Battle Creek

New Battle Creek Community Foundation CEO Mary Muliett grateful to now work where she lives

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
BATTLE CREEK, MI — Mary Muliett has called the Battle Creek area home for more than 22 years. During this time she’s maintained a fairly low profile. She's held high-level positions around the state, but none in Battle Creek.
At the end of March, that all changed when she was named the new President and CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation (BCCF). Her first day in this role was March 13. She succeeds Brenda Hunt who resigned after 30 years with BCCF, the last 25 serving as its leader.
“I wasn’t looking for this position. The search firm reached out to me,” Muliett says. “Then, I got into a conversation with the board about the type of leader and the characteristics they were looking for. I thought ‘I need to pay attention to this, this is my own community.'”
Years of leadership in nonprofit work at the local and state level coupled with an understanding of what it takes to come into a community and deepen roots were among what she knew she could bring to the table.
Most recently she served as the President and CEO of D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns (DABSJ) in Grand Rapids. Within the first of the three plus years she led the organization, she completed a capital campaign that would bring the entire campus under one roof through the buildout of a new 43,000-square-foot building.
John GrapThe Battle Creek Community Foundation has named Mary Muliett as its new president/CEO,Of her decision to leave DABSJ, she says, “The team is so solid right now. I try never to leave an organization or a team unless it’s in a good place.”
Although she is not presently undertaking a capital campaign at BCCF, she is stepping in as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary. In addition to coming alongside the community to celebrate this milestone, she will be reaching out to deepen her connections with residents, donors, and stakeholders.
“I know our community, but I have not deepened my professional career here in Battle Creek the way it was deepened in Grand Rapids,” Muliett says. “I think it will feel similar here even though it’s the community I live in. I need to build those connections and networks. I’ll need to really hear from our community about what they need, lifting voices and bringing the community together to understand. I want to know what folks' hopes and desires are and what they envision for themselves. I want to gather those voices and re-invest in our community.”
From her vantage point on the periphery, she says she was aware of much of the positive work going on in Battle Creek, including the transformation of the city’s downtown in which Hunt played a leadership role, and the growth of the BCCF endowment while Hunt was President and CEO.
When Hunt took over as President and CEO, the foundation had assets of $50 million. Under her leadership with support from a staff of 50, that pool of funds has grown to more than $140 million with 1,150 individual funds hosted by BCCF.
Over the next 12 months, Muliett says she wants to hear from the community to get their perceptions of where BCCF is doing well and where and how they’d like to see the organization position itself.
John GrapThe Battle Creek Community Foundation has named Mary Muliett as its new president/CEO,Changes have already been made to the grant-making process which is shifting to a twice-yearly format moving away from the former which required individuals and organizations to apply four times annually.
In round one under the new format, Muliett says BCCF received 22 applications and a total request of just over $450,000.
“The grantmaking team looked at how much we were asking of organizations and individuals to apply four times a year. Moving to two times a year they won’t have to constantly be in a grantmaking cycle with us. We need to adjust to meet the community’s needs. My vision is to build a strategy out for the next 50 years that includes what I’m hearing from community members.”
Not her first career choice
Born in Dearborn and raised in the Detroit area, Muliett initially thought about becoming a teacher and made her way to this side of the state to attend Western Michigan University. While there, she took a job with Family & Children Services (FCS) as a Community Living Supports Team Lead, her first real job in health and human services.
She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Education and soon realized that she had a passion for social work which was driven by her work with FCS. During this time she obtained a certification and started an art program through FCS for children with severe emotional issues.
Her time with FCS was followed by a job as Director of the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center which was re-opening after a roof had collapsed.
“It was really clear to me that I loved clinical work and I pivoted to a social work journey,” Muliett says. This journey took her from the Cheff Center to Kalamazoo Community Mental Health (later renamed Integrated Services of Kalamazoo) where she immersed herself in the mental health field.
“I realized that this (field) is my calling and I obtained an MSW (Master of Social Work),” she says.
John GrapThe Battle Creek Community Foundation has named Mary Muliett as its new president/CEO,While earning her master’s and under the direction of WMU professors, she worked with adults and children who had severe intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“My focus and purpose is to help alleviate barriers and help people realize their potential,” she says.
She has remained true to this purpose and it is interwoven through every job she’s had, including 13 years at Samaritas where she was Vice President of Community Services after earning her MSW. In that role, she was responsible for a $13 million budget and oversight of seven directors and twelve programs supporting just under 400 employees. She also oversaw approximately 40 sites across Michigan that served approximately 6,000 individuals and families. Among her focuses was affordable housing and shelter for the unhoused.
“In my time at Samaritas, I worked with donors. That component really excites me,” Muliett says. “I love to understand what brings someone to an organization and what compels them to provide a gift to their community or a mission. There’s value added on both sides of that relationship. I want to be that conduit to support this work.”
Having the opportunity to work alongside the community she lives in is something she looks forward to as a strategic partner with philanthropic organizations, in addition to BCCF.
“I really love the ability to lift people up and find their strengths and capitalize on those and help kids, families, and individuals. This next adventure just expands that for me.”
As this next adventure unfolds, she says the main challenge she foresees is that the community doesn’t know her — something she plans to remedy by engaging with them in many capacities.
When asked to say what may surprise people, she says, “When people get to know me, they realize how authentic I really am and that I really want to partner with them and find the commonalities and where the value can be added.”
Being able to do this in the place she calls home is a bonus, especially since her father now lives next door to her and her partner of 20 years. They live on 15 acres in Emmett Township that they share with horses and rescue kittens. They also have fostered Border Collies.
The beauty of this location, she says, is that it’s 10 minutes away from everything she needs. It is where she finds solace and strength.
“I love my family, love our home. We’re somewhat out in the country but not so far out that I don’t that I feel like I don’t have neighbors,” Muliett says.
As she looks ahead to honoring BCCF’s first 50 years and the 50 yet to come, she says she’s grateful at last to have the opportunity to make positive and lasting change in the place she calls home.
“Our words, “For Good. For Ever. For All’ is what we do and who we are,” she says of BCCF.

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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.