By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – When Shannon Leary was a young child, her mother introduced her and her brothers to giving back. She picked up all the neighborhood kids and took them to food pantries to help feed people who were homeless. She took them to nursing homes to spend time with seniors. Leary was inspired to make a career out working in nonprofit agencies, and after 20 years in the field, she was recently appointed as executive director of the Marlborough-based agency, Employment Options, Inc. (EO).
EO empowers individuals and families in mental health recovery to succeed as a part of society. The agency operates under a clubhouse model, which provides people with mental illness the chance to make friendships, work, and obtain housing, education and access to medical and psychiatric care in safe environment which fosters recovery and full participation as valued members of their community.
Leary worked at EO for 13 years before her latest promotion. She started out as the clubhouse director, and also served as associate director. During that time, she spearheaded the initiation of their Catering Options program, which provides professional training and work experience to people who have a passion for culinary arts and are unemployed or underemployed.
As Leary steps into her executive director role, she does so with a keen appreciation of the inspirational leadership of her predecessor, Toni Wolf, who now serves as commissioner of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
“She has been a mentor and such a strong voice for people who are in mental health recovery, not only in Metrowest, but all over the world,” Leary said. “My hope is that I can continue to lead and grow EO and build on this amazing foundation she has left for us.”
Leary has a solid pulse on what some of the challenges of her post entail.
“For any executive director, it can be a juggling act,” she said. “From internal and external pressures, staff priorities, fiscal management, board relations to program effectiveness, you are constantly trying to balance it all…you have to look at priorities within your organization, and for us, it’s our staff.”
Leary said she feels the staff are the best asset of any nonprofit, and that it’s important to continually invest and develop professionals, so they stay inspired and energized.
“Building a positive, engaging work culture is important to all of us here at EO,” Leary added.
Leary has set goals for what she aims to accomplish in her new capacity. She said she plans to continue engaging the community to keep people inspired by and active in the agency’s work. Additionally, she plans to raise awareness of mental health and continue to educate people on EO’s cause, while also recruiting and engaging members to use EO’s programs and services.
With fundraising being a continuous quest, Leary invites the community to support EO’s upcoming gala Thursday, May 3, at Charter Oak Country Club in Hudson.
Leary’s passion for and dedication to EO is clear.
“I continue to be inspired by the folks we serve,” she said. “In this work, you have to celebrate the ‘little wins,’ and that is what we will continue to do.”