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Have You Met Karen Johnson?

Even though Karen Johnson divides her professional career between two cities, she donates her time to causes that are important to her. “I joined the board of the YWCA Maricopa County in 2005. I became aware of their organization because our Midwestern University campus, where I am a Vice President, is located in Glendale, where the YW also serves through the West Valley senior meals program. A YWCA board member came to talk with the President of Midwestern, and she recommended me to serve on the board. The YWCA has been a very good fit for me for personally and professionally because of our mission of Empowering Women and Eliminating Discrimination. This is very important to me as a Vice President of Midwestern and also as an individual.”

Karen emphasizes, “One of the best qualities of the YWCA Maricopa County is that we are very responsive to the needs of the community. And we also work very quickly to react to those needs. For example, the West Valley needed a nonprofit to operate a community center to provide both congregate and home-delivered meals for seniors. The YWCA stepped right in to accomplish this. Likewise, when the bottom fell out of the economy, the YWCA offered a financial literacy class to the community, and so far over 150 women have graduated from this program. In this class they learn how to be proactive in managing their finances, with topics ranging from banking, to investing, to estate planning.”

She adds, “And when the women’s shelter at the YWCA Maricopa County was transferred to UMOM downtown, we realized that we now had part of our building that could be put to good use. Thanks to the YW, now fifty military veterans have a shelter they can use as a hand up. I’m really proud that the YW tries to identify needs such as this and willingly and quickly tries to solve these problems.”

An organized and dedicated educator, Karen Johnson is in her 17th year as an administrator with Midwestern University. The original campus is headquartered in Downers Grove, IL, and in 1996 the university opened another campus in Glendale, AZ. “In 1999 I bought a home in Glendale. Since community relations are part of my job description, I really needed to be part of the community. So for the past 12 years I’ve spent about a week in each location, the same as each of the senior level staff at the University. We all are proud that we are able to oversee two great campuses in two great cities, and can maintain our active presence at both!”

Though her professional life is fulfilling, Karen states, “I’m so proud to be affiliated with the YWCA Maricopa County. In 2012 we will be celebrating our centennial year. Serving on this board has been a wonderful way for me to give back to the community. It is very gratifying, and well worth all the time I devote to it. Many times I feel I get back so much more in return!”

What are your local volunteer activities?
I’m honored to serve as the President of the Board of Directors of YWCA Maricopa County. I also volunteer with Arizona Golden Retriever Connection, and I have organized local volunteer events for the College of Wooster Alumni Association.
Who inspired you to give back to your community?
My parents. My dad was the treasurer of our church, and my mom was always visiting shut-ins, leading the church Bible study, and helping out in our neighborhood. Volunteering was just expected in my family.
Which fundraising event is your favorite?
I enjoyed attending UMOM’s “Buckles and Bangles” event last year. It’s a great organization to support and I love that you can wear jeans!
Favorite restaurant?
Piazza al Forno in downtown Glendale.
Who do you most admire, and why?
My boss and mentor, Dr. Kathleen Goeppinger (President & CEO of Midwestern University), is truly a force of nature. She has grown the University to be one of the largest and most respected health science universities in the entire nation, and yet she still makes time to give back to her community—volunteering on numerous boards and even ringing the bell at the holidays.
If your life were a movie, who would you want to play your part?
Lauren Graham
Do you have any pets?
I have two dogs here in Phoenix—Jake, an English setter mix, and Sarah, a golden retriever. I have a cat in Chicago—Kahlua.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner about you?
I lived casually and loved my swimming pool!
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned through the years?
Never miss a chance to help someone else out. Giving back is the most rewarding way to live a full life.
What was your first job?
History teacher at an all-girl’s boarding school near Cleveland, OH
What is your greatest indulgence?
Travel. And good wine.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Finishing my doctorate while working full-time and commuting between Chicago and Phoenix on a weekly basis
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a signed Beanie Wells football. I’m a big Cardinals fan.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Sense of humor
Favorite books/Writers?
Book: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
Writers: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Going to movies, walking my dogs, spending time with good friends
What would we be most surprised to know about you?
I can’t stop watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Just be yourself. It’s never failed me yet.
What are some challenges facing nonprofits?
Nonprofits need to find new ways to harness the energy and enthusiasm of young professionals, and to keep them engaged when all of their other life priorities intervene. We need younger Board members to keep us connected to all aspects of our community and to keep our ideas fresh. It is challenging to retain them through career and life changes, but we need to be creative in adapting our Boards to make sure they can remain involved.

Hi Stan T
Will Pineres

Dr. Gumby, Great interview article! I love reading about your interests and activities. I saw you were in Woo last weekend... next time call and see if I'm around. I would love to see you. JZ
Jacki Zody

Great interview! You make the YWCA proud.

I met you at your grandmother's funeral in Lawrence. Your Mom and Dad are special people. If you don't recognize my name, your Mom will give you a full "report." Nice "15 minutes of fame" for you. You look like a Fothergill.
Merris Brady