After 30 years of service, Judy Raveaux, CEO of CHANGE, Inc., will retire December 31.
Raveaux was honored by the staff and Board of Directors at the agency’s annual Christmas party Dec. 3
For the last three decades expanding the non-profit’s services to meet the needs of the community has been Judy’s focus, so much so that she admits “CHANGE has been my life.” Under her leadership, CHANGE has grown from an initial annual budget of $50,000 to $19 million with an employment level of 185 and a payroll of $13 million. Over the years CHANGE has brought over $300 million to the counties it serves.
While undisputedly impressive, numbers don’t begin to reflect the impact CHANGE has made on area residents’ lives and Judy’s role in responding to the needs of those residents by growing and expanding the services offered by the agency attest to her commitment to CHANGE’s mission.
CHANGE, Inc. was born of crisis. When National Steel announced in March 1982 it would close Weirton Steel the area went into shock. Overnight, Weirton became a community in crisis with bread winners suddenly out-of-work and families in need. Millworkers had never had to worry about unemployment and their job seeking skills were non-existent. In response, a handful of ministers came together to form Communities Helping Arrange New Growth Enterprises or as it became known CHANGE, Inc.
Judy’s and her husband, Brad, were one of those families whose future was now shaky. Brad, was laid off from Weirton Steel and with two young children at home Judy went down to CHANGE to get her own resume in order.
At the time, the new non-profit had a budget of $50,000.00 per year and its mission was to assist the unemployed with was resume’s, cover letters and mock interviews. The late Joe Mayernick was the Executive Director and a friend of Judy’s was working in the office and was leaving the area. Her friend asked Judy if she was interested in her job. Judy went to work and during her time as CHANGE’s secretary, she computerized the bookkeeping system and managed the volunteers.. Two week’s later Mayernick left to become Exective Director of the Weirton Area Chamber. A few directors would serve in the position after that time and when the Executive Director’s position became available again, Judy’s father encouraged her to apply.
Upon assuming the Executive Director’s position, Judy petitioned the Governor’s office to allow CHANGE to apply for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. Once approved the budget rose tripled to $150,000.00.
That was just the beginning. “As we took on the Weatherization program and through partnerships in the communities and connections made with State funders, we were able to address other community needs that arose due to the layoffs,” said Judy.
The community was changing. While at one time, the Weirton-Steubenville area had the second largest number of families with a non-working spouse/mother, households now needed two incomes to survive. The problem was families had only one car and could not afford a second. Transportation was identified as a need. CHANGE added transportation services. Domestic violence was identified as a major problem as families faced more stress. Domestic Violence Counseling was undertaken. After a hard-fought political battle, a Domestic Violence Shelter received credentialization with State funding to follow. The Brancazio Free Health Clinic addressed the lack of affordable health care in the area and ultimately, a Federally Qualified Health Center designation was acquired with dental, eye care, pharmaceutical and counseling services soon added., CHANGE spread its wings to include School Based Health Sites and clinics in Newell and Jefferson County. As Judy saw those needs, she responded and with supportive Board of Directors they took a leap of faith. In 1994, the annual budget had grown to $1 million, by 2021 it would increase to $19 million.
Longtime Board member Tamara Pettit recalls that the Board always had great faith in Judy’s ability to grow CHANGE’s mission.
“She always had the focus, energy and positivity, and you just believed in her ability to make the vision a reality,” said Pettit.
“Many nights, I would worry about how the agency was growing with more than ten employees and making payroll while trying to keep the money coming in,” she recalls. “Jim (Boniey) and I would actually go without paychecks to assure other staff (got their paychecks) and the bills were paid.”
The quantum leap occurred when the free clinic was transitioned to a Federally Qualified Health Center.
“Once approved for funding I had some relief”
With many of those steps, there was resistance,
“The road was not easy, as I had political powers trying to influence the work we do. Many times I found myself feeling alone in a man’s world, Remember this was the early 90s and I sat at State meetings as one of only two woman directors fighting for the needs of our residents”
But, she persevered and the result has been a multi-faceted agency responding to a wide range of needs.
“I’ve had quite a few proud moments, mostly because of the work our staff does in the communities: the opening of the Domestic Violence Shelter, gaining Federal Qualified Health Center status,” But the milestones came with very personal stories as well “the family that was so glad to have heat in their home due to our weatherization program; going to the hospital to talk to a woman who along with her two young children who was the first resident of our Domestic Violence Shelter,” she recalls.
What has driven Judy these past 30 years to make CHANGE grow
“I have always kept those ministers’ mission of ‘helping others help themselves” with every program we do, which grows the agency naturally.”