After 26 years of dedicated service to CUMAC, Rev. Patricia Bruger will be retiring from her post as Executive Director in the summer of 2017. Yes, that is about 18 months away, but we are sharing Pat's news now because when someone with the longevity and impact of our beloved Executive Director retires, sufficient time is needed to plan for the future of the organization and of course celebrate Pat's accomplishments during her tenure.
In the words of CUMAC's Board of Trustee President Don Matthews, "Pat's passion for our mission of 'feeding people and changing lives' is the inspiration for the entire CUMAC team to strengthen and expand our programs. Her vision for CUMAC, enthusiastic leadership, and advocacy for the disenfranchised have laid a strong foundation for our continued growth." And there has been much growth with Pat's leadership.
When Pat started her then part-time post in 1991, she was only the second paid Executive Director that CUMAC had. The agency had been founded by Hugh Dunlop, a Paterson school teacher who recognized that his students' hunger was hindering their learning, and run by Hugh and a number of dedicated volunteers during the start up period. A few years after CUMAC was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1985, Pat received the phone call that brought her to the organization. A long-term resident of Dumont, NJ, Pat had only been to Paterson a handful of times and while she had been a school teacher and directed Girl Scout camps, she had never worked at an organization like CUMAC.
In those first years, she did a little of everything: bagging food, driving and unloading trucks, sorting donations, counseling clients, serving as pastor to pantry and workforce clients, engaging with donors and funders, collaborating with nonprofit partners, and strategizing with the Board of Trustees. And while Pat would tell you she often felt as if she wasn't sure what she had gotten into, or what to do with it, right from the beginning Pat had vision for CUMAC. She knew almost immediately that the borrowed church building CUMAC was operating from was not the right space for the work that needed to be done. It took a number of years to get others on board with her vision, and once she had others invested in the idea, it took many lessons in urban, commercial real estate before CUMAC ultimately purchased its current facility on Ellison Street.
On the first day Pat walked her then staff of 6 into the new building they all wondered how they would ever fill the 28,000 square foot space. All but Pat, of course, who had recognized the rising tide of need in Paterson and beyond and saw many avenues which CUMAC could contribute to alleviating that need if they had the appropriate facility. The bigger space meant more room for the Community Closet to expand disaster relief services and the Depot to disseminate shared food resources including vital perishable goods to other feeding programs, but it also meant more hands were needed to accomplish the work. Those hands were found through the growth of our Pathways to Work program and the invaluable volunteers who increased exponentially in number and hours of service. Over time, Pat grew the staff as well, not just in number but also in responsibility. She inspired and encouraged staff and volunteers to take ownership of their work and trust the skills and motivation that they each individually bring to the work. Together these many hands have nurtured CUMAC into a mission that each year feeds nearly 40,000 people, provides disaster relief to hundreds of families (thousands after major storms), readies hundreds of individuals for gainful employment, houses a dozen previously chronically homeless individuals, and supports over 50 partner feeding programs and nonprofits.
Pat shares, "Being a part of CUMAC's mission has changed my life in so many ways. Looking back over 25 years I realize how blessed I have been to get up every day, sincerely excited to go and work side-by-side with staff, board members, and volunteers in order to care for others. While I do not know what the next chapter at CUMAC will be, I am certain that those who have been on the journey, and those who will join the CUMAC family, will help shape a stronger, more vibrant CUMAC that will continue to serve as long as there are persons in need."
Pat has indeed been a driving constant at an organization where change, due to the nature of our work, is the norm, and while her retirement will indeed be a big change for CUMAC, Pat's example has established a board, staff, and network that are built to thrive through and beyond this transition. In fact our board, staff, and many valued stakeholders have already been working for months to lay the groundwork for Pat's succession, and we have a detailed plan of next steps that will carry CUMAC forward to new leadership. We want to make certain that Pat's legacy is secure, and the best and most vital way to do that is to make certain there is no interruption to the critical services that CUMAC provides the community. We are confident that the organization is well prepared for this transition and excited for what is to come.
You will be seeing updates from us on our website and social media, and through future communications. You will be invited to share in this celebration, and the transition. Clients, volunteers, donors, funders, and other partners have been and will be continue to be solicited for input during this process, but most importantly they will be asked to continue engaging with CUMAC as they always have.
While much has been accomplished during Pat's tenure, we still have children going to bed hungry in our communities, so the work is not done and will continue through and beyond this transition, per Pat's example, and in celebration of her many invaluable contributions to this organization.
Thank you for sharing in this celebration with us, and continuing to partner in our efforts to feed people and change lives.