SHERIDAN — Keri McMeans has searched for a new passion and purpose during the past year-and-a-half.
McMeans thought about what direction her life should take after the sale of a fly-fishing lodge in southern Montana last January that she owned and operated with her husband for nearly two decades.
McMeans wanted something she believed in and to which she could completely dedicate her energies.
The ensuing months entailed many different options, and McMeans believes she found her calling earlier this year when she became executive director of The Food Group, a nonprofit that aims to reduce childhood hunger and improve student education.
Learning about the job opening in February sparked her passion, and McMeans felt drawn to the opportunity.
“When I heard about the position I just had this gut feeling of, ‘Oh, this is something I can get behind and I believe in,’” McMeans said.
McMeans researched the organization before applying and being interviewed this spring, and she started her new position April 4. McMeans returned from a multi-week trek in the Himalayan Mountains May 17 and has gradually become more comfortable with the job.
She said the past six weeks have entailed a learning curve.
“It’s a day-to-day learning process,” McMeans said. “… Every day presents something new, and that’s a good thing. I like that about what I get to do now, and it’s challenging.”
TFG board President Arin Waddell, Treasurer Jennifer Heerman and Secretary Mary Hogarty were three members of the interview committee who spoke with McMeans in March.
The board members said McMeans was extremely prepared during the interview process, asking to tour the facility and learn more about the organization’s different programs.
“She believed in our mission, she knew our mission, she’s really connected to the community,” Waddell said. “… She had done all of her homework and was already, in a way, deeply invested.”
Indeed, while working as a special education paraprofessional at Tongue River Elementary last year, McMeans interacted with The Food Group and saw its wide reach.
“What our organization does and can do benefits not just one person or one child, but really is a benefit to the whole community,” McMeans said.
The board members said McMeans has business acumen, is calm, detail-oriented and should excel at putting ideas into action.
“When she dives into something, it’s 110%,” Heerman said.
“She knows what she’s doing and does it passionately,” Hogarty said.
McMeans replaces Missi Hubert, who announced her resignation in late January to spend more time with family. McMeans and the board members said Hubert has been generous with her time and support during the leadership transition.
Before accepting the new role, McMeans worked in the fly-fishing business with her husband for 18 years. She has resided in Dayton for the past 17 years and served on the board at the Tongue River Valley Community Center since 2016, something McMeans said has helped her better understand the importance of community.
In addition to teaching for a short time at TRE, McMeans has also coached cross-country at Tongue River High School and Tongue River Middle School for the past four years, something she aims to continue in the fall.
After stepping away from the fly-fishing business, McMeans knew she wanted to work with children in some capacity but needed to find the right avenue to do so. With the job at The Food Group, she has seemingly found the ideal occupation for her skillset.
“With this opportunity, I think it’s more fit to who I am, as far as having a little bit of everything,” McMeans said. “There’s the business aspect, there’s the connection with community, there’s connection with our youth and what we can do for our youth … It just came together as the full package that I needed.”
So far, McMeans has spent most of her time meeting different people associated with The Food Group and learning more about the organization. Some challenges so far include writing grants and becoming familiar with the ins and outs of how a nonprofit budget operates.
McMeans feels blessed to be part of a supportive, invested and intentional community.
The Food Group Programs Coordinator Elizabeth Moore agreed.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the community support,” Moore said. “…It’s the spirit and the heart behind the giving and the serving that make the difference.”
The Food Group has four areas of emphasis: weekend food bags, pantries in schools and around the community, a literacy project and summer programs. Moore said the Food Group serves about 500 kids per week between teen pantries, little free pantries and weekend food bags.
Another challenging aspect of the new job entails finding the right balance between improving what The Food Group already does well and expanding to include more areas.
However, McMeans said figuring out solutions to thorny questions excites her.
“That would be my challenge, is navigating everything, but the main goal is to continue to do what we do well,” McMeans said. “…The strength of The Food Group is that we’re independent and we’re small enough that we don’t rely on restrictive funding, and so we have an opportunity to reach the kids we serve in different ways.”
After sifting through potential options, McMeans appears to have landed in a role well-suited for her and The Food Group.