The stories of organizations and their growth often get short-handed and personalized with the names of the CEOs or perhaps one or two other public-facing staff. But an organization’s ability to grow, expand its reach and influence, and successfully respond to a need – in our case foundations’ and donors’ desire for resources to help them be more effective – is always about a collection of people. It is about the way they contribute individually and complement each other as a team.
And I have noticed that certain people who might not get (or want) a lot of public recognition have an outsized influence on the success of the collective enterprise. They do their job and much more, and they make those around them better. They shape culture. They set an example. They inspire. They make people feel they’re part of something that really matters. And they make work fun, too.
So, while I don’t usually blog about individual CEP staff members, today I want to recognize one such person – who has devoted more than 13 years to this organization.
In 2006, when CEP was only five years up and running and our staff numbered 10, we realized that we needed to hire a full-time assistant to support me and also to staff the Board of Directors. When I met Tia King-Fontánez, I knew she’d be an amazing addition. She was just three years out of college, working at an organization called Teen Empowerment, which she had first encountered as a high school student. I thought we’d be lucky to be able to keep her for five years. It was CEP’s – and my – great fortune that she stayed here for so long, helping build the organization into what it is and making contributions to CEP’s success – and whatever success I have had – that are immeasurable and profound.
Earlier this month, Tia informed me of what I knew was coming at some point: she will be leaving to return to her passion of youth-focused work. She has accepted a role as chief of staff at Junior Achievement of Northern New England. Her last day at CEP will be September 4.
Tia, whose current title at CEP is senior executive assistant to the president, has been the best assistant a nonprofit leader could have – and I say that having played a similar role myself, to two college presidents, for some six years in the 1990s. So I appreciate what it takes. Her unbelievable ability to plan and execute without error, to represent CEP and me with great professionalism and clarity, to think through countless logistics, to facilitate meetings (including our bi-weekly staff meetings as well as focus groups with students that helped shape our YouthTruth efforts in its early years) in a way that brings everyone’s voice out, to plan literally hundreds and hundreds of trips I have taken and thousands and thousands of meetings (including 50 board meetings), to ask the right questions about both the big picture and the detail – all these qualities make her great at her job.
But it is the personality, warmth, and human connections that she makes that explain why so many people who have met her have tried to hire her away from CEP – including former board members, funders, and clients. It is that same personality, and her incredible compassion for others, that has made her such a core part of CEP’s culture – a culture she helped define and create (and then formally write up as a member of our culture task force). She is a confidant to many on our staff and someone who goes out of her way to help those who need help or might just be having a tough day.
Tia and I forged a working relationship that is among the best professional relationships I have ever had, characterized by directness and humor. We came to respect each other deeply on both a professional and personal level, which allowed us to disagree and debate – as we did from time to time – and walk away knowing it was all good. I have always enjoyed her stories about her life outside work, including her deep involvement with her church and as a sign language interpreter. She is a force for good in all aspects of her life.
Tia has been clear with me from the day we hired her that her calling is direct youth-focused work and that she intended to return to it at some point. I am so happy for her that she is now taking this next step.
And I want her to finally get just a bit of the public gratitude and recognition she deserves. Thank you, Tia, for all you’ve done. You don’t know this post is going up on our site, and please don’t be mad.
You will always be a part of CEP, Tia.
Phil Buchanan is president of CEP.