PIQUA — The Piqua Community Foundation recently named Michelle Perry as its new executive director following the retirement of Karen Wendeln.
A 2000 graduate of Sidney High School, Perry spent most of her childhood on a farm on Miami-Shelby Road. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a certificate in journalism from Indiana University.
After graduation, Perry began her career in journalism at a daily newspaper in Colorado. After a few years, she switched paths and began working for non-profit organizations.
“I felt so much like I was reporting what was going well in my community instead of being a part of the change and I really wanted to have an impact on that,” Perry said. “I moved on to non-profit work and just loved it. A lot of those journalism skills came in handy in terms of grant writing and sharing your message with your partners and your community and clients.”
Perry spent nearly 15 years in Colorado before relocating closer to home. She began a job at the University of Kentucky. Here, she served as a “culture manager,” working on a newly-launched statewide non-profit that specialized in technology transfer at smaller universities.
“I was close to home, but was always looking to be right back in the northern Miami Valley,” Perry said.
Nine months later, Perry did just that, moving back to Piqua where she soon applied for the position of executive director for the Piqua Community Foundation. She was subsequently hired at the beginning of this year and in March began a five-month training period alongside Wendeln.
“It’s really unheard of to have that much crossover time between leaders,” Perry said. “I was really amazed that the board invested in having both of us working alongside each other for so long. That’s a huge benefit for the organization.”
Perry said learning firsthand from Wendeln, who was the foundation’s first-ever executive director, was invaluable.
“It’s been a really powerful process to understand where the organization started and where it’s come,” she said. “It’s really grown exponentially and just being able to learn Karen’s processes has been a huge blessing.”
Perry’s transition to executive director came at a time when businesses were beginning to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this added a new level of stress to the job, Perry said it also provided an important learning experience for her.
“During that time, we launched an emergency fund in response to COVID and I ran that program myself, so that was a really good kind of initiation process for me to learn the non-profits and the way the foundation structures grant opportunities,” Perry said.
Perry has now been on her own in the position since Wendeln’s official retirement on July 31.
“Certainly Karen leaves a huge legacy and I think a lot of the community sees her as synonymous with the organization, so I really just hope to be able to do the work that she’s done justice and to carry it forward with the board and grow it from here,” she said.
Perry added that she looks forward to working with the community and creating a “lasting and important” impact.
“I think we’re at this really great position as an organization,” she said. “To look toward the future and to find those unique ways to meet the needs of our community and to expand into the next generation of our growth.”