On File

A pipeline for talent

The Syracuse Chiefs are a AAA affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals, but it turns out they aren’t the only farm team in town.

The Salvation Army’s Syracuse, N.Y., Area Services has a pretty fine farm system of its own, but this one develops up–and-coming advisory board members instead of baseball stars.

Major Mark Mackneer, general secretary for the Empire State Division, said Syracuse Area Services actually has three separate advisory boards: Echelon, Young Leaders, and the full Advisory Board.

Just like the progression of baseball prospects through the minor leagues, the Echelon and Young Leaders keep the “major league” advisory board stocked with talent.

“The Young Leaders have revitalized the Area Services Advisory Board,” Mackneer said. “They have brought an energy and an enthusiasm that has caused the advisory board to take notice and be proud of what The Salvation Army in Syracuse is doing.

“The Salvation Army in Syracuse is growing because of the influx of our Young Leaders leadership program and the nationally–recognized Echelon group.”

Salvation Army Echelon is the official young adult auxiliary for men and women ages 21–35. Mackneer said the Syracuse chapter, which is now a year old, recently reached 100 members.

Echelon “seeks to mobilize the next generation for The Salvation Army by providing opportunities for young adults to engage with the organization through fellowship and networking, donations and fundraising, and service and volunteering,” according to www.salvationarmyechelon.org.

Mackneer said Echelon members who show an interest can be promoted to the Salvation Army’s Young Leaders Advisory Board, which was formed in 2011 and has 30 members.

“It’s sort of like a junior board that filters and feeds into the larger advisory board,” Mackneer explained.

Serving on Young Leaders allows members to familiarize themselves with Syracuse Area Services and its $20 million budget and 45 different programs, Mackneer said.

From there, members of Young Leaders can be appointed to the 42–member advisory board, which meets monthly.

“We don’t try to put too much pressure on the Young Leaders,” Mackneer said. “There are those who show a little bit of interest in joining the bigger board and to be more involved. They have to show that desire to want to be a little bit more active in what they’re doing and what we’re doing.

“I’ve been around The Salvation Army for 36 years and I’ve never seen this work so well.”

Mackneer said the advisory board in Syracuse is “aging” and Young Leaders are the perfect answer.

“The Young Leaders have breathed new life into the advisory board and it’s been great,” he said. “The Young Leaders have provided a much needed supply of a more youthful advisory board.

“With this program continuing as it is, The Salvation Army in Syracuse is in excellent hands for many years to come.”

Julia O’Donnell, 34, joined Young Leaders when it started in 2011 and has been on the advisory board for a year.

A banker with Wilmington Trust, an affiliate of M&T Bank, O’Donnell got involved after her boss suggested The Salvation Army. She believes the Young Leaders who come up help energize the advisory board.

“The energy that young people can bring to an organization and the passion is amazing,” she said. “They also come with so many new ideas, whether it’s technology or innovation, that really helps us in so many ways.

“There are really impactful people on both boards who want to give back and help.”

O’Donnell said serving on both boards helped her see The Salvation Army as more than Christmas bells and thrift stores.

“Now I have an understanding of the vast programs and services available to people in my community,” she said. “The way I see The Salvation Army is, they are a pillar for allowing growth in this community and allowing people to thrive rather than just survive.

“There are so many people in need and the work that needs to be done is never-ending, but we have made a conscious effort in many particular areas.”

O’Donnell didn’t grow up in a Christian home and wasn’t a believer when she came to The Salvation Army, but she has started going to church in the past few years.

“Being a part of The Salvation Army, my faith has evolved over time,” she said. “It’s been a personal journey and The Salvation Army has been a piece of that.”

Dan Griffin, 32, a certified public accountant with Grossman St. Amour CPAs in Syracuse, served six years with Young Leaders and was just recently added to the advisory board.

Griffin said the Young Leaders bring “fresh ideas,” but also new professional and personal contacts that can help with events and fundraising.

“I think we can bring a different network of contacts to the board,” he said.

Griffin said serving with the Young Leaders was invaluable.

“I met some great people, but more importantly, I got to see everything The Salvation Army does, including all the programs and everything they do in the community,” he said. “That kind of got me hooked and I knew I could eventually move up to the board and be a part of this organization long–term.”

Griffin said Echelon and Young Leaders are a way for The Salvation Army to “get younger” and appeal to donors.

“If we can at least get The Salvation Army in the mind of the younger community, as they grow and start to have resources, they’ll have The Salvation Army in their heads and they can donate or volunteer,” he said. “I think we’re just raising awareness about The Salvation Army for the younger generation.”

Griffin said his Catholic faith is a major motivator.

“It’s just the idea of giving back,” he said. “That was kind of ingrained in me from my Catholic upbringing.

“My wife and I have pretty good jobs and make a good living and some people around the city don’t. I wanted to find an organization that helps people. So anytime I can give or help the cause, that’s what brought me here.”

Eva Wojtalewski, 39, a corporate attorney with Bousquet Holstein in Syracuse, has served on the advisory board for two years after a stint on Young Leaders. She believes those coming up from Young Leaders bring a “different perspective.”

“It’s great to be able to work with other similarly situated professionals to sort of bring more vitality to the city of Syracuse and to be invested in its continued growth,” she said. “Continuity in leadership is something you get with the Young Leaders and the advisory board.”

Wojtalewski said her firm encourages community service and she knew The Salvation Army was the place for her after taking a tour and seeing the programs.

“That really was eye-opening to me and sort of gave me a sense that this was the type of organization that I felt I really wanted to commit my time to,” she said. “It’s not just the retail stores. It’s so much more than that in terms of community support. It’s the daycare center, the youth center, the senior center.

“Community service is an important function in feeling as though you’re invested in being able to give back. But as far as The Salvation Army, I felt an obligation to it because of the mission of the organization to help those in need. I think it’s really critical. Anyone could be in that position of need.”

Wojtalewski, who is Hindu, said she was raised to have a heart for others.

“It started fundamentally watching my parents help those in need and knowing that’s what I wanted to do too,” she said.

Philip Zaccheo, 50, a higher education attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King in Syracuse, was one of the first to transition from Young Leaders to the advisory board seven years ago.

“The most important thing the Young Leaders bring is just another perspective,” he said. “Each generation has its own perspective, the way it views things, the way it views the world.

“I think any governing body, in order to have a variety of different perspectives, must be able to represent the community as a whole. I think the Young Leaders bring that to the board.”

Zaccheo is a big fan of the Young Leaders as a farm team.

“You find that when those folks transition to the advisory board, as opposed to people who are coming in from wholly outside the organization, they have a head start,” he said.

“They understand the mission. They understand the philosophy. They understand the culture of the organization. I think that makes them more effective board members from the get–go.”

Zaccheo is a Christian, but said that is not his primary motivation. He had a general idea about the charitable nature of The Salvation Army, but he was all–in after witnessing some of its programs, including the happy children at a Christmas toy distribution.

“I never realized the role The Salvation Army plays in this community,” he said. “It’s just such an amazing social safety net. It fills so many gaps that other private resources or governmental resources either can’t or won’t fill and helps so many people in the community.

“I was oblivious until that moment. I said, ‘I need to get involved with this organization.’ This is the kind of stuff we
all need to do together to support this community. From then on, I was in with two feet and here we are.”

Carl Thomas, 44, a diversity coordinator for SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, is moving to the advisory board after four years in Young Leaders.

Thomas said Danielle Laraque-Arena, the university’s president, wants to work closer with the city.

“As the largest employer in central New York, SUNY Upstate can have a direct impact,” Thomas said. “I can take some of the work SUNY Upstate does and kind of marry that with some of the hurdles The Salvation Army has to deal with.”

Thomas said the Young Leaders and advisory board partnership “is sort of a pipeline.”

“It gets people who are younger and might not necessarily be thinking about volunteering or giving back or getting involved, it gives them a platform to do that,” he said.

“In a way, it kind of grooms you to understand the mission and objective of The Salvation Army. It allows you to be more effective on a board because you have a better understanding of the programs and what The Salvation Army does.”

Thomas, who was raised Catholic, said his church and parents were both “very service-driven” and it rubbed off
on him.

“I like the population that The Salvation Army serves and I like the uplifting motto and mission to help those less fortunate,” he said. “That does appeal to me for sure.”

by Robert Mitchell