The Modesto-based Great Valley Center is reinventing itself with a streamlined mission, new leadership and hopes for a new home.
Instead of cheerleading California's 18-county breadbasket from Redding to Bakersfield as it has for 15 years, the Great Valley Center will shrink its focus to San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.
Instead of producing top-caliber research studies, the nonprofit center will concentrate on training community leaders.
Instead of greeting people at its opulent Needham Street headquarters, the center will sell it and rent space for its downsized staff.
And the Great Valley Center's board of directors, recently infused with new blood, this week launched a search for a new president and chief executive officer.
"What a great time for a new leader to come in and help lead the charge," said Kathy Halsey, a retired AT&T executive serving as the Great Valley Center's interim leader. "It's a joy to see the transformation taking place."
Founded in 1997 by former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, the center became the valley's premier promoter, helping attract attention to an area historically ignored by power brokers and plagued with high unemployment and poverty. The center's annual conferences, studies, programs and connections sparked unprecedented regional cooperation by the time she left in 2008.
The center countered the loss of multimillion-dollar private grants by partnering with the University of California at Merced. That also came to an end last year, and the center discontinued its annual conference, shed three-fourths of its staff and put its building on the market.
Now looking inward
Kenni Friedman, a former Modesto councilwoman and new Great Valley Center board member, said the center took a long inward look and decided to repurpose itself. She called the new brand "exciting news."
"We're going back to what Carol Whiteside started training leaders," Friedman said. That means a focus on the local chapter of the national network known as the American Leadership Forum, which hones collaborating skills of leaders from every walk, whether elected, business or nonprofit.
"It's about building the civic fabric of our community," said Halsey, a former forum fellow, like Friedman.
Ben Duran, former Merced College president and forum alumnus, said the forum "fosters dialogue on public policy issues. When they leave the room, these are people who can truly trust each other and can enlighten each other. This is a wonderful direction for the Great Valley Center to take."
Sometimes, fellows identify service gaps, Duran said. A former group, for example, raised $25,000 to help keep open Merced community swimming pools, he said.
Friedman said, "We've got great leaders, but we don't always work at giving them new tools."
"This is really about being a public servant and the good of the community," said Halsey, who is "very happily retired" and not a candidate for the center's top combined position.
No president has served since Whiteside's successor, David Hosley, took another job in 2008. The center's most recent executive director, Dejeune Shelton, was not fired but recently left to "take a little break," Halsey said. The Bee was unable to reach Shelton on Thursday.
Narrowing its focus
The valley had few regional organizations when the center was established 15 years ago. Several have sprung up since then, enabling the center to narrow its focus to the Northern San Joaquin Valley, Halsey said.
The retooled center has a potential buyer and would use proceeds of a building sale for programs and operations, Duran said. The 92-year-old former church, renovated in 2003 for $1.5 million and listed at about that amount, "is much more (property) than what we should have," Halsey said.
Other new board members include Ron Foster, CEO of Foster Farms; John Garamendi Jr., president and CEO of Professional Evaluation Group; and Mark Martinez, president and chief executive officer of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"I understand that organizations have to move with the times and assess their needs and available resources," Whiteside said. "They've made a careful study of what's appropriate and we need to support them because there always has been and always will be a need for the Great Valley Center, in its many iterations."
On the Net: www.greatvalley.org
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.