As she prepares to depart the Community Foundation Serving Richmond & Central Virginia, Darcy Oman said she is most proud of having built a philanthropy that will grow stronger well past her time there.
Oman became the Community Foundation's first full-time employee in 1985 and led the organization for nearly 30 years. The nonprofit provides thousands of grants to charitable organizations in the region that support everything from education to hunger relief.
At the time Oman joined the organization, its assets totaled a little more than $1 million. By the time she announced in October 2014 her plans to retire, the foundation had received gifts of nearly $1 billion and had awarded $700 million in grants.
One thing Oman is most proud of is that the foundation has always looked at the entire Richmond area as one community, rather than a collection of jurisdictions.
"I think we have stayed true, over the 30 years that I have been involved, to issues that have been important to the whole region," she said. "We adopted a regional perspective very early on.
"We have been able to build, over time, a pool of flexible undesignated resources that enable the foundation to be responsive to changing needs in the community," she said.
As an example of that flexibility, Oman said the foundation was able to pull $1 million from program reserves at the start of the recession to devote to food access and to rent and foreclosure assistance.
While the needs change from year to year, Oman said the core mission remains the same.
"I think our work has really stayed grounded in working on issues around poverty and quality of life, and how we create opportunities for all of our citizens," she said. "We continue to be involved years later on neighborhood development and affordable housing. We have made investments in significant ways in public education."
Oman is now the president emerita of the foundation. She is working part-time on transition matters with Sherrie Brach, the former head of the Richmond-area United Way agency, who became president and CEO of the Community Foundation in July.
Once her part-time work at the foundation wraps up at year's end, Oman said, she and her husband are going to enjoy some travel, including a planned trip to South Africa in February. She also plans to renew her old hobby of bread making.
"I used to make all the bread in our house," she said. "I did it for years - and then I did not make bread for many years."
Even in retirement, though, "I expect that I will be involved both in civic leadership, volunteerism and some level of board service," Oman said. "I am not committing to anything new until after the first of the year. I would anticipate that whatever I end up doing will be in the areas where the foundation has invested."
IN HER WORDS
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a collection of poems by Ntozake Shange. I had the amazing pleasure of attending a reading by the author in Camden, N.J., back in 1975 before the author was discovered and then debuted on Broadway a year later. The work conveys great emotion and depth as it reflects on the life experience of young African-American women. I still treasure the stapled copy of her work, signed by the author. Also, "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank," by Thad Carhart. It is a story of rediscovery and reflection. When I find time again in my life, I, too, will likely return to the keyboard.
Something that might surprise others
I obtained my motorcycle license in 1980 and have enjoyed many miles touring the U.S. and Canada on two wheels. My first bike was a Moto Guzzi, my last bike a BMW.
Something you’d like to do
Travel to Egypt has been a longstanding "bucket list" item.
Alternate profession or course of study
Friends and colleagues tell me I should have been a lawyer. I think a profession that uses research and analytics for policy or program development would suit me.
A small moment in life with a big impact
In 2004, I was selected to be one of five U.S. Transatlantic Community Foundation Fellows. I was embedded for three weeks at the Community Foundation of Euroregion Labe, in Usti nad Labem, the only community foundation in the Czech Republic.
The executive director and program officer of the Community Foundation of Euroregion Labe were university students in 1989, and for more than half their lives, they lived under Communism. My colleagues described a vivid picture of students and citizens gathered en masse in Wenceslas Square in Prague, “shaking their house keys” - the Velvet Revolution - leading to the collapse of the Communist government by late December 1989. This vivid description is joined with images of Terezin and years of violent occupation by Germany and the Soviet Union.
I was in Usti nad Labem in June 2004 when President Ronald Reagan died. The community of Usti and its Eastern European counterparts revered Reagan as a world leader who stood for their cause and freedom. Hours of televised coverage and commentary replayed his influence in this world region. I came to understand in a deeper way the opportunities (taken and missed) of my own country from the lens of my Usti colleagues.
Susan Berresford, retired president and CEO of the Ford Foundation. She joined the Ford Foundation in 1970, serving in various leadership capacities until she was named president in 1996. I first was introduced to Susan when she was a program officer during my tenure in the development office of Russell Sage College (1979-82). She inspired my personal goal to pursue professional work in grantmaking and foundations. I could see in her work how intellect, hard work, compassion and private resources could be strategically applied to complex community issues and, when done well, positively impact community outcomes. My goal was "by age 50," but my opportunity presented itself in 1985 when I joined the Community Foundation at age 32 as the foundation’s first full-time employee. I have met Susan in passing over the years, and I was honored to receive her retirement greetings via Community Foundation colleagues earlier this year.
It is hard to name a singular accomplishment over a 30-year career. From a macro perspective, I am proud to have helped build a philanthropic resource to serve this region from a struggling concept to an institution with long-term perspective and relevance. From a micro perspective, I am proud of TCF’s decision to commit $1 million from reserve funds to start the 2009 Safety Net Fund as a response to the recession. The fund nearly doubled with donor support, and it was used over a one-year period to support nonprofits that provided basic needs - food, shelter, rent and foreclosure assistance, employment services and job training - at a time when many funding streams were reduced and demand was soaring.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
During our 30-plus years in Richmond, we have watched the region grow and change in positive ways through the diversity of its people and ideas. It is a "livable region" with many natural resources and cultural and educational assets that contribute to the region’s quality of life.
DARCY S. OMAN
Position: president emerita, Community Foundation Serving Richmond & Central Virginia
Born/hometown: 1953; Attleboro, Mass.
College: Hiram College (bachelor's in sociology and religion), graduate coursework at Temple University
Family: husband Gerald Dzura, stepdaughters Anastasia and Natasha, daughter Jessie, two grandchildren