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Bringing a younger perspective onboard

April 24, 2009
by Kevin Kolus, Contributing Editor
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Organizations experiment with associate boards

About five years ago, the Board of Directors at Thresholds Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centers mused on the idea of bringing younger minds into their fold. Most board members of the Chicago-based agency are over age 45 and some are in their 60s and 70s, notes Tammy Randa who, at age 30, is one of Thresholds' youngest board members.

In response, Thresholds created an associate board at the end of 2008, stocking it with ambitious young professionals to aid in fund-raising, building public-awareness, and recruiting volunteers.

Randa, the associate board liaison and also vice-president of correspondent banking at US Bank, says crossing the generational divide with an associate board created an interactive peer group to advance Thresholds' mission. After recently having only its second meeting, Randa says several members of the associate board—which easily met its starting goal of 50 participants—discussed with great interest how Thresholds could extend into more of the surrounding communities.

“There’s just an energy you get in the age group of 20 to 40,” Randa explains. “The older you get, I think you feel like you’ve been fighting the system for years—you lose some of that spunk.”

Mike Szkatulski, vice-president of Thresholds' board, says he saw tremendous potential in an associate board, despite other board members' downplaying of the idea as a “kiddy board.” With three daughters in their 20s—one is chair of the associate board—Szkatulski says he marvels at the young professionals' enthusiasm, pointing out that associate board members have offered to help Thresholds clients with their taxes or provide them career counseling.

Thresholds Associates Board members Tammy Randa (left) and Anne Szkatulski.
Photo by Fred Ludwig

“This is not a group of people who are only interested in having cocktail parties to raise a limited amount of funding,” Szkatulski emphasizes. “These are young people—young professionals—oftentimes in very professional roles who have an interest in doing something.”

Thresholds isn’t the only behavioral healthcare organization capitalizing on young talent. Matt Pullar, age 28, is chair of the associate board at Recovery Resources in Cleveland. The financial planner at PNC/National City Bank explains that the associate board he serves on has been so successful at fund-raising that its silent auction covered the entire cost of the agency’s last big annual fund-raiser—allowing around $230,000 to remain in the organization's coffers.

“Somebody told me once, ‘If you want to feel good, you do good,’ and if I can get out of myself for a couple hours a month doing something for somebody else, it’s a good thing,” says Pullar, whose volunteering was featured on the front page of Cleveland's daily newspaper The Plain Dealer in February.

Szkatulski’s daughter Anne, a 24-year-old law student and chair of Thresholds' associate board, echoes Pullar’s sentiments.

“I think there’s been a huge shift in the past year, especially with the new presidential administration, that young people are seeing the benefits of service,” she says. “It’s a little more up-front, a little more immediate—how you can help out without spending money.”