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Column: After 23 years, Open Hand nonprofit gets new leadership

By Maria Saporta
Published in the ABC on Friday, August 10, 2012

Stephen Woods can tell you that life can get in the way of long-laid plans.

Woods, who began as the first paid employee of the nonprofit Open Hand in 1989, had no plans of retiring as the organization’s executive director.

After all, Open Hand had launched a major capital campaign to double its operations. And Woods was exploring ways to bolster the revenues of the nonprofit by creating a for-profit sister organization that fit in Open Hand’s overall mission of providing nutritional meals to the homebound.

Then, on June 17, 2011, Woods realized that what he thought was a case of the flu actually was a much more serious case of myocarditis, which had caused significant and apparently irreparable damage to his heart.

While he was dealing with his health, Matt Pieper, the senior director of resource development for Open Hand since January 2009, was named interim director.

The good news for Woods is that he has been part of a new drug trial that has the potential to reverse heart damage, and so far, he has shown dramatic improvement.

But last month, Woods sent a letter to friends and associates of Open Hand announcing he had decided to permanently step down as executive director, recommended Pieper succeed him, and that the board had agreed.

“While I didn’t plan to be sidelined by heart failure …, I did hire Matt with him in mind as my eventual successor,” Woods wrote in his letter.
Woods and Pieper, in a recent interview, discussed the transition and the future for Open Hand.

“Regardless of what my future held, I knew it was going to be a long haul,” Woods said about his decision. “If I was going to live, I was going to have to focus on me. The hardest part was knowing that it was an inconvenient time to leave because of the bad economy.”

Pieper, 49, had not expected to lead the organization as quickly as he did. But he was able to serve as Woods’ understudy during a transformational period for Open Hand — fully signing on to the enhanced focus of the organization.

“I’m so at an advantage because I had the opportunity to work so closely with Stephen for three years,” Pieper said. “I’m still astounded by the amount of time and energy that Stephen invested in me.”

Woods, 55, immediately trusted Pieper, and he was impressed Pieper’s sense of decency. “Matt is very cautious by nature,” Woods said. “He’s a steady influence for Open Hand, and that’s exactly what Open Hand needs.”

Open Hand was founded in 1988 by Michael Edwards Pruitt, who served as an unpaid executive director. Woods became executive director in 1996 after having started as a volunteer in 1988.

Initially, the organization was established to deliver meals to people suffering from AIDs and HIV. Over the years, the mission was expanded to serve all people who were homebound.

In 2004, Open Hand began a for-profit arm — Good Measure Meals — to prepare and deliver gourmet nutritional meals for the general public. This year, Pieper said Good Measure Meals will have revenues of about $5 million, and all the profit goes to support Open Hand.

Overall, Open Hand prepares and packages 5,000 meals a day, seven days a week. It has 130 employees and 25,000 volunteers. And the mission has changed from delivering meals to promoting health through good nutrition and corporate wellness programs.

Lifecycle Building Center

A relatively new nonprofit, Lifecycle Building Center, is working to keep used building materials from being dumped in landfills.

“Our cause is to go in and harvest building materials from buildings that are being demolished or heavily remodeled,” said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, who serves on the Center’s board.

The building materials are then housed in the Center’s warehouse in southwest Atlanta. Those materials are sold to the general public or provided free of charge to nonprofits.

A dinner for Lifecycle Building Center was held Aug. 8 at Rhodes Hall to help raise funds for the mostly volunteer organization that is less than two years old.

The Center was started by architects and people in the construction field interested in making their industry more environmentally sustainable. “The U.S. Green Building Council has taken us under their wing,” McDonald said.

Ray Anderson’s Legacy

The legacy of Georgia’s dean of sustainability, the late Ray Anderson, continues.

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has launched a new website — www.raycandersonfoundation.org — to champion the environmental legacy of Interface Inc. and its founder. Anderson died in August 2011, nine years short of his company’s goal of zero negative impact on the environment by 2020.

“We really wanted to honor our father’s life by refocusing on how the Foundation can continue his legacy,” said Mary Anne Lanier, trustee and Anderson’s daughter. “This launch is just the beginning for us. We already have plans in place to expand the site as an educational resource and are looking forward to issuing our first grant request for proposals in 2013.”

Better World Books

One of Atlanta’s most novel for-profit companies — Better World Books — is building its team.

The Atlanta-based socially responsible online retailer has hired Erin Woodyard Davis as vice president of human resources and “chief people officer” and Adrielle Lewinski as director of human resources.

Better World collects and sells new and used books online, matching each purchase with a donation for literacy initiatives in the United States and around the world.

Since its founding in 2003, it has raised more than $12 million for libraries and literacy programs and donated more than 6 million books.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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