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Pikes Peak United Way chief resigns, sought to change nonprofit's course

February 23, 2017 Updated: February 24, 2017 at 6:23 am
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photo - Jason Wood
Jason Wood 

The Pikes Peak United Way's president and chief executive resigned this week, stepping aside after nearly four years at the helm of the community charity clearinghouse.

Jason Wood will be replaced by Cindy Aubrey, who will serve as interim chief executive officer of the nonprofit. The decision came after "reflecting on some of my own personal and professional goals," Wood said Thursday, adding it was the right time to step down for him, as well as for the organization.

He said he's had "some offers" for other jobs.

"I've had some opportunities come my way," Wood said. "I'd really like to take the time to explore them and make a decision as a family on what we want to do."

Wood tendered his resignation "a couple of days ago," Aubrey said.

"We are grateful to Jason for the work he has done for our community while at Pikes Peak United Way," Kent Fortune, chairman of United Way's Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "We wish him the very best in his future endeavors."

The organization's Pikes Peak chapter has long been a central pillar of the community - acting as a one-stop shop for residents to donate to charities and nonprofits of their choosing. It hosts an annual fundraiser that collects millions of dollars, and it has funneled that money to organizations across El Paso and Teller counties.

It also runs the local 211 service - a call-in number that directs people to the social service agency that best fits their specific needs, such as a food pantry, housing services or rent and utilities assistance.

In all, the organization boasts an annual budget of about $6 million, while employing about three dozen people, according to its GuideStar profile.

A couple of former employees contacted by The Gazette said they hoped Wood's departure would be a fresh start for the nonprofit.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they questioned Wood's leadership style, adding he had difficulty building trust with his employees. He appeared too young and inexperienced for a job of that size, they said.

"This is an opportunity for the organization to rebuild and to move forward and to continue the longstanding tradition of serving this community," a former employee said. "This leadership change provides an opportunity to focus again on the critical mission of United Way."

Wood said he was "saddened" to hear former employees did not like his management style, but said he has grown from the experience of leading the nonprofit.

"I don't think I was always a perfect leader, but I've learned a lot," Wood said.

He added that it's "very, very hard" changing the course and culture of a nonprofit - something that led to heightened turnover, particularly early in his term, Wood said.

"They're an amazing team right now, and so they're going to do good work," Wood said, of the organization.

Wood took the organization's helm in mid-2013, fresh from the United Way of Greater Kansas City, where he worked as vice president of community engagement. There, he led an effort to revitalize the city's urban core, according to GuideStar's profile of the organization.

His arrival in Colorado Springs marked a shift for the Pikes Peak United Way - one away from local leaders and toward a United Way insider and rising star. He was among roughly two dozen people selected for the 2009-2010 United Way's Global Resident Fellows Program, an intensive year-long training that aimed to "identify, engage and develop the next generation of worldwide United Way leaders," according to a United Way blog announcing the class.

During his tenure, Wood said he worked to shift that focus toward a more "community impact" model, one where the United Way would create its own programs to address areas of need.

In late January, Wood began his latest venture - a program called Colorado Springs Promise to raise graduation rates at Mitchell High School. It was a collaboration with University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs District 11 and the school.

On his decision to leave within weeks of starting that program, Wood said, "There's never a perfect time for transition."

"I wish there was a textbook to tell you how to do this," he said. "There just wasn't."

He also led an initiative called Success by 6, which focused on bolstering the education of children in their first six years of life, with the expectation that doing so would help them in higher grades. And he led the Decade of Difference, which aimed to help teens and young adults be financially stable from ages 16 through 26.

Aubrey said the nonprofit's Board of Trustees is expected to form a search committee to fill Wood's vacated post.

She joined the Pikes Peak United Way in February 2015 after having previously worked as a spokesperson for the city of Colorado Springs and earlier as news director for KOAA-NEWS 5.

Born in Pueblo, Aubrey is married with one son, who is a student at Colorado State University.

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