WCCF’s new director Garcia hits the ground running

WCCF’s new director Garcia hits the ground running

Image Credit: Elizabeth Schuster

Melanie Garcia had big shoes to fill when she took over for Sally Patton as executive director of the Wayne County Community Foundation. The two were fortunate to overlap, starting in November 2021, until Patton departed and Garcia hit the ground running in January of this year.

Garcia brings to the foundation expertise as an executive coach and business consultant, having spent over 13 years in Ohio State University Business Training & Educational Services Department at its Wooster campus. She spent the early part of her career in international business in the corporate world.

“What I’ve found — my career started in international business, and the market was the whole world, and that was exciting, but I didn’t get to see the impact because it was happening far away,” Garcia said. “As I grew in my career, I found it more gratifying to work more locally to see the results of your work. When I was approached by the foundation, I thought, ‘It doesn’t get more local than that.’”

Community giving impacted

Starting a new position during a global pandemic is never easy. Garcia said the challenges brought with them certain opportunities, like the community stepping up around certain urgent needs.

“I would say that people really responded to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Those two things recently have captured people’s hearts in a way that makes them want to help out,” Garcia said. “With the pandemic it was happening to all of us, so we all understood what it meant. In Ukraine I think that situation — the unfairness and aggression of it — surprised people and made them want to help. I’ve seen a lot of quick reactions.”

As a foundation exclusively focused on the needs of the residents in Wayne County, global issues can become a distraction from the ongoing local needs.

A related trend is around technology, which can be a positive and a negative for groups fundraising to improve the quality of life for the local community.

“The way technology has impacted philanthropy is that people can donate to causes that they have never heard of before,” Garcia said. “Now you can just Google something, and you can find a charity that supports whatever your passion is, so that’s great. But on the flip side, what that means is that you are now competing with all of the nonprofits in the world for their charitable dollars.”

WCCF goals ahead

Moving forward, Garcia’s first priority is to increase awareness of the foundation and of the resources it offers to the community.

“I want people to better understand how our work benefits the community and how they can help if they are so inclined,” she said.

One challenge facing the WCCF — which is common among nonprofits — is the lack of what are called unrestricted funds. While all donations are appreciated, when foundations receive restricted funds, that means those dollars can only go to very specific initiatives.

“The foundation manages 520 different funds. Only a small percentage are what we call community funds, which means our trustees can use those wherever they see necessary. That became important in the pandemic, which highlighted the need for more unrestricted funds for those needs that we weren’t able to predict,” Garcia said.

One solution is what Garcia describes as being an everyday philanthropist.

“(We aim to) connect with the next generation of philanthropists and dispel the myth that you have to be a billionaire to be a philanthropist,” she said.

And Garcia truly is targeting a diverse audience. She has members in her GIVE 365 program — where participants donate a dollar a day — from age 8 to someone in their 90s.

Looking forward, Garcia is excited to invest more resources into the Youth Foundation, which was started by Ferenc Relle when he was executive director of the foundation 10 years ago. Relle said his goal for the program was to get youth more involved in getting to know the needs of the community and giving them the experience of granting out funds to local nonprofits.

“Over the years the students themselves have awarded over $50,000 to community projects. All of the projects directly benefit youth in Wayne County,” Relle said. “We meet once a month for three hours on a Sunday, and we meet at a different nonprofit organization.”

Every year the group represents the entire county including between 25-50 high school juniors.

If you are interested in getting more involved with the foundation to strengthen the community, check out its website at www.waynecountycommunityfoundation.org.