Kristi Steber will leaver her job as executive director for the Crook County Foundation in order to focus on the John and Linda Shelk Foundation

by: KEVIN SPERL - Kristi Steber steps down as the executive director of the Crook County Foundation on Sept. 1.

On Sept. 1, Kristi Steber will step down as executive director of the Crook County Foundation, a position she has held since 2007.

Steber claims to be one of those people that, as soon as they drive down the grade into town for the first time, got hooked on Prineville.

“I was freelance writing at the time and doing a lot of traveling around the Northwest and could live anywhere I wanted,” she said. “In 1981, when I drove into town, I fell in love.”

Twenty years later she began her involvement with the Crook County Foundation, serving on a variety of committees, becoming a board member in 2005 and, in 2007, its executive director.

She saw it as a chance to invest in a community she cared for.

“Serving with the Crook County Foundation is simply about everything I believe in,” she said. “The community, its educational opportunities, and its leadership development are all working together to make Prineville a better place.”

The mission of the foundation is to “build community capacity, promote lifelong learning, cultivate the arts and encourage philanthropy.”

The foundation meets those goals by supporting a variety of events, including Picnic in the Park, the Crook County Cultural Coalition, What’s Brewing?, the Ford Institute of Leadership, Secret Santa, The Generocity Project and PEP Funds.

But, Steber is especially proud of the foundation’s ability to support education, something that has grown exponentially as her tenure comes to an end.

“The first year we had one $700 scholarship,” said Steber. “This year, by the time we are done, we will have given out over $52,000.”

According to the foundation’s annual report, that money was distributed to 57 high school and college students, displaced workers, and adults.

Of that amount, $39,500 was awarded to 31 Crook County High School graduates, $10,000 went to four adults reentering school, $780 assisted adults earning their GED, and $1,800 helped 16 high school students receive college credit for high school classes.

“Our founding partners were the school district, the city and county, the Chamber of Commerce and Parks and Recreation,” explained Steber, saying that the high school principal was growing tired of parents coming in to see how their kids could drop out of school and go to work. At that time there was also a shortage of residents choosing to run for elected office, serving on committees or volunteering with nonprofits.

“The foundation was started as a way to reverse that trend,” said Steber. “We needed to develop new leadership in this community.”

Steber is also excited that the community has simply become more aware of what the foundation is all about.

“The last three years have really been amazing as far as people understanding what we do,” she said. “People are now looking to the foundation as a way to do good in the community.”

Steber is leaving to give her full attention to the mission of the John and Linda Shelk Foundation.

“Ten years ago, John and Linda started their own foundation with the purpose of working with Crook, Wheeler, Grant and Harney counties,” said Steber. “That is where their employees live and work.”

What the Shelks were discovering was that nonprofits in those counties were missing out on available grant money simply because they did not have the resources to apply.

Steber’s charge will be to build a relationship between the needs of the nonprofits and the available foundation money that might support their projects.

“If we know of a nonprofit project and a funder that likes that kind of work, we will try to get them together,” explained Steber.

For awhile, Steber has been splitting her time between both foundations and she feels it is time to devote all of her energies to the Shelks, saying that she will begin looking at rural and eastern Oregon differently in terms of how best to support them.

But leaving the Crook County Foundation is still difficult for Steber.

“What is really hard for me is that its feels weird for me to make this transition,” she laughed. “The lines between my personal life and professional life are so blurred.”

She admits it wasn’t an easy decision, but, as with most challenges, there comes a time to move on and Steber believes that time is now, and she looks forward to seeing where a new director takes the foundation.

Steber is not taking a break in the transition, however, as she plans to immediately go to work on her new challenges.

“It will be almost like a vacation for me to be focused on one job and really drill down into it,” she said. “I look forward to giving all of my attention to one thing.”

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