Nonprofit executives earn some time off

Rasmuson Foundation awards sabbaticals to Food Bank, LeeShore Center directors

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2007

Key executives of two central Kenai Peninsula not-for-profit agencies have earned a break.

Linda Swarner, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, will be cruising on the Danube River in Europe and Cheri Smith, executive director of the The LeeShore Center, is heading off to Hawaii with husband Barney.

The two executives were selected among five Alaskans to receive extended paid leaves through the Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical Program. The others are from Anchorage.

The sabbaticals can be from two to six months in duration and come with a $30,000 award that can be used for the recipient's salary or for travel expenses.

Swarner said she has chosen to travel from Nuremberg, Germany on the Danube to Budapest, where she will switch to land transportation to Prague, Czech Republic. She said her mother's family is originally from Bohemia in the former Czechoslovakia.

Leaving for her extended break in February, she said she plans to be away from the food bank for about four months.

Smith said she plans to be on sabbatical from the first of the year until April 1. She and her husband will be spending one month in Hawaii, where she lived for a time.

Swarner, who has been at the food bank since April 2003, worked previously with Smith at The LeeShore Center.

Serving approximately 1,750 meals a month in the soup kitchen, Swarner said the numbers continue to increase. Since she has been the top executive there, the food bank has provided salads with the meals whenever possible.

"Our cooks use whatever food is available in the warehouse," Swarner said.

"What's on the shelf is out of our control," she said. "We rely on the grocers and their distributors."

Additionally, the food bank depends on food drives conducted by schools and churches and community organizations such as the Kenai River Brown Bears hockey team.

In addition to feeding people in the soup kitchen, the food bank provides food to 60 member agencies, she said, including churches, senior citizens centers and the Boys and Girls Clubs serving people from Moose Pass to Ninilchik and north to Nikiski.

While she's on leave, the food bank will be operated by Jim Frates, the warehouse supervisor, and Susan Smalley will perform administrative duties on a part-time basis.

Smith said one of the requirements of the Rasmuson program is a sustainability plan, "meaning the organization can do without you for six months."

She said Barbara Waters, the LeeShore education and training coordinator, will be the interim director of center, which provides 24-hour emergency shelter to women and children victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Sue Best, the agency's bookkeeper, will be in charge of financial issues.

"The staff here is really competent," Smith said.

Of her extended leave, she said, "It's kind of a rejuvenation more than anything ... a reflective time to ask, 'Where am I at?' 'Where do I need to go?'"

In the emergency shelter environment, she said the work can be "high-stressed at times."

While in Hawaii, she will not look at any shelters' operations.

"This is strictly vacation," she said.

Smith, who is in her 14th year with the agency five years as executive director and batterers prevention program coordinator before that said this will be her first sabbatical.

"I'm excited," she said.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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