DANBURY, Conn. -- After more than two decades, Shannon Cobb’s diverse career paths converged as she took the reins as CEO and president of Ann’s Place, a Danbury nonprofit that provides counseling, support and other resources to people and their loved ones coping with cancer.
“One of the things I was drawn to was the direct service,’’ said Cobb, a Danbury resident for 15 years. “Working right on site where people need your care and being able to assist them is powerful. Being able to work in my own community is another aspect that drew me to this position.”
- Who : Shannon Cobb, Danbury
- What : Took over as CEO and President of Ann's Place, a support group for people and families coping with cancer, in November
- Learn more: On the Ann's Place website ( click here )
Cobb spent the early part of her career in volunteer management and recruitment. For the past 13 years, she worked in Westchester County as the senior director of outreach and communications at Volunteer New York! and then for the United Way as its senior vice president of marketing, communications and community impact.
The core competencies she acquired at each of those positions, where she recruited, trained and supervised thousands of volunteers, match well with her responsibilities as the new leader at Ann’s Place.
“I’ve worked at a lot of nonprofits, but I’ve never seen the leadership in volunteers that we have in place at Ann’s Place,’’ Cobb said. “The community support that we get is amazing. It’s blown me away since I started the number of volunteers who are committed to helping others.”
Ann’s Place, founded in 1991, serves nearly 1,300 people annually from Fairfield County, Putnam County and Westchester County. It operates out of a beautiful 17,000-square-foot building that includes offices, meeting rooms and space for support groups for women, men, families and caregivers and one-on-one counseling. Ann’s Place also offers recreational activities, such as yoga, Reiki, art, knitting and tai chi.
Its breadth of services is remarkable given its lean full-time staff of just 10. What makes the organization succeed is its 23 pro bono clinicians and a volunteer army in the hundreds that handles everything else. Just to staff the receptionist’s desk, for instance, requires 40 volunteers.
Cobb’s challenge is to meet the financial demands of Ann’s Place. The organization requires $1.2 million each year to maintain its services. The organization does not have an endowment for capital expenses, and all the revenue it generates comes from donations and charitable events.
“Everything in this building was donated,’’ Cobb said. “Everything from the countertops to the kitchen sinks. People see how gorgeous this building is and they think we’re flush with money. We have a very tight budget, and we question everything. We just started an Amazon wish list and the first thing we put on it was Kleenex. We always need little things that make it more comforting.”
Ann’s Place hosts several fundraising events each year, such as its Festival of Trees during the holidays and a midsummer golf tournament. Cobb hopes to stabilize the financial stream with more individual giving.
“When people donate straight to the cause, it’s much more efficient,’’ Cobb said. “Golf events are great. But you’re paying for the golf course, and you lose 30 to 40 percent. Individual giving is an area that we can really build on. We have to put some time into it.”
Cobb found her career path by accident. “I had no idea what I wanted to do,’’ said Cobb, who graduated from Gettysburg College with degrees in psychology and fine arts.
Her first position was a volunteer assignment with AmeriCorps. She was then accepted into an art therapy program and seemed headed in that direction until her husband’s employment took them to San Diego. When they returned East, her career started to develop into the path that led her to Ann’s Place.
“I’m much more analytical and administrative,’’ Cobb said.” It was humbling for me to realize that art therapy was not the right path for me. It’s been good for me to work with clinicians since they are so skilled with front line care. I very much appreciate the well-balanced team we have at Ann’s Place.”
Cobb learned much of her volunteer coordination and management skills at AmeriCorps, and added skills in marketing, communication and online design. Her creative and analytical skills are assets in her new role, along with her ability to work with a team.
“I’m not afraid to ask for help,’’ she said. “I think it’s important to have input from volunteers and paid staff. That’s how you build good teams.”
Cobb’s reward is the daily visits from the cancer patients she serves. She’s in the trenches now, seeing results each and every day.
“When you are part of the solution to make it better, there’s a euphoria that comes with that,’’ she said. “It’s something you can’t experience at any other place. There is something very different when you’re right there and giving somebody a hug that has had a bad day.”
For more information about Ann’s Place, click here .