by Jeff Mortensen
President & CEO

jeff-mortensen500pxDo you have eyes that see the courage and struggle in the people around you? We each hold a unique perspective and are more likely to see those things that “fit” our own world view. With life’s many distractions and our personal mindsets, it takes being open with intentionality to gain new perspectives on the world and the people around us. And it is a wonderful gift to others when we do.

360 Communities was founded more than 45 years ago by volunteers being intentional about looking and listening to what was happening in the lives of people in their own community. They had a mindset that their community was an abundant place filled with strength, but recognized that needs were also present. By taking a genuine interest in learning about the daily struggles within families they knew as neighbors, they developed a broader perspective for themselves.

What do you do when faced with the uncomfortable reality of people suffering in your community and what will your relationship be to that reality?  Those individuals who founded 360 Communities answered that question courageously. They actively engaged in relationship with people and provided support. That decision forever changed their view of the world. They discovered that forging trusting relationships with people seeking help brought the hope and strength needed to change lives in positive ways, including their own. Sharing in the life stories of others reshaped their own perspective and brought significance to their actions. Today, with the help of about 1,300 volunteers, 360 Communities has grown to serve 18,000 individuals annually with nine programs in more than 40 locations.

On Oct. 1, I assumed the role of president and chief executive officer at 360 Communities when Sal Mondelli retired. Sal’s guidance and positive influence on the organization cannot be overstated, and he has left us in an enviable position to succeed for years to come.

My path to leadership at 360 Communities began decades before I knew of its incredible work. As a chemical engineer, I led people, managed facilities, and implemented innovation within Cargill for 12 years. The team that I led at Port Cargill in Savage had a desire to develop a community giving program. We selected Partners For Success, a 360 Communities program that achieves stability in families and academic success for youth. Through this process, we started to recognize the often overlooked needs that existed within our communities, and my personal view of what I saw in the individuals around me changed. I developed new eyes and a new heart for the struggles that existed right within my team and community.

I started to ask myself tough questions about what it means to be a successful professional and what it means to have a significant impact on the community of people around me. I felt the two did not have to be mutually exclusive. I may have been on a successful path, but I realized that it was not going to have the significance that I found myself seeking. It challenged me to consider what my relationship was to people struggling and the real community needs that surrounds each of us … if we choose to “see.”

This consideration became so powerful that I acted on faith to join 360 Communities and the nonprofit world. In 360 Communities, I recognized the incredible impact the organization was already having in the community. Just as important for me, I could see how my skills would enhance the organization’s strong team and mission.

Working alongside 360 Communities employees for the past 10 years has been a humbling experience. Their dedication to the mission and commitment to living out the core values has literally saved lives. They are an incredibly courageous group and it is truly an honor to serve them in this leadership role.

There is great strength in 360 Communities’ holistic mission and in how staff and volunteers build relationships. 360 Communities excels at providing hope by listening without judgment to people’s stories, reflecting and utilizing their strengths, and tailoring support to the individual’s needs. This is how we change lives and strengthen communities to a new degree. Thanks in large part to our past leadership, 360 Communities is well-positioned to grow and meet the ever-shifting needs of a diverse population. We are focused on measurable impact and sustainable growth.

You have the opportunity to learn about yourself, reshape your perspective of the community, and add a new level of significance through your actions. Join 360 Communities and become part of a lasting legacy of building stronger communities and caring relationships with our neighbors in need. This will deliver transformational change, both for them, and for yourself.