Transition Time

Despite high-profile departures, LGBT community center Wingspan says all's well

When Wingspan's first executive director left in early June, nobody seemed concerned; after all, Kent Burbank had given the LBGT community center six years of his life. Those in the nonprofit sector are highly dedicated and eventually need a change. It happens.

But then Joseph Bodenmiller, the executive director hired to replace Burbank in August, left after only a month on the job. Then came the Sept. 24 announcement of Cathy Busha's resignation as director of programs.

All of a sudden, it wasn't too difficult to wonder if Wingspan was in trouble.

Burbank and Busha are credited with being two of the driving forces behind the transformation of the 20-year-old nonprofit from a volunteer-run organization to a center with a 20-person staff and a $1.1 million budget. They are also credited with turning Wingspan into a serious advocacy and social-justice voice that politicians in Southern Arizona are forced to take seriously.

According to Cynthia Garcia, vice president of Wingspan's board of directors, the LBGT powerhouse remains a professionally staffed organization in good fiscal health. Burbank and Busha agreed.

"I guess I can understand why some people might be concerned, and rightfully so. I remain invested in this organization. I know they'll find someone great in this next search," Burbank said. "I left because I needed to make changes in my life so my partner and I could begin the process of adoption. I didn't make it public back then, but that was my reason for leaving."

Burbank said he expects the adoption process to be completed soon. Regarding Bodenmiller, Burbank said he understood it wasn't easy for the former New Orleans social worker to resign, but apparently, Bodenmiller's family wasn't happy in Tucson.

"He needed to do what was important for his family. They returned to New Orleans," Burbank said.

After Burbank resigned from Wingspan, he was offered a position as the director of the Victim Witness Program with the Pima County Attorney's Office. It provided Burbank and his family more stability and better hours--something an executive director can't have when leading a growing nonprofit.

"I know it's been four months, but when I was there, the organization was financially stable," Burbank said. "It's a transparent group. I doubt little has changed in four months."

Busha announced her resignation two weeks ago, at the same time she announced her acceptance of a newly created position as director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs at the UA. Busha, who started with Wingspan as a volunteer, was with the LGBT center for nine years.

"I leave feeling very good," she said.

This week, Wingspan is expected to announce an interim executive director and the next steps in the organization's executive search process. Despite the lack of an executive director, Busha said, Wingspan continues to operate smoothly, and at its recent annual dinner, the organization raised $283,000. Last year, the dinner brought in $224,000.

"We've remained financially stable, because we've been financially prudent in how we manage our programs and grants," Busha said.

Sixty percent of Wingspan's funding comes from grants, while 40 percent comes from community donations, Busha said. Each program is funded through several sources and doesn't rely on one grant.

Busha points out that other members of Wingspan's leadership have recently moved on to other professional opportunities. For example, the former director of development, Miriam Barnard, left in the spring to work for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's national office in New York City.

Busha said her new position at the UA was an opportunity she could not pass on.

"I had applied for this position before Joseph (Bodenmiller) left," Busha said. "I'm certainly not leaving because Wingspan is in trouble. I'll still remain a part of Wingspan, and we'll continue to work together when I'm at the UA."

Busha said she is particularly interested in the next steps Wingspan takes with its recently completed strategic plan, which sought out opinions from members and those outside the LGBT community. Senior issues and health care were mentioned as new areas Wingspan needs to address, while the organization was tasked with continuing to work on its youth and anti-violence initiatives.

"We've been able to establish our priorities to help pick an executive director with strengths in these areas. We expect the new director will even have their own interests to bring to this organization," Busha said.

Garcia said that when Burbank resigned, volunteers and staff pulled together. The board of directors particularly focused on the annual dinner and sponsorships to make sure Burbank's previous efforts didn't fall through the cracks during the transition.

Once an interim executive director is in place, Garcia said, the board of directors will begin a more thoughtful search for its next leader and then look for a new director of programs to fill Busha's seat.

"We're still in a good place. After this experience, I can say Wingspan really isn't one or two people," Garcia said.

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