As Imagine’s founder steps down, search is on for new executive director

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MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — Imagine, A Center for Coping With Loss, with locations in Mountainside and Newark, is undergoing serious changes, as its founder, Mary Robinson, is stepping away from her role as executive director, to be replaced by interim Executive Director Richard Szeto. Robinson, who founded the organization in October 2011 to help children struggling with a traumatic loss or going through a tough time in their lives, opened up recently about relinquishing some of her responsibilities.

“There are natural life cycles for nonprofit organizations like Imagine, and, after 10 years, this felt like the right time for me to make this transition and for Imagine to hire a new executive director to lead Imagine into the future,” Robinson said on Friday, May 7.

Founding an organization takes a certain set of skills, personality and temperament, she explained, and proved to be something for which she was well suited. Once an organization is at a stage of maturity, the role of an executive director shifts, and Robinson said she felt it was time to find someone more suited for running a mature business, so she could turn her attention from day-to-day operations to devote herself to being the public face for Imagine. She envisions focusing on writing, training, advocating and fundraising for the mission she is so passionate about.

“The board and I have been planning for this transition since prior to COVID,” she continued. “My new role starts immediately, with Rich Szeto taking over the day-to-day operations as interim executive director. I will be spending my time speaking and writing on behalf of Imagine and advocating for grieving children and families.”

Robinson said she is looking forward to devoting her time to ensuring that no child grieves alone. She said she thrives when given the creative freedom to pursue her vision for the future of the organization. She said she would miss her daily contact with the staff, volunteers and participants at Imagine, who she says are all extraordinary and teach her daily about resilience, perseverance and the transformative power of love and being present.

It also means she will need to find a permanent new executive director.

“We are working with Andy McNeil of the Satori Group, a nonprofit management consulting firm that serves those in the end-of-life and bereavement field, to conduct a national executive search,” Robinson said. “We have advertised the position nationally and have already received many excellent candidate resumes. We will be conducting a thorough interview process that looks at leadership ability, management skills, emotional intelligence, business acumen and a passion for our mission.”

Robinson said she had several items on her agenda that she would soon be tackling.

“I also serve on the board of the National Alliance for Grieving Children and will be working to advance their mission,” she said. “I am continuing in school as well, working on receiving my certification as a licensed clinical psychoanalyst at the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis, where I also serve as a chairperson of their board of trustees. Finally, I am working on TED talk and a book about how to support children, teens and families coping with loss.”

Szeto isn’t going into his new role without direction either, said Robinson, as he has been deeply involved with Imagine for the last three years as its business and operations specialist and has been a trusted advisor, friend and colleague.

“He is incredibly well prepared to step into this role and has been instrumental in shaping our vision for the future,” she said. “Fortunately, he is also good at practicing at self-care and having balance in his life, so I’m confident he can manage any stress that goes along with the job. He knows Imagine and the staff very well and is a trusted colleague to all of us.”

As for Szeto, he said he is ready to assume all of the responsibilities associated with the position of executive director, including program support and Imagine University, which is training and education, development/communications and operations.

“I feel very grateful and honored,” he said on Monday, May 10. “The mission resonated immediately when I started as a volunteer facilitator. My professional background includes both for- and nonprofit organizations. I also have the trust with both the board and staff, which is wonderful.”

Robinson and Szeto will continue to work together, even as Szeto transitions into his new position, and Diana Miller, the chairperson of the Imagine board of trustees, will also assume some of the responsibilities.

“As chairperson, along with our wonderful board of trustees, we help ensure the long-term financial stability of Imagine by setting and monitoring a budget, establishing strategic goals, providing leadership and governance, and serving as ambassadors,” Miller said on Sunday, May 9. “Working together with the executive director, we ensure the actions taken are in line with Imagine’s bylaws, goals and mission.

“Thankfully, she’s not leaving Imagine, she’s just taking on a new role. A role that will be focused on outreach, education, writing, fundraising and speaking, both locally and nationally,” Miller continued. “2021 marks 10 years that Imagine has been providing support to grieving children, teenagers and their families, and we are all very excited about the future.”

Miller said Satori Group consultant Andy McNeil would be helping in their search for a new leader, as that company and McNeil were experts at making such a search. Meanwhile, she had nothing but kind words for Szeto.

“We are also very fortunate to have Richard Szeto step into the role of interim executive director and board members that will help interview potential candidates,” Miller said. “We realize there is a lot of work involved; however, we have established a transition team to help think through, guide and prepare for every step along the way.”

She also had fond words for Robinson.

“Mary has worked tirelessly these past 10 years to build, shape, inspire and grow the reach of Imagine throughout the community,” said Miller. “We are very excited for this next chapter in Mary’s life and in the life of Imagine.”

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