Marysville News

Chinnici-Zuercher's post-college choice proves windfall for central Ohio

HandsOn Central Ohio CEO is retiring after revitalizing, growing organization

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Marilee Chinnici-Zuercher ended up in central Ohio on a whim.

She and two college roommates chose Columbus after graduation because it was within two hours of their families.

Although her college roommates have since moved on, Chinnici-Zuercher's impact on the area is great, seeing HandsOn Central Ohio through transitions and growth as CEO.

Chinnici-Zuercher will soon say goodbye to the organization after 21 years for a shot at retirement.

"The organization itself is really a critical piece to the fabric of social services," Chinnici-Zuercher said of HandsOn Central Ohio.

"The community is very large and has many services," she said.

"But when you are in crisis, you don't know where to go... . This provides successful resolutions. It's an access point to help."

Chinnici-Zuercher moved to HandsOn Central Ohio -- then titled CALLVAC -- in 1991 after working her way up the ladder at the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

"It was a pretty small organization when I came there," she said of CALLVAC.

Upon starting, Chinnici-Zuercher's first assignment was an analysis of the organization that worked as a volunteer center, referral agency and advocate for nonprofit organizations.

"The goal was to look different at the end of the evaluation," she said.

And they did as CALLVAC became FIRSTLINK in 1995.

"Instead of being so internal, we wanted to be external and be at every table in the community," Chinnici-Zuercher said. "If you had a problem, we could offer help."

Utilizing her experience in government, Chinnici-Zuercher got FIRSTLINK contracts with the state in data collection and management and social services training.

"We partnered with the International Visitors Council to provide training to people all over the world to deliver social services," she said.

The job took her around the world to countries such as Japan, China and Russia.

"It was something I never thought I'd have an opportunity to do," she said.

A speaking engagement also brought a request from a member of the U.S. Department of State.

A group was put together to reconcile the Turkish and Greek sides of Cyprus and Chinnici-Zuercher's assistance was requested.

"The Ambassador of the U.S. there wanted to bring both sides together," she said.

Chinnici-Zuercher was one of four Americans on the quest and even got permission from the president to visit the Turkish side -- a rarity at the time.

While much of Chinnici-Zuercher's time as CEO of HandsOn Central Ohio has been spent developing partnerships and raising funds, she's never above volunteering.

"I joined the Dublin Food Pantry board," she said. "It gives me a good basis for understanding need."

Volunteering has always been a passion for Chinnici-Zuercher.

"I started formally volunteering as a candy striper at a local hospital when I was 12," she said.

Leadership also became an interest for Chinnici-Zuercher and being at HandsOn Central Ohio mixed two elements she loved.

"I was very fortunate to find a job that I was passionate about," she said. "It combined my passion and leadership.

With retirement coming by the end of 2013, Chinnici-Zuercher isn't worried about getting bored. She'll still have her Dublin City Council seat.

"I'm really excited about the Bridge Street Corridor," she said. "I look forward to working on that.

"It's really going to put Dublin on the map in a different way than we have historically branded ourselves."

She'll also retain some leadership roles in groups including Points of Light, MORPC and the Dublin Food Pantry.

"A couple of other colleagues retired and we want to develop a leadership program for new leaders that need continued coaching and mentoring to be more successful in their jobs," she said.

After putting so many years in at HandsOn Central Ohio, Chinnici-Zuercher isn't worried about its fate without her.

Three years ago she obtained a grant from the Columbus Foundation to build board leadership.

"They have the confidence to take it to the next level," she said.

"That has been done and they're at a good place for new leadership to take over. It's time for someone new to look at it."

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