By ANGIE ZAM
After 25 years leading United Way’s efforts in Ottawa County, Chris Galvin is retiring. And as a quarter century of community engagement and collaboration comes to a close, the outgoing director doesn’t know how to feel.
“I think I’m ambivalent,” she said. “It’s interesting. It’s bittersweet.”
She leaves the office – and the entire county for that matter – much different than she found them 25 years ago with many surprises and successes along the way. In fact, landing the job itself was a bit of a surprise.
After taking 11 years off to raise her kids, Galvin returned to work first as director of the Sandusky County Alcohol and Drug program in Fremont – at this point living in Toledo. From there, she became community relations coordinator at the Tennyson Center sharing information with teens and kids on issues like chemical dependency and eating disorders.
“By then we were living in Port Clinton and I was commuting with four kids in three schools,” she said.
It was time for a change.
Lucky for Galvin, the stars aligned.
“A woman I was on a board with called me with a local opportunity,” she said, explaining that the United Way’s area director was leaving the post. Galvin applied.
“I knew it meant I could work where my kids were in school and it would make family life so much easier,” she said. And, she adds still with surprise in her voice: “they hired me!”
At that time the United Way was coming off a fundraising crisis and expected Galvin to bring in money and be the face of the organization in the community – and that she was serving on countless boards and making countless connections throughout the community.
“Ottawa County has a reputation of being collaborative and cooperative and that makes doing things here a joy,” she said. “We don’t have the turf battles they do in some other communities. Over the years we recognized that we need each other.”
And that community collaboration is the foundation of all the programs Galvin lists among her greatest accomplishments:
- Conestoga project: A community engagement project that according to Galvin kept Port Clinton’s tree street neighborhood stable during the recent economic crisis.
- TNT Mentoring program: Started in Oak Harbor, this program is now offered to students from fifth grade through graduation and beyond in six school districts.
- Sutton Center: A community resource building that brings together a variety of services for Ottawa County residents in need.
“The job at United Way is to work with volunteers in the community so I would thank the volunteer leadership who have been so much a part of what we have done here,” she said.
For now though, Galvin will take some time off. She is heading to Columbia for a five-week exploration and will return to her farm complete with bees and a hilarious crew of goats.
And of course, her service to the community will continue on the board of the Great Lakes Community Action Partnership – formerly WSOS – and a new post on the Portage Township Zoning Commission.
Asked what advice she has to hand out after her years in the community, her answer is simple.
“Say yes,” she says. “When life presents you with an opportunity, say yes and see what happens. We limit ourselves when we say no.”