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Community Works leadership will be team effort

Faced with a drop in funding, the nonprofit group Community Works has adopted an innovative leadership approach. The position of executive director was eliminated and department directors were tapped to form a senior leadership team to take the reins beginning this month.

"It's working out great. Most people won't see a difference," said Travis Snyder, Community Works board chairman. "The leadership of the programs is still the same, and the programs are still the same."

Community Works' annual budget has dropped from approximately $6 million four years ago to about half that amount this year, Snyder said.

The organization previously received extensive funding to provide mental health services, Snyder said.

But after changes triggered by passage of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, Jackson County government now receives funding from coordinated care groups to greatly expand mental health care to people on the Oregon Health Plan.

Community Works continues to serve more than 13,000 people each year with programs to help homeless and runaway youths and those in the juvenile justice system, as well as victims of domestic and sexual violence. It has a main office in Medford, the Dunn House shelter for victims of violence, and the Ashland-based Lithia Springs Program, which provides housing, schooling and life skills training for youths, according to the organization.

The new leadership team is made up of Snyder, Director of Development Christine Leusch, Director of Victim Services Barbara Johnson, Director of Lithia Springs Diane Potratz and Director of Business Services Connie Eidson.

Leusch said she previously worked under a team leadership model for the Teton Regional Land Trust in Idaho after the group's founding director left the organization. The land trust hired a new executive director eight months after his departure.

"This is more of a restructuring to make sure we are getting services to the community and our clients rather than being top heavy," Leusch said of Community Works' decision to eliminate its executive director position. "It was either cutting the director's position or cutting programs."

With the team leadership model, she said, there are more meetings and people have to be willing to use a team approach.

"When you have an executive director, you have one person. With a team, you have several different points of view about how to solve a problem, do an event or provide a service," Leusch said.

Johnson said the change has not been that significant because former Executive Director Laura O'Bryon had a collaborative leadership style with open communication.

"From the outside, the actual shift looked more dramatic than it is because we've been working together for so long," Johnson said.

She said whether other nonprofit groups could cut costs by moving to a team leadership model would depend on each organization's needs, mission and board of directors.

Snyder said board members for Community Works will have to step up and take on much of the community outreach work once done by O'Bryon.

Snyder credited O'Bryon with providing outstanding leadership and strengthening relationships with other local social service organizations, partners and funding providers.

"We can't thank Laura enough for her countless hours of dedicated service, and wish her all the best as she looks to continue serving in our community," Snyder said.

O'Bryon said she leaves her position with confidence the new Senior Leadership Team will maintain strong programs and involvement with regional partners working together to better the community.

"I have had the heartfelt fortune to have worked for nearly two years with a highly qualified and committed staff doing amazing work serving our regional populations of women, men and youth who have faced crisis or trauma," she said in a statement. "This work is accomplished by supporting these individuals as they find personal strengths to make changes in their lives."

Community Works is in the midst of a campaign to raise $316,000 for operations this year. As of this week it had raised more than $257,000 toward that goal.

For more information on the campaign or Community Works programs, call 541-779-2393 or see www.community-works.org.

People who need immediate help, including victims of domestic violence, can call the helpline at 541-779-4357.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.