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Grace Network names new director
Monday, January 7, 2013
By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Donna Proctor refers to herself as “a ham,” a trait she hopes will serve her well in her effort to build relationships with the volunteers and churches within Grace Network.
Proctor recently was named Grace’s new executive director, a position she officially will start Feb. 4. Currently, she is the executive director of the Bedford Community Health Foundation, which aims to address community health needs, according to the foundation’s website.
Unlike in Bedford, where she said her job involves more work with third-party sources of health aid, the opportunity with Grace to provide what she calls “direct service” caught her attention.
“I felt like it was time for me to find a new challenge,” she said, adding she enjoys working with faith-based organizations. “That was what attracted me to Grace — actually being able to see the people being helped.”
Grace Network is a first-stop center of resources for area residents in crisis, according to its website. It is supported by more than 90 churches as well as civic groups, foundations and corporations and individuals. It offers short-term assistance as well as long-term solutions to people.
As executive director, Proctor’s responsibilities will include the day-to-day administration of programs of service, fundraising and public relations, according to Grace’s website.
A graduate of Virginia Tech, Proctor and her husband, Cary, live in the Franklin County community of Burnt Chimney on the farm where she was born that once belonged to her grandfather. She previously was an extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, but when financial pressures within the organization prompted VCE to offer buyouts in 2004, she said accepted hers and went into “retirement.”
That, she said, allowed her to move in to a new area, one she said she prefers.
“I really like nonprofit work,” she said. “I’ve kind of found my home here.”
She went to work at Bedford Community Health Foundation in 2006, and got a rude awakening to the pressures of the nonprofit world.
“I felt like I was trying to drink through a fire hose” because there was so much to do and learn, she said.
Proctor said she is used to doing fundraising work — Bedford Community Health raises funds for grants and scholarships, its website says — but she thinks “it will be different doing fundraising with the faith community than it is in general with the group I’m with now,” she said.
Another benefit, she said, will be Grace’s reputation, because the group has worked hard over the years to make connections and reach out to potential volunteers. In Bedford, she said, one of her challenges was familiarizing the community with the foundation.
With Grace, she said, “It will be more boots-on-the-ground.”
During the interview process, she said Grace Network’s board of directors asked her to prepare a presentation to demonstrate the research she had done of the needs in Martinsville and Henry County. She looked at demographics, unemployment and economic data in the area, and said that while she was impressed with Grace’s army of more than 100 volunteers, she also was struck by the depth of need in the community.
“It’s extreme,” she said. “More than it is (in Bedford). In Martinsville, I see much more poverty” than wealth. Where she lives now, she said, there are pockets of wealth interspersed with pockets of poverty.
Still, Proctor said the only way she truly will learn the lay of the land is “to shadow some of the volunteers, get a feel for how they work, because I need to understand that,” she added.
“I’m hoping that one of the first things that will happen is that I’d like to arrange to visit volunteers and visit their member churches,” she said. She also wants to speak with those who are not members.
“Getting around the county ... will show me the communities and get me to talk to the folks in the church and they can tell me some of the needs in the community,” she added.
Proctor said she is both excited and nervous to learn about Henry County and Martinsville, which is why she plans to stay mobile. Though her commute to Grace’s office on Commonwealth Boulevard will be about 35 miles from Franklin County, she said it actually would be quicker than what she is used to. Regardless, she doesn’t plan to spend too much time in the office.
“I’ll be in the office when I need to be in the office and out in the community at other times,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be doing my job if I’m in the office.”