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Leadership in Action 12 of 12
Kathleen Burke Barrett embraces Richmond. Born in the Fan, she still lives in the Fan, and she received all her schooling within the city's limits. Her beloved city has been her anchor as she's traveled the world, including South Africa, where she was honored with a Red Cross humanitarian award. She currently serves as chief executive officer of St. Joseph's Villa, which on Nov. 21 celebrated 175 years of serving families and kicked off a $10 million capital campaign. Before joining the villa, she worked for the Greater Richmond Chapter of the Red Cross from 1999 to 2006. She's also headed the Virginia Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and served as Marymount School's development director. Barrett started her career as a teacher at St. Gertrude's High School, her alma mater. She has received the distinguished alumna award from both St. Gertrude's and the VCU School of Business. She's the mother of three daughters and grandmother of five.
Q: Your experiences have been so varied. What has been your most challenging work?
A: At the Red Cross, because I was there for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, [Tropical Depression] Gaston, the Turkish earthquake and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Those were situations that were so huge for the Red Cross, particularly the ones here in the United States. It pulled on all our human resources, the talent resources and the financial resources.
Q: What are three essential skills that a leader of a nonprofit must possess?
A: One that I learned at the Red Cross is that you have to rise above reality. When an event occurs that all the training and tools do not prepare you for, you still have to rise up and meet them because people need help. Another is that you have to be an authentic leader and not forget your mistakes; you have to have passion and conviction. And it's more important than ever to understand accounting principles and human-resources issues.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about St. Joseph's villa?
A: One is that it is still a Catholic organization, but it has been nonsectarian since 1977. We still are proactive with the values that the villa was founded on, which include taking care of the neediest families and children among us, and we continue that mission to this day and going forward. ... We have the Flagler Home, a transitional program for homeless women and children. We have 60 apartments for adults with disabilities, we have a new outreach health clinic with Bon Secours for the uninsured and insured, and we work with at-risk students and those with autism.
Q: What's been your best day at the villa?
A: One of the children we had in our autism program was experiencing quite a few challenges. He was almost nonverbal when he came to us. [Last summer], I was taking someone new on a tour of the villa, and this student came forward, extended his hand and introduced himself. It was an earth-shatteringly good moment. So many things we do here are measured by very small steps.
Q: Who has served as a mentor to you?
A: Sherrie Brach at the United Way has been a role model. I've watched as she's been flexible. Talk about rising above reality, she's had to do it several times. Also, throughout my career, Bruce Heilman has been a sounding board. He's probably one of the greatest fundraisers and leaders in teaching a nonprofit executive in how to work with a board. And Peter Bernard at Bon Secours. He came to Richmond and turned a hospital system into a powerhouse.