Allyn Family Foundation executive director Meg O’Connell and Gifford Foundation executive director Dirk Sonneborn announce the recipient of the 2016 Kathy Goldfarb-Findling Leadership Award, jointly awarded by the two Foundations. Melissa Spicer, chief executive officer of Clear Path for Veterans, is the 2016 honoree of “The Kathy,” which is awarded to nonprofit leaders who are creative, collaborative and embrace change. Named in honor of the late executive director of Gifford, who also served as director of strategic initiatives at the Allyn Foundation,the award provides a $3,000 honorarium for the recipient’s personal use – whether for professional development or personal growth opportunities.
“With commitment, personal resources, creativity and collaboration, Melissa founded an organization, developed programs and created partnerships,” notes Mr. Sonneborn. “Clear Path for Veterans has no precedent – there was no model she could copy. But Melissa has a phenomenal ability to listen; to gather together others; and to collectively chart a path forward.”
The Kathy award was created in 2011 at the time of Ms. Goldfarb-Findling’s retirement from the Gifford Foundation. The goal is to recognize her special approach to leadership: to be nimble and creative; to encourage lifelong learning; to embrace leaps of faith and not fear failure; to work “with” not do “for”; to fully engage in collaborative approaches and to at all times believe passionately in the power of change and personal growth.
A selection team made up of previous “Kathy” recipients and representatives from the two foundations reviewed the seventeen nominations that were received for this honor. “This is the sixth year we have honored a unique leader in our community,” notes Ms. O’Connell. “The award’s significance is becoming increasingly well-known. Our selection committee has grown to include all previous recipients and some community representation, which not only enriches our discussions but enables us to expand our thinking about leadership.” Nominees ranged from across the Central New York region.
Previous recipients of “The Kathy” are Catholic Charities executive director Michael Melara (2011), Mary Ellen Clausen, founding director of Ophelia’s Place (2012), Randi Bregman of Vera House and Mary Beth Frey of Samaritan Center (both 2013), Kerry Quaglia of Home HeadQuarters (2014) and Sharon Owens of Southwest Community Center (2015).
Melissa Spicer is a businesswoman and entrepreneur who strives to make a positive impact through a bold passion for giving back. This is epitomized by her role as co-founder of Clear Path for Veterans, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to serving military members, Veterans and their families by helping them make a successful transition from a military culture into their communities. Inspired by Clear Path’s signature program Dogs2Vets, Spicer brought forward a clear vision, organizational design and financial resources, helping to create the archetype Veteran Resource Center and one of New York’s largest. Today, Clear Path serves more than 23 counties and offers a broad spectrum of programs and services. Taking Clear Path from its concept to reality, Spicer has adapted her role to fit Clear Path’s needs and now serves as its chief executive officer.
A graduate of Ithaca College, Spicer remained in Central New York, embracing her roots and the historical significance they played in the area. Working for a variety of startup companies, Spicer ultimately joined Campus Hill Apartments – an off-campus student housing and real estate business created by her father in 1971. Bringing her inherent strengths of organizational structure and fiscal responsibility created a culture that made Campus Hill the most sought after apartments on the Syracuse University Hill during her 20-year tenure with the business.
In 2003, Spicer created the first canine daycare and positive reinforcement training center in Syracuse. It quickly established itself as the preeminent facility and in 2007 she sold both the canine daycare and the family’s real estate business, but continued training dogs and educating the community on the benefits of positive reinforcement training using her certified therapy dog, Maddy. In December 2010, a retired Air Force Veteran introduced her to the concept of an “owner/trainer” service dog model and a journey into social entrepreneurship was born: namely Clear Path for Veterans. Spicer recognized the need to create a one-stop facility for military members, Veterans and their families to identify what they need and how best to provide it to them. Today, Spicer works with a staff of 32, 18 of whom are Veterans with a combined 46 deployments and 206 years of military service.