Sports metaphors and quotes are so often used to talk about great leaders. So, maybe it’s the lingering effects of last night’s Super Bowl that has us thinking about how Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana CEO Darcey Palmer-Shultz feels like someone you’d want on the sidelines coaching you. During our chat it became clear that through her work, Palmer-Shultz has consistently found herself in someone else’s corner – cheering, guiding, mentoring … elevating. For her profound impact on our community and others, she is one of United Way’s three finalists for the ELEVATE Nonprofit Leader of the Year Award.
Palmer-Shultz began her journey with Big Brothers Big Sisters straight out of college while still living in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. When she graduated with a political science degree from St. Mary’s College in South Bend she says, “I was interested in doing something that helps kids.” She began in an administrative role with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and was hooked. Today she has been with the organization for more than fifteen years – always wearing many hats – including her current role as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana (“BBCSI”) since 2011.
Despite working on behalf of countless children during her tenure, Palmer-Shultz remembers the early days of her job when she shuttled kids to and from their home to events, and a seven-year-old boy whom she got to know during those van rides. One afternoon he sat in her cubicle waiting for an event to start and she found herself marveling at how well he could draw – a real gift. “Shy and a bit reserved, he had a huge smile” she tells, “and I just couldn’t help thinking how much he needed someone to be in his corner.”
But it’s not just the youngest members of the BBBSCI family who benefit from Palmer-Shultz’s leadership. “What BBBSCI has achieved in the past eight years could not have been accomplished without Darcey’s extraordinary trait of empowering young professionals to make decisions, think big, own projects, and execute those projects well, says Board President, and her ELEVATE Award nominator, Raquel Richardson.
Palmer-Shultz is elevating her team members too.
Caitlin Bain, BBBSCI’s Development Director, says of her leader: “Instead of calling the shots and directing the strategy, she has empowered me to think through plans and bring those to her. I have long sought that in my career…I have witnessed Darcey step back and those young professionals who report to her to receive the credit and accolades for a job well done. Innovation and ideas emerge much more freely in the workplace because she empowers those who work for her.”
Palmer-Shultz remarks how much she enjoys the variety in her work and the challenge and potential of each new day. ” We are very deliberate about what we’ve been focused on executing and each thing naturally shows us what the next should be,” she explains. Despite the excitement of the new partnerships, programs and innovations, her “wish list” for Big Brothers Big Sisters is a constant. “I want to get a mentor into the life of every child who wants one, more quickly. I want these children to know that they live in a community that is going to be there for them – not do everything for them – but have their back and know that people believe in them.”
We as a community are undoubtedly stronger because Darcey Palmer-Shultz is in our corner.