From Crossroads Community Foundation to the Foundation for MetroWest, the organization you know and love today is often accredited to the hard work, dedication and vision of the beloved Judy Salerno, executive director of 15 years. What started out as a grassroots organization with little direction for long-term sustainability became a staple for the MetroWest region. After a decade and a half of service to the Foundation and the region, Salerno has stepped down from her leadership role and transitioned into a different, senior role within the organization. We could not, however, let her start the next chapter without imparting the knowledge and wisdom that she has gained during her time as the Foundation’s leader, upon the staff and community that has grown to know and love her.
We held a Q&A interview with Judy discussing her time as executive director, her role in the community as a whole, and what life will look like now that she has more free time. Below is the interview, which has been edited for conciseness.
The Foundation: How did you get initially get involved with the Foundation for MetroWest?
Judy Salerno: I became involved with the Foundation as a member of the distribution committee. I had left my corporate career, and a friend and neighbor of mine, who was serving on the Foundation’s Board thought I would enjoy the work on the distribution committee. I was really surprised and taken by the fact that there were hundreds of nonprofits in this region that I didn’t know about or hadn’t heard of nor did I know the level of need that existed. To me that was an eye-opening experience to have a better understanding of not only the community that I was raised in, but that I was now raising my family.
The Foundation: How did that experience evolve into you leading the Foundation for 15 years?
Judy Salerno: I was asked to join the Board of the Foundation in 2005. I went to one Board meeting and two weeks later we got a call that the executive director at the time was resigning from the position. A fellow trustee and friend, who served on the transition committee, convinced me to share the job of executive director with her. We wrote a proposal to the Board asking to temporarily share the role of ED, while we decided what needed to be done to get the Foundation on a more even, long-term footing. It worked out very well for the first three years.
The Foundation: What happened next?
Judy: At the end of the three years, my Co- ED moved on to another job and I became the ED.
The Foundation: What was the biggest change you witnessed while you were at the Foundation?
Judy: The first big transition we went through was during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. We took it as an opportunity to really invest in the Foundation for the future. It was very clear MetroWest is a community that needs a strong community foundation and we had to do the things that were going to better position the foundation for greater impact and long-term success. We started that by changing the name and relaunching. When we did that, we were better able to articulate who we were and what it was we were trying to do. That to me was a very pivotal moment.
The Foundation: What’s the second?
Judy: The Board. We had and continue to have a strong Board that has provided the Foundation with the opportunity to grow and have the kind of impact that we have in the community. It’s not just me. It really is the people who share the vision that the work of a community foundation is important, while investing their own time, energy and resources to make sure the Foundation can do this work. We have had the benefit of having people who are truly genuine philanthropists supporting the work.
The Foundation: What will you miss the most about being executive director? The least?
Judy: Because I’m going to continue to be involved in some capacity, it’s a hard question to answer, and it’s an interesting question to answer during the pandemic. I truly miss working with my colleagues in-person on a day-to-day basis, and spending time getting to know them. I think there’s a lot of nourishment that comes to any of us from being able to work collaboratively and I already miss that.
The Foundation: What was the hardest part of your job over the years?
Judy: (laughs) Obviously raising money! In many ways, it’s about having people understand there are great needs that exist in our neighborhoods and the challenge of addressing those needs is much greater than in an urban setting. Getting people to understand how a community foundation can play an important role in addressing those needs was one of the hardest parts.
The Foundation: What advice do you have for Jay as the new Executive Director?
Judy: The transition really is an example of having a good Board that recognizes the challenges of a leadership transition, and the collaborative effort to make sure we could do it in a way that did not cause a lot of disruption. Jay is a very fine choice for this organization for this moment. He is someone who really does understand all aspects of the nonprofit and philanthropy field. He has his personal passions and interests that I really think will help the Foundation long-term, and he’s got a personal style that I think will be very positive for this community. With that, I don’t have a lot of advice for Jay other than to keep being who he is.
As of January 1, 2021, Judy Salerno has officially transitioned into her new role of Executive Director Emeritus, and Jay Kim will lead the organization as Executive Director. The Foundation is inspired by and grateful for Judy’s contributions over the years. We are also ecstatic that we do not have to say goodbye just yet, rather, ‘see you on Zoom tomorrow!’