Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 26 June 2012 17:44
But don’t expect Linda Ogden, director of the non-profit Families and Communities Together Inc., to disengage anytime soon from the causes it represents. Her to-do list as a volunteer starting in July rivals a full-time job description.
It begins with two weeks dedicated to her grandchildren. After that she’ll be heavily involved as a volunteer with Circles, an emerging anti-poverty program she helped launch in the county, and she’ll continue to serve on various boards addressing mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse and other issues.
And, if needed, Ogden said she’ll continue to write grants as contracted by organizations that serve children and families.
“I love challenges, and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of challenges out there,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind even doing more at my local church, but now I’ll have more freedom to take off and go see my grandkids if I want to.”
A large footprint
“I can’t think of another person who represents all of Marion County like Linda Ogden does,” said Steve Noble, superintendent of USD 410, which has hosted Ogden’s office for the past several years. “Her footprint’s pretty large.”
Indeed, it can been seen in almost every program in the county that provides services for children and families, starting from pre-natal care through age 18.
In her role as a facilitator and collaborator for the past 20 years, Ogden has helped secure more than $2.5 million in grants to create and strengthen community and family-based programs in the county.
Through the past two decades, Marion County has become a state leader in the package of services it now provides.
“She is widely known across the state of Kansas as someone who can develop relationships not only locally but also at the state level—and in some cases at the national level—with her involvement in non-profits and helping families and particularly children,” Noble said.
As evidence, FACT was chosen by the Kansas Health Foundation as one of only five programs statewide to receive an unsolicited grant of $135,000 that can be used according to the organization’s discretion.
“That probably exemplifies the trust we’re talking about when it comes to her leadership, what she’s meant to this county and the state of Kansas,” Noble said.
“When you can develop trust like that, you’re more successful with grants because people trust you to do the right thing for kids and families.
“That’s what she’s done.”
Ogden, a Kansas native, arrived in Marion County with her husband and two young daughters in 1974.
“This is where they really grew up, and we’ve put down some roots here and have a lot of investment in this county in a variety of ways,” she said.
In the late 1970s, while doing volunteer work at Prairie View, the Newton-based mental heath services provider, Ogden said her life began to take new focus.
“I went through sort of an awakening that each person is responsible for their own choices and own direction in life, and that it’s our obligation to be the kind of people that God created us to be,” she recalled. “That really became my focus, to become the person God created me to be.
In the mid-80s, Ogden began working for the Marion County Special Education Cooperative, where she and Phoebe Janzen created what became the extended learning program for gifted children.
“That was really good experience,” she said.
After about seven years with MCSEC, Ogden joined a new program being developed by Prairie View in Marion County to expand community-based services for children and adults.
“There hadn’t been a case manager for children and adolescents before that time, so I was hired by Prairie View to do that,” she said.
“Because of it being the Marion County office, we were able, once again, to kind of design the program,” she added. “I had more flexibility than anybody would have now. I think I even wrote my own job description at that time.”
This job, like her others, helped prepare Ogden for her future assignments.
“I just had the luxury of being immersed in the mental health culture and being allowed to attend some clinic training,” she said. “I just soaked up all that stuff like a sponge.”
In the late 1990s, as part of the state’s effort to reform its juvenile justice system, Marion County was mandated to create a team to develop a plan for community-based services. Judge Michael Powers appointed Ogden to the team that also included representatives from county government, schools, health providers and family services.
Once a plan was developed, the team applied for a State Incentive Cooperative Agreement grant to implement it.
“We didn’t have a clue,” Ogden said about the application process. “We finally pulled something together and it came to like $300,000 or something. The limit for the proposal was $75,000 to $100,000. We went back and revised it to about $135,000. We knew it was still over budget, but we were tired.”
The county’ grant application was approved—in full.
“It was the largest one awarded in the state of Kansas for SICA,” Ogden recalled.
With funding in place, the team hired Ogden to be the grant coordinator. Soon after, the team decided to associate with Community in Schools, a national program. It took about a year to form a local board and write the bylaws and articles of incorporation. CIS of Marion County officially became incorporated Aug. 30, 2000.
From that tentative beginning has emerged a network of local initiatives that have become foundational to the county’s current support system: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Parents as Teachers, Head Start, Healthy Start Nurse Home Visitor, the Drug Free Community Support Program and the Comprehensive Early Childhood Health Initiative to name a few.
The most significant development of late has been the transition from being a Community in School participant to forming FACT about two years ago.
Ogden pushed for the change.
“We just decided that the model Community in Schools required no longer fit us,” she said. “We really felt that prevention occurs from pregnancy through adulthood, and Community in Schools was not that broad. It just really focused on school-age children. We couldn’t even count our early-childhood programs.
“We really became convicted that to make a real difference you had to start prenatally with prevention.”
Gifted for the job
Those who have worked closely with Ogden marvel at the gifts she has developed through the years.
“I can tell you that she’s absolutely awesome at her job,” said Anita Svoboda of Lincolnville, president of the FACT executive board.
“She is just so much of a people person, and takes the welfare of children to heart. That’s such a big thing to her. In her years of doing this, that’s always been her main focus.”
Noble said Ogden’s ability to connect with people, plus the relative independence of her role, have helped her be so successful in identifying needs in the county and then finding grants to address them.
“She does it by observing people, knowing people and visiting communities,” he said. “That’s what she’s really about. She knows people in all the communities. She’s connected to all of Marion County through her years of service.
“I guess the biggest characteristic (about her) is that she is truly about the county,” he added. “She doesn’t get into which town is better, or which town ought to have this service or that service. No, she’s all about every child and every family in all of our communities.”
Svoboda characterized Ogden as highly self-motivated.
“You have to be, in that position,” she said. “You have to be the kind of person who is willing to put yourself out there and go after it because fundraising is a very difficult thing to do.
“That’s how FACT survives—with donations, grants and that type of thing. Without her and her willingness to go out and do that, we wouldn’t have a lot of it. It exists, to a great deal, due to her.”
In recent weeks, the FACT board hired Ashlee Gann, a newcomer to Marion County, to succeed Ogden starting July 2.
Noble, a member of the board and search committee, said Ogden’s input was instrumental in their choice, and she has become Gann’s leading advocate.
“She told us Ashlee will bring to this organization what is so desperately needed—it needs some youth and some energy, and it needs a different perspective,” he said.
“Linda’s right,” he added. “Sometimes when you’re deep in the forest you can’t see anything. Linda has been in Marion County a long time, and so has our board. Maybe we need a fresh set of eyes coming to look at the needs and see where we can take FACT.
“Ashlee is ready to take FACT to the next level.”
Ogden, meanwhile, looks back on her life and accomplishments as a process.
“Everything has fit together, everything has been for a reason, everything is built on what went before it to create this continuum of continuous improvement and building of what is needed in Marion County,” she said.
“And I just think, if we all keep working on this, it makes Marion County a better place.”