[caption id="attachment_227552" align="aligncenter" width="711"] Kenan Sklenar,, President and CEO of the Easterseals Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore. | PHOTO COURTESY OF EASTERSEALS[/caption]
NEW CASTLE — Kenan Sklenar is a hands-on kind of guy. He’s often bothered by the fact that it’s been a lifelong struggle to remember his employee’s names — all 200 of them.“I really work to try and remember every employee’s name because I really do value relationships. I care about getting to know them, what’s important to them,” Sklenar said. “Developing those work relationships is very critical to understanding how we can work together and how much more we can accomplish.”Since 2013, Sklenar has served as the president and CEO of Easterseals Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore, the largest service-oriented nonprofit by annual revenue in the state. The nonprofit is known for providing disability services to adults and children, with programs ranging from educational, health and workforce development. Easterseals has 70 affiliates throughout the nation. The Delaware and Eastern Shore affiliate has locations in New Castle, Newark, Georgetown, Dover, and Milford, as well as Salisbury and Camp Fairlee in Maryland.But Sklenar has long been interested in service before he arrived in the First State. As a child, he remembers visiting a relative in the hospital. He was fascinated to see all the pieces of health care — from the emergency department to the nursing department and radiology services — how they worked as one.“I saw everything that went into the care provided, I started thinking, ‘This is where I want to be,’” he said. “My goal was always to be in a leadership role for a not-for-profit.”To fulfill that goal, the Ohio native received his business administration degree from Youngstown State University and then his master’s degree in hospital administration from Xavier University. Sklenar served in an executive role at St. Elizabeth’s Health Center for years, and later became CEO of the health care system’s home services subsidiary. In collaboration with other hospitals, that subsidiary worked to provide patients with access to MRI machines in the early 1990s.“That was very impactful because it taught me about leadership and working with a board. But I wasn’t seeing a lot of the mission in action, and that’s something I constantly gravitated toward,” he said.
In 1995, he became the president and CEO of the Easterseals based in Youngstown, where he was able to play a direct role in community service. Jumping from a large health care organization to a smaller organization, Sklenar had to adjust to juggling many tasks. Under his tenure, the Ohio-based Easterseals affiliate more than doubled its client base to 12,000 adults and children, and grew its budget from $3.7 million to $8 million by 2010.When the Easterseals Delaware and Eastern Shore CEO Bill Adami passed in 2013, Sklenar received a call about applying for the top job of one of the largest Easterseals affiliates in the country.“I wasn’t looking to leave at all, but what sparked my interest was it was another Easterseals and it was a larger affiliate,” he said. “I knew some of the staff and the leadership from regional meetings, so I knew it was a quality organization. That’s what made the difference to me.”While it was yet another culture shock to get used to a smaller state, Sklenar quickly embraced the “Delaware Way.”“From an advocacy perspective, we see our legislators and they know us by first name. In Ohio, it may have taken longer to get an appointment. Things can get done much faster because of the relationships here,” he said.Nine years in Delaware and 27 years with Easterseals overall, Sklenar said he finds himself continuously growing and learning through the challenges in the organization. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the biggest challenge yet, as he had to navigate an organization with many unknowns. Operations shifted dramatically, with therapy services offered via telehealth and employment services working with strict masking rules and social distance guidelines.“I remember going home one day that March and thinking we’re going to have to make some tough decisions in the future,” he said. “I came up with three guiding principles that worked well to guide us. First: How does this decision affect the health and well-being of the people we’re serving? Second: How does it affect the health of our employees, visitors, and volunteers? Finally, how does this impact the long-term viability of the organization?”“When you boil it down to those principles, it makes the decisions a lot easier,” he added.Looking to the future, Sklenar believes that hiring and retaining staff will be the next challenge. Easterseals opened a new site in Smyrna in October, offering health services for those with disabilities — and he sees opportunities for growth with new and old partners that may have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.Like many mission-driven people, Sklenar takes time to replenish his energy with time with his three children, who often visit the First State, as well as traveling the region. He finds himself affirmed of the Easterseals work nearly every day he goes into the office. He often runs into someone that has been impacted through the nonprofit’s work, even out of work.“When we had our annual celebration, the theme was ‘Because of Easterseals.’ It was very moving to hear some of our families and participants tell a crowd of 250 people what our work means to them and how it's changed their lives,” he said. “It means the world to me.”
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