Profiles in Leadership: Cheryl Hall-Russell, Hill House Association

President and CEO

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Cheryl Hall-Russell really had no idea what she was walking into when she accepted a job as CEO officer of the Hill House two years ago.

The Hill House, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has a history that goes back into the 1920s as a settlement house where social workers lived and helped impoverished residents in the district.

What would make Pittsburgh better?

“Pittsburgh is better when we begin to have more inclusive voices, including those of women and people of color. This adds a roundness and fullness to the conversation and results in more boats being lifted in the rising tide.”

Ms. Hall-Russell applied for the job from Indianapolis, where she was running the Indiana Youth Services Association. She had worked with agencies that needed turnarounds and she knew there was work to be done at the Hill House.

But she didn’t know the Hill House. She didn’t know how far behind it was in raising the money needed for a planned Hill District grocery store, and she didn’t know how many of the programs were sapping away the agency’s money.

There are a number of directions new leadership can go when taking over an agency. One is to come in, clean out the old leadership and hire all new people. “I come in and do an assessment, a staff assessment,” she said. “I wanted to listen to how things work.”

What she found was that she liked everyone, but she also discovered the agency was stuck in number of ruts.

For example, the day care center being operated by the Hill House was losing money. The organization closed it, had the space renovated for a new day care and is now renting it out to a day care provider, turning a loss into income.

In terms of social outreach, the Hill House is focusing on seniors, workforce development and out-of-school youth. The organization also is opening a charter school for people who have dropped out of high school, so they can work to get a high school diploma instead of a GED.

“The Hill House has experienced the same cycle of economic challenges shared by many other nonprofits. It is that of increased need for services and decreased programmatic funding. This is especially true when it comes to operating dollars.

“When I arrived, there was a significant budget deficit that we are slowly climbing out of, “ Ms. Hall-Russell said. “Our goal is to ensure we have a very diverse and stable funding pool that will keep us in balance for years to come.”

— Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.

First Published May 9, 2014 11:24 AM

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