As the local nonprofit Here for The Girls prepares for new leadership this summer, one woman is ready to take the reins.
“The first thing I want people to know is that the mission and vision of this organization is so important to me and I want to continue to build from that incredible foundation,” said Chris Schwab, managing director for Here for the Girls.
Here for the Girls is a nonprofit born in Williamsburg with the mission of providing resources and support to women diagnosed with breast cancer younger than 51. According to the organization’s website, its goals are to provide women with a network through online and in-person support to help women affected by breast cancer “learn to live life with an exclamation point instead of a period.”
On June 21, Schwab will be taking over as executive director for the organization after co-founder Mary Beth Gibson steps down.
Gibson started the organization along with Rene Bowditch in 2007 and was known as a driving force behind its success. But after 12 years of dedication to the organization, Gibson has decided to step down as executive director to a board member position.
“I am excited, I am humbled by the decision and that they have faith in me by asking I take this position,” Schwab said.
Schwab isn’t new to the organization. She has worked with the team for more than a decade, starting out as a volunteer and eventually moving to her current position as managing director.
She said she first got involved when an employer asked her to find a philanthropic organization to connect with. In 2008, Schwab attended the organization’s annual gala and was so touched by the women and their stories that she decided to begin dedicating her time to the organization.
At the time, Gibson was the only employee at the nonprofit but she knew there were plans to expand the professional team. It was in 2010 that Schwab expressed an interest in making the organization’s mission a larger part of her life and was hired as director of operations. Then in 2016, her role changed to her current position as managing director.
“It’s important when you work on a team like this to really immerse yourself,” she said. “I’m not a breast cancer survivor so I was learning about the disease and how it impacted these women. I went to the monthly support groups and I would just sit back and listen to their stories.”
Schwab said since starting with the organization and especially since taking on larger roles, her eyes have been opened to parts of the experience she had never realized before.
“For example,” she said. “I didn’t realize that when they lose their hair, they lose their eyelashes, too. Something small like that, it struck me.”
Schwab wants to stay true to the organization’s original foundations while expanding its reach. There are three areas she directly wants to focus on: adapting to changing times and technology, grow the training for program facilitators, and continue partnerships within the community as well as strengthen the organization’s presence in Richmond and Hampton Roads.
“You get tied to these ladies and you build bonds with them during some of the hardest times of their lives,” she said. “I am humbled to be able to continue this mission for them.”