By Sondra Murphy
When a beloved director steps down after a decade of leadership, it is important to find someone who can connect with the community and continue established traditions. The Ojai Valley Youth Foundation board of directors believes they have placed the right person in the job by voting Monday to approve Joanna Iwata as its next executive director.
Iwata has 23 year’s experience working with young adults on both coasts and Hawaii, with a background in student support services administration in the nonprofit arena. Iwata will leave a nonprofit job in Santa Barbara to begin training with the Youth Foundation next week.
“She is well-versed in areas related to strategic planning, budget and event management, public relations, marketing and fund raising,” said outgoing OVYF executive director Caryn Bosson. “She has supervised both paid and volunteer staffs on different types of community-based projects ranging from leadership training programs, social justice series, performing arts programs to live, interactive talk-show programs.”
The OVYF search committee had a large group of applicants to choose from. “We had 25 candidates and reviewed their résumés as a group,” said student board and search committee member Joslyn Wood. “We then decided on six to seven candidates, interviewed them and narrowed it down to two.” After the finalists were interviewed again, the committee voted to recommend Iwata for the position.
“Our committee had youth and adults on it, as well as board members and community members,” said search committee chair Kate Russell. “Our board did unanimously choose Joanna Iwata as our new E.D. to take Caryn Bosson’s place. Those are amazing shoes to fill and we believe that, if anyone can do it, Joanna can.” Russell added that Bosson will help with Iwata’s training.
Iwata attended Bosson’s farewell gathering Monday night at Chaparral Auditorium. “It was really telling of who we are as a valley and Joanna was there to feel the energy,” said Russell. “We had so many comments from the community requesting we find someone who knows our valley.”
Iwata supplies that demand. She grew up in Ojai during the late 1960s, attending Topa Topa Elementary, Matilija Junior High, Nordhoff High and Villanova Preparatory schools and recently returned to the area. Her mother, Sally Iwata, and sister, Kimi Romming, have been involved as advocates for youth-centered programs in many community projects.
“The fact that she was familiar with Ojai was a great advantage,” said Wood. “I feel really positive about Joanna. I feel she’s going to help our organization to grow and thrive.”
OVYF Board president Joan Tremblay concurs. “We are very excited to have found Joanna, especially being an Ojai native. She has a great sense of community that we want to enhance and perpetuate. We did a very thorough search and she was clearly the most qualified.”
Tremblay expects Iwata’s experience at the college level to help the foundation serve high school students seeking college admission. “The kids will come out even better prepared for college because of her background. We hope we can partner with the area’s high schools to an even greater degree so they can tap into her knowledge and expertise in that area.”
Those student-centered qualities helped garner Iwata’s support by the board. “She’s a really good listener, as Caryn is too,” said Tremblay. “We are confident of her abilities to take the foundation even further, spanning and deepening the vision of the organization.”
“I am very excited about this opportunity to make a difference for the youth of Ojai by working closely with our partners in the community, friends and families, as well as the board and staff members,” said Iwata, adding that one of the key points of OVYF is to work directly with teens.
While quite a number of local teens are involved with the foundation, look for OVYF to make efforts to attract even more. “There will be more outreach to increase our teen involvement,” said Iwata.
“Caryn has a successful legacy for us to continue,” said Iwata. “I’m just excited about being back in Ojai after growing up in this valley. It allows me to come back in this creative community role the foundation has given me.”
By Sondra Murphy