediate rewards. "The thing I loved immediately about our work at Reston Interfaith was being able to see our impact on a daily basis," she says. "I can drive into a neighborhood and see kids playing in a home that we provided, or sit on the floor with children at our childcare center and know that we're helping parents provide a healthy start to their lives." Kerrie's leadership also has broad roots in the greater community where she has served on many committees and coalitions.
The challenges are many, and it's hard for Wilson to see individuals work so hard to overcome their personal challenges only to be faced with long waiting lists for housing or other needed services. Yet she takes pride in the many people that Reston Interfaith has touched. "I love hearing people talk about the change in their lives," Wilson says proudly. "These are the people who really make the difference at Reston Interfaith."