Lenora Hardy-Foster wasn't looking for a new job, until the right opportunity came calling. Literally.
The phone call came from a search firm, asking if she was interested in applying for the CEO/President position at Judson Center. She had been with Southwest Solutions Inc. for 36 years at that point, but this was an opportunity she just couldn’t turn down.
“Anyone who knew me knew that I aspired to one day become the CEO of a non-profit organization,” said Hardy-Foster, who will be celebrating her two-year anniversary as CEO and President of the non-profit in March.
And now that she has the job she gets to see the effect she, and Judson Center, are having on the community every day.
“When I walk in my office and I see the autism program and I see the little children that we’re working with to help them be able to develop and to accept who they are and to be able to be with other children – and be around other people – I can see that what we’re doing is impacting their lives,” she said. “I get joy out of knowing that I’m a part of an agency like Judson Center.”
Judson Center – which opened its doors in 1924 – has four core programs. In addition to foster care and adoption programs they also work to provide behavioral health services – like mental health counseling – and they have a disability division, which helps young adults and adults with disabilities find a job.
Hardy-Foster said the gratification that she gets out of knowing she’s helping change lives is unmeasurable. That played a role in her decision to stay in the non-profit world this long – nearly 40 years.
When the Rochester Hills resident – who said the area she lives in reminds her of her hometown, Selma, Alabama – arrived at Southwest Solutions Inc., she planned on staying for a maximum of five years and then move on to corporate America. She quickly figured out she wasn’t going anywhere.
“The gratification – the joy that I was getting out of being a part of a human service provider – I was not going to get with corporate America,” Hardy-Foster said. “I was a part of an agency that was doing something to help improve the quality of a person’s life, and I knew that that was my passion in life and that was my purpose.”
Hardy-Foster, who has an MBA and bachelor's degree in accounting and finance from the University of Detroit Mercy, was able to let her passion for non-profit work grow exponentially during her time at Southwest Solutions Inc., where she started in the accounting department as an accounts manager. She moved her way up through the ranks to executive director before she left for Judson Center. She said that without a doubt her work there played a role in preparing her for her current job.
So now that she has the dream job, what happens next?
“I think about where I am in my career and I know that I’m truly blessed to have accomplished all the things that I’ve been able to do,” she said. “My goal is to continue here at Judson Center working with my team and working with the board of trustees to move this organization forward. And if I think about how do I end my career, I would love to be able to end it here at Judson Center.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent