Head of local United Way chapter wins achievement award by Jason Bacaj

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Head of local United Way chapter wins achievement award
JASON BACAJ, Business Journal Editor | Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:15 am

Sometimes even the most meticulously planned surprises fall through, as was the case with the Bozeman Business & Professional Women’s attempt to surprise the winner of this year’s Woman of Achievement Award.

Carol Townsend, president and CEO of the Greater Gallatin United Way, was honored with the award Wednesday evening at the BPW’s annual awards ceremony. Ashley Stevick, owner of Ashley Stevick Photography, won the Young Careerist Award. Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co., an accounting and business consulting firm, was named Employer of the Year.

When members of BPW’s honors committee wanted to surprise Townsend with the award, they invited her to speak at the Wednesday evening event, keeping her award a secret.

It was a “crazy week” at the United Way, with the nonprofit in the middle of its allocations process, said Megan Brenna, kidsLINK program director. Townsend was planning to back out of the speech, and Brenna had to break the news to her boss that the nonprofit women’s group actually wanted to give her an award rather than hear a speech.

“We’ve got so much going on at work… and the additional stress of writing a few inspirational words, that’s where my reluctance came in,” Townsend said. “I spoke a few words anyway because I was excited and honored to get it.”

The BPW chose Townsend for the award because she has achieved “significant accomplishments” in her professional and personal life and giving back to the community, said Deb Larson, BPW president.

Townsend, a third generation Gallatin County resident, moved back to the county in 1987 with her two children after going through a divorce in northern California. She was hired by Patagonia to work in its telephone customer service office in Bozeman, where she also sold quilts made from rejected Patagonia shirts and pants to supplement her income.

“I sort of had that ‘Aha!’ moment one day that working in the nonprofit world on behalf of the community, especially in human services, was, that was what I was supposed to do,” Townsend recalled.

She was hired as Greater Gallatin United Way executive director in 1996. Since then, the local nonprofit has increased its annual revenue from about $287,000 to roughly $1.3 million, with money coming from an array of sources such as private donors and federal grants. Townsend also helped lead the local United Way chapter to partner with area schools and work with after-school programs aimed at improving children’s readiness for school and increasing high school graduation rates.

Townsend called the award “powerful praise” and said it will help keep her going when days drag on. She was quick to say that she didn’t achieve that alone and said the award “belongs to many, many people.”

But the woman who has led the Greater Gallatin United Way for half of its 34-year existence didn’t shy away from her new status as a potential role model for other women.

“If who I am and what I represent can be an example to others, I just encourage all women and young women to follow their dreams and shoot for the career they want,” she said.

Jason Bacaj may be reached at jasonb@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.