Kristen McDonald is the current President and CEO of Greater Midland, a network of centers connecting all residents in Midland County through wellness & recreation, education, youth development and human services. Prior to coming to Midland two years ago, McDonald served as the Vice President of Program and Policy for The Skillman Foundation in Detroit directing strategy in citywide education reform, place-based neighborhood revitalization, youth development systems building and public policy agendas addressing institutional inequity issues.
We spoke with Kristen to learn more about her role with Greater Midland, the parts that make her days delightful, and some of the more challenging aspects of leading one of Midland’s most dynamic assets.
Q: Can you please tell us more about your role with Greater Midland?
A: Yes! I think it’s important to provide some background. Greater Midland started 100 years ago with the community center, which was founded by Herbert. H. Dow. We are inextricably linked to the city’s history and have since expanded to become Greater Midland, which is comprised of the North Family Center, the Coleman Family Center, the Curling Club, the Tennis Center and all fitness and wellness locations for DowDuPont. We are the sixth largest employer in Midland County, and the largest childcare provider.
Serving a population from six weeks old to seniors, our scope is really big, and lots of folks are members and actively participate in fitness classes, community dances, aquatics – you name it. It’s always interesting to me when I talk to the people we serve how personal their interaction is with us and how deeply connected we are with the wellbeing of the community.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of leading Greater Midland?
A: The thing that I enjoy the most in this role is the incredible diversity of the activities that we offer. From our Community Center to our tennis courts and activities, there is always something new. We have an incredible workforce with energy, and working alongside them and connecting to all of the different segments and all of the different ages in our community is really fantastic.
Q: You just wrapped up an exciting event, the Midland Smoker. For people who aren’t familiar with it, can you tell us more about it?
A: The Midland Smoker is an annual doubles tennis tournament and 2018 was our fourth year. It’s a huge draw, and we get people from all over the U.S. who come and participate.
The doubles tournament in Midland is unique, and we have a lot of Midland participants compete on all different levels. It’s great tennis, but it’s also a great time to connect with people. Every year we get more people that come and its one of many opportunities we get that are about the great sport of tennis.
The event creates connection among participants and it is a lot of fun. I am a terrible tennis player myself, but the beautiful thing about tennis and coming to the tennis center is that this is okay! We love to laugh and have fun and exercise, and that’s most of the folks playing in the Smoker. It’s a great annual event about people gathering to play the game.
Q: Greater Midland serves the community in so many ways aside from fitness and programming. What can people donate to various Greater Midland partners over the holidays to help others?
A: We have a lot of families in the county who struggle to meet basic needs. As the weather gets colder we have a big need in the family centers for hats, mittens and winter boots of all sizes – children’s sizes through adult sizes, and especially winter gear.
The other big thing to remember is that we have two food banks at our family centers, and are currently putting together baskets for families in need and stocking up those food banks through the winter. Also, the Coleman Family Center has a BIG need for brand new children’s books!
Q: What would you say your personal favorite activity is at Greater Midland?
A: There are a lot of them, and so many I get a personal benefit from. I started in this role two years ago, and I never really defined myself as athletic. I always was the last kid on the kickball team in elementary school. I signed up for personal training and it has been a really amazing journey. I have been paired with Jill Brown for two years, and she was the very first person in my life who has believed in my own personal fitness path, and she has also allowed me to define myself as strong and athletic.
In June I was diagnosed with Lupus which is a chronic autoimmune disease. A lot of doctors told me to stop doing the strength training and running that I love. I made this decision at 48 years old to not put anything on the “I can’t” list. I worked with Jill and a lot of awesome people who helped me figure out how to move past the things I have to deal with now.
In September I finished my second Ragnar. I ran over seventeen miles and now I’m in the best place fitness wise I have ever been in my life. These amazing people helped me move through these challenges and helped me to figure out who I am. It’s an extraordinarily privileged place to sit, and the best part is to also watch the growth of others in the community at the same time.
Q: Thank you so much for sharing that, and being so open with us. What kind of exciting partnerships and opportunities will Greater Midland offer in 2019?
A: Well, we are doing an entirely new strategic visioning session. You will see a lot of community engagement and a lot of exciting new announcements in the spring. We are figuring out how to expand the outreach through partnerships with Senior Services, and with The Rock Center for Youth Development to provide more opportunities for our teens to participate in programs across our network. We are also building on our wonderful relationship with Dow by thinking about their employees’ overall well-being.
I would also add that we deliver early childhood education and care in four different sites across the county. Every classroom is at full capacity, so we are looking to expand services to families so we can help get all children kindergarten ready when we send them off to school.
Q: That is absolutely a vital service and need in our community. This leads us to our next question- how can folks provide input with your strategic visioning?
A: There are lots of ways for folks to get involved! As we think about the next hundred years, we think the most important part is to meet with individuals in the community.
These visioning sessions are part of a series, and we will continue to talk to people by Facebook surveys and communicating directly with residents and members. We encourage folks to come in and talk to anyone in our Greater Midland leadership team, and the executive directors of each unit to talk and share their feedback.
Our doors are always open. We really encourage people to come talk to us about what they love, and what they see as a gap that we are well positioned to fill. Our goals are to always have the community’s well-being in our windshield. That’s the space that we are driving towards, and we need the community to help shape what that looks like.
Q: With playing such a big part in our community, it’s also very important to have downtime away from work. What is your favorite way to spend time outside of Greater Midland?
A: I have a REALLY big family. Most of the time I spend outside of work is around activities we can do outside together. I’m a big fan in the winter of Midland’s City Forest and snowshoeing through the trails. My eight-year-old loves anything with speed like the toboggan run.
I also love to cook. I spend a lot of my time cooking for my family. We do really big family meals, as there are nine of us now, and most of my Sunday nights are spent creating a family dinner. We also do family 5k races and go hiking. We love the Chippewa Nature Center!