A local nonprofit is on the hunt for its fifth CEO in eight years, as it parted ways with its top boss this week. Meanwhile, a movement is afoot among supporters to urge the return of the organization’s founders.
Comfort Zone Camp, which runs bereavement camps for children around the country, announced on Tuesday that chief executive Alesia Alexander is no longer with the Henrico-based organization, effective June 25.
The decision was announced in a letter to volunteers from Christine Williams, CZC board chair.
“It became clear to the board that our vision for Comfort Zone and the vision of the CEO were not aligned, and that it was not the right fit,” Williams said in the letter.
It stated that a search for a new leader would begin and that former interim CEO Larry Zippin will serve as an executive consultant to help during the transition.
Alexander, who took the helm in March 2017, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Her departure marks the fourth time a CEO has left CZC since founder Lynne Hughes was ousted after a power struggle between her and the board of directors in early 2010.
Williams addressed the CEO turnover in her letter, stating, “We recognize the significant amount of turnover the organization has experienced in its leadership roles – some voluntary and some not – over the last several years.
“This is never ideal, but our focus is always on preserving and fulfilling our mission and we remain more committed than ever to Comfort Zone.”
The letter added that all currently scheduled CZC programs will continue as planned and, “We are working with staff to finalize any additional programs within our financial means.”
In an interview with BizSense this week, Williams, whose day job is as an attorney at Richmond law firm Durrette, Arkema, Gerson & Gill, said she could not expound beyond her earlier letter as to what led to Alexander’s departure.
Williams urged volunteers that have raised concerns about the direction of CZC, prior to and after Alexander’s departure, to reach out to her.
“I am a volunteer. I am dedicated to the mission of serving grieving children,” she said. “I was a grieving child. I lost my mom when I was 7. I did not have the resources that exist now because of Comfort Zone Camp.”
Those concerns from volunteers include questions about CZC’s recent push to more single-day programs, a departure from the usual focus on weekend-long camps.
Williams also addressed volunteers’ concerns about the organization’s decline in revenue in recent years and fewer camps being held.
“Our budget has definitely decreased over the last couple of years,” Williams said. “Everybody wants us to do more camps. I totally understand that.
“I think every charitable organization needs to find new sources of funding. It is a difficult environment for all charities, so we’re constantly trying to diversify and find new donors and new volunteers.”
CZC volunteers aren’t sitting idle. They’re pushing for the return of Lynne Hughes and her husband and co-founder, Kelly Hughes.
Reached by phone Thursday, Kelly said he and his wife have received an increasing number of calls and messages in the last few weeks from volunteers urging them to consider returning to run the organization.
The Hugheses found CZC in Richmond in 1998, growing it eventually to a multimillion-dollar nonprofit, running camps in Richmond, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Boston. Both of them have since moved on to other careers.
Hughes wouldn’t say whether he and Lynne are considering a comeback or if it’s even possible.
He made it clear that he and Lynne are not driving the calls for their return but are at least willing to listen as they, too, are concerned about the organization’s future.
“We are not driving this in any shape or form. We’ve made peace with what happened and have gone on with our lives,” he said.
“We just simply do not want it to fail. And whether it’s us or someone else … it just seems right now they’re at a critical point. They just can’t keep going the direction they’re going.”
“It truly is that we do not want to see it fail, because we know the power of what it does for kids,” he said.