By Scott Meeker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
An open house was held Thursday afternoon to welcome Bev Crespino-Graham as the new executive director of the United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas.
For Crespino-Graham, it was more of a welcome home celebration.
“I was born in Pittsburg and was there until about fourth grade,” she said. “We moved here (to Joplin), and I went to Kelsey Norman, South, graduated from Parkwood and got my undergraduate degree from (Missouri) Southern. I have lots of family on both sides of the state line, so this is coming home for me.”
Most of her background is in nonprofits, as an employee and manager. Crespino-Graham said she has done everything from working as a live-in director for a juvenile home to running independent living programs for adults with disabilities.
She spent about six years with the United Way of Greater Topeka, Kan., as chief operating officer. Most recently, she was analytics practice leader for Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, working on strategic outcomes for human resources and health and wellness programs.
Her mother, Pat Crespino, recently retired after about 36 years working for the Joplin Family YMCA.
“One of my very first jobs was working behind the desk at the Y, and I was the first director of after-school programs at Cecil Floyd (Elementary School),” Crespino-Graham said. “I was also a counselor for the Girl Scouts at Camp Mintahama.
“I’ve worked in nonprofits my whole life.”
As the new executive director for the local United Way, she will be heading an organization that serves a greatly expanded area. The United Way of Southwest Missouri and the United Way of Crawford County, Kan., merged in the winter of 2010-11.
“(The merger) was a really positive thing, in that we can share our back-end office expenses and make sure that more dollars go to our programs,” she said.
Crespino-Graham said the devastation wrought by the May 22 tornado provides an opportunity for the United Way to become an integral “puzzle piece” in helping to meet the needs of the community.
“There’s a renewed sense of people wanting to give and help each other, and that sense of community is a benefit,” she said. “People want to be at the table working together, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
“Being away from Joplin (on May 22), I was proud to be from here. People in Kansas City were seeing the response and saying, ‘Wow, what a community.’”
There’s also an opportunity for United Way programs to receive additional funding at the federal level, an area in which Crespino-Graham has experience.
While at the United Way of Greater Topeka, she wrote grant proposals and also served as a consultant and evaluator for other grant agencies.
“I sat on the other side of things, helping to approve and recommend funding, so I’m hoping that will be a benefit,” she said. “Evaluators are looking for communities that work together and collaborate. They don’t want to fund a lone ranger.”
At the end of her first week on the job in Joplin, Crespino-Graham described her new position as a “win-win.”
“I’ve been gone for about 25 years,” she said. “My family and my husband’s family are from here. Being home with family is amazing, but I also get to work with the agency that I love, and with the merger, the two communities that I love.”