By Carol Cowdrey
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When God calls, you go.
These are the words that best describe Lauren Solidum’s journey to her new role as president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
“And when God calls,” she adds, “he challenges us, but those challenges are always blessings.”
Solidum has answered that call throughout her career. She has more than 10 years of professional experience serving from the front lines and leading organizations as a member of the executive team.
Most recently, she served as vice president of mission advancement for Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas, where she was the creative brainchild behind several new strategic workforce programs.
Other professional experience includes serving as regional program director at Alternative Opportunities, Inc.; vice president of programs at Enactus United States; and assistant vice president at Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Texas.
“The experience I gained over the last 10 years in operations, stakeholder relationships and team building have prepared me well for this leadership role,” said Solidum, who admits she wasn’t actively job searching when the CEO position with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas was posted.
Heavily rooted in her Catholic faith, Solidum felt compelled to apply for the job.
“The more I thought about the impact the organization was making in helping individuals and families achieve sustainability, the more I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “The role is a rare opportunity to pair my profession with my Catholic faith, a true vocation.”
Stephen Penn, chair of the Catholic Charities board of directors, and Debbie Wilkerson, chair of the Catholic Charities board of trustees, led the search committee, which spent months seeking to find a qualified candidate to succeed Ken Williams.
Williams, who served as the organization’s CEO for five years, left Catholic Charities to join Black & Veatch as chief financial officer.
Under Williams’ leadership, Catholic Charities’ focus advanced from being a “safety net” agency, helping with immediate survival needs, to one that stabilizes and strengthens families for the long term. The committee was committed to finding the right person — one who would be mission-focused while maintaining Williams’ vision.
Following an extensive interview process, Penn and Wilkerson feel confident that Solidum has the unique gifts and experiences that will allow Catholic Charities to continue its journey of growth.
“Lauren is a lifelong learner and a strategic thinker. She’s a proven leader with skills in organizational operations, program development and project management,” said Penn. “She has a keen business vision and the ability to bring people together around purpose.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann agreed.
“Despite her youth, Lauren brings a wealth of experience and leadership skills that will benefit the staff, volunteers, benefactors and, most importantly, the individuals and families served by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas,” he said.
“She has a sincere, deep love for Jesus and his church and possesses a passion for the mission of Catholic Charities to bring the love of Jesus to the poor and those who are suffering,” he added.
During her first week as CEO, Solidum spent time with the staff, learning about a few of the organization’s programs and services. She was particularly excited to visit Juniper Gardens, the training farm for New Roots for Refugee farmers in Kansas City, Kansas.
While working with Catholic Charities in Fort Worth, refugee services was among the programs that she administered and held close to her heart.
“I’ve always been passionate about the need to ‘welcome the stranger,’” she said. “On a much different scale, I’ve been the stranger, moving to new places and taking on new jobs. Anytime we have the opportunity to welcome someone, whether they’re a refugee or walking through our pantry doors, we need to do so.”
Although it’s too early for Solidum to share her overall vision for Catholic Charities, she said her personal vision is one of hope.
“I hope that my teammates will allow me to join them shoulder to shoulder. I hope that I will add the value that God intends. And I hope that together we will innovate and grow this organization,” she said.
Solidum adds that she feels excited and blessed to lead Catholic Charities.
“There’s something so unifying to be part of an agency that serves together and prays together,” she added.