Shawn Yardley became the CEO of Community Concepts in September, overseeing 203 employees and 175-plus volunteers at the 50-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Lewiston.

1. You’ve been at the helm five months. What about Community Concepts drew you here?

I have spent my career working on issues that impact the quality of life for Maine’s children, Maine’s families and Maine communities. Community Concepts does this through the many different programs it delivers across Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, a region that has great potential that can be realized if we can address numerous challenges.

I am excited to be a part of Community Concepts and its mission to improve the economic conditions in our region by reducing the numbers of people living in poverty. We support this effort by (offering programs like):

* Early parenting education

* Providing capital for startup and existing businesses

* Homeowner/mortgage education, fuel and energy assistance

In short, my professional and personal life has been about mission, and I believe in the mission of Community Concepts and am honored to be a part of this 50-year-old organization.

2. What’s the first challenge you’ve taken on?

My first priority and challenge is getting to know our organization and the communities we serve, and who looks to us to help solve or at least mitigate the complex problems faced in our region. While I am a native Mainer and have spent my 35-plus-year career in child welfare, community development and public service and have vast experience serving on local, regional and statewide boards, I am learning a great deal as I become part of Community Concepts and the region.

The challenge of leading a long-standing organization that delivers a broad range of programs and services across three very diverse urban and rural counties with distinct challenges and opportunities is daunting. Learning by listening and talking with staff and the broader community is critical. It takes time and is a priority, but the daily administrative work is an ongoing reality.

3. One thing in business or your career you had to learn the hard way.

I think the one lesson that I have learned the hard way (and have had refresher lessons on periodically) is the need to be strategic in approaching issues that require patience, resolve and thorough analysis. The problems our families and communities face on a daily basis require immediate responses, but the solutions to many of the underlying causes of these problems demand community buy-in and strong collaborations with other key agencies and stakeholders.

4. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

Following up on the previous question, I think I would explore a number of competing options and perhaps do a combination of investments:

* I would seriously consider seeding an endowment at Community Concepts that would provide support into perpetuity for key priorities like small business lending, financial literacy and job training efforts that will encourage sustainable change for our families and communities.

* I would also use this opportunity to address the effectiveness and cost of the deeply entrenched service delivery system in the broader community that is driven by funding sources which leads to service silos. These silos make access more difficult for those in need, decrease overall program effectiveness, increase administrative costs, plus it creates a focus on managing symptoms rather than addressing root causes. I believe the solutions lie in strong collaborations and meaningful dialogue with funders, including local, state and federal government, private foundations and other local charitable organizations.

5. What is a policy or issue you’re following this winter at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on Community Concepts?

The ongoing debate about expanding health care coverage in Maine with available federal funding is a critical policy decision on a number of levels. Our region is fortunate to have a number of quality health systems and providers serving our residents. Unfortunately, parents who don’t qualify for MaineCare have a higher rate of uninsured children, which results in families waiting to see a doctor until conditions are worsened, causing stress on the family and on our health care system.

Increasing the number of insured people will significantly impact the economic vitality of our region through additional revenue and less charity care. This will lead to better bottom lines, more demand for services and greater employment opportunities in the higher-wage health care industry. When people have access to health insurance, there is a positive domino effect: healthier and more reliable employees are more productive and stable. They raise healthier, happier children, resulting in a higher quality of life for themselves and our entire community.

6. Flash forward 10 years. You’re still CEO. What changes or improvements would you like to be able to look back on?

In 10 years, I expect Community Concepts to continue to effectively administer important safety net social service programs for our region’s most vulnerable population and we will have expanded our impact to move more people out of poverty, as well as diversified our funding streams to decrease reliance on state and federal funding. This new funding stream will come from expanding our social enterprise opportunities (fee for service) such as interest and fees from small business lending, housing development, transportation and property management services, and childcare services.

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