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andrea rundell

Andrea Rundell, executive director of the YWCA, outside her home in Urbana on Thursday.

She misses dinners out at Farren’s, spending quality time with her adult son and life as we all knew it pre-pandemic.

“But people’s lives are more important than any inconvenience I’m facing,” ANDREA RUNDELL says. “And many people are more harshly affected by the economic impact of this unprecedented time.

“In the normal course of things, I am responsible for what I can do to support my family and friends, and my community. There’s no untangling the weave of this web and pulling out one thread as The Important Thread. Circumstances have changed, but priorities have not.”

Her job — as executive director of the University of Illinois YWCA — is to help, and few can match Rundell in that department. It’s why the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana earlier this year named her the recipient of the Jen Smith Living Legendary Award, given to a community leader who advocates for a cause that “betters the welfare of women and their community.”

The one-time Twin City Derby Girls rookie team coach took time out to answer a few questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 54th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.

The hardest thing about being a leader is … getting out of the office. As an executive director at a nonprofit, one of my most important jobs is to get out into the community, meet people, develop creative partnerships and engage people in our mission — eliminating racism and empowering women.

So many small-but-important things grab my attention that it’s hard to step away and represent the YW well in the community.

I’d say that this is a way in which we are like the for-profit sector.

I can’t live without ... purpose. I am one of those people who need to know that the stuff I do makes the world a better place. Not 24/7, because that’s exhausting. But definitely that I am doing my part.

After purpose, my phone comes in a close second. Because I gotta get this stuff done, too.

My favorite moment of all-time in this job was … being able to put Illinois COVID-19 Restoration Funds directly to use, collaborating with community partners and paying for housing, meals, feminine hygiene products and diapers to distribute to families economically impacted by the pandemic.

We made that $8K work. And going to bed knowing that people were housed and fed, that women and families had just one more expense taken care of was fantastic. One of those moments that said: ‘This is why you stay up at night with the figures and paperwork.’

My business role model is … Vu Le, author of the blog He’s got a great eye for the absurdities of the nonprofit world, and an incisive perspective on how we nonprofits can do better — including funders.

Every sector needs its gadfly, and Vu Le wields the nonprofit sting. Plus, you can’t go wrong with unicorns.

I’m frugal in that … I don’t go out a lot for meals or entertainment — I’m quite happy at home, and spare cash is not something I see a lot of.

There are some places that I will go at the drop of a hat, though.

Farren’s Pub is my dinner happy place and I am so happy to see them creatively making it through the pandemic. #MotherlodeFTW #ExtraBleuCheese #LoveYaCarolyn.

My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … take care of yourself first. Like a lot of nonprofits, our employees go above and beyond on a regular basis. Sometimes, we really need it — we’re tiny, I’m the only full-time employee, deadlines happen in spite of our entreaties to the universe.

The thing is that physical health, mental health and simple wellness are all things that we struggle to maintain as humans. And nonprofits are famous for burning people out.

I refuse to be the pressure on the work-life balance that makes that struggle harder.

The biggest business risk I ever took was ... moving the YWCA off campus. We’d been on the U of I campus since 1884, in many different roles. Both the U of I and YW have changed a lot in 136 years, and we feel that we have a lot to offer the community.

We moved off campus and — boom — it felt like a whole world of opportunities opened up to us. It totally paid off.

We immediately received a multi-year grant to do exactly what we wanted to do — provide digital and workforce skills for women in the community. How often do you get funded to do exactly what you want to do? It’s the Nonprofit Golden Ticket.

The last luxury in which I indulged was ... a spiffy new pair of shoes. I like classic, lace-up, oxford-style dress shoes, and they are hard to come by for small feet. I splurged on a $79 pair of blue leather-ish oxfords from Tomboy Toes.

They definitely dress up my tee shirts and jeans, and I should graduate to ‘business casual’ any day now.

My philosophy on meetings is … make sure they have a purpose and a time limit, and stick to both.

I’m up and at ‘em every day by … 9 a.m. if the coffee is ready. LOL. I start later and end later, or spread work out over weekends, taking care of myself first, just like I tell my employees to do.

As far as my exercise routine goes … I haven’t had a routine in years. I’ve been more active in the past, playing racquetball or swimming three times a week.

I injured my leg several years ago, and it hasn’t been the same since, curbing strenuous exercise. I get my exercise in by walking the dog and exploring my Urbana neighborhood. But ahem, it’s not what you’d call a ‘routine.’

When it comes to the worst job I ever had ... let’s put it like this: Since I began working in 1983, I have had jobs in some places that were truly bad for me. The adage that ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses’ holds true; it comes down to leadership.

Work environments are the responsibility of bosses/supervisors, and it’s up to them to see that their employees are valued for what they can do, and empowered to do it well.

If I feel devalued and disempowered to do my job, it’s a no-win situation, and I will be on my way.

andrea rundell

Andrea Rundell, who adopts senior dogs, is shown here with Ezra outside her home in Urbana.

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