Patty Fuchs

President/CEO, Goodwill of Central Illinois
Photography by Kira Kwon

A Peoria native, helping people overcome barriers to employment and breathing new life into an old space

I attended Peoria High and have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bradley University. I’m grateful to both schools for giving me the space to grow and discover myself. I started earning money at age 12, but my first “official” job after college was teaching at McKinley Grade School in Peoria. It was there that I realized I loved watching people grow—that I was passionate about setting the scene for people to succeed. This has been a steady theme throughout my adult life.

As a native of Peoria, I’m interested in seeing success for every facet of our community. I’ve moved away twice, only to return to dig my roots a little deeper. My husband, Terry, and I travel around the country every year, and looking for the perfect place to retire is always in the back of our minds. We’ve yet to discover it. I’m beginning to think we may call Illinois our home forever. Our base might be in Chicago, as we have three daughters, three sons-in law and seven grandchildren there.

Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2013.
One of the areas we’ve worked on at Goodwill over the years is great vendor relationships. We believe a win-win approach, where both parties attain the goals they want, is best. It has served us well, and in 2013, we used it to complete a major renovation of our headquarters on War Memorial Drive.

We’ve occupied this facility, which was originally built as a Cat dealership, for more than 20 years. During those years, we focused on serving the people of central Illinois by expanding our services, programs and retail stores across our 21-county service area. We did not focus on improving our headquarters building—we just made do.

When we decided the time was right to create the facility we needed, we put the Goodwill model of recycling and repurposing to use. Instead of tearing the building down and putting all the old bricks and demolished rubble into a landfill, we decided to breathe new life into an old space. We began with a group of 15 individuals, both Goodwill staff and vendors in the community that I dubbed the “Dream Team,” and took a building that had a good, strong core and turned it into a center that will serve both our staff and those who come here to improve their lives.

It was during construction that I realized this project exemplified the perfect Goodwill story. While we were helping others create paths, set goals and define their journeys in life, we were taking a huge step on our own journey. This new space has been christened Goodwill Commons. It’s a place for our community to gather, learn and share, and a place for our staff to develop their professional skills and further their careers.

What is your leadership philosophy?
I am very passionate about what I do. I practice my values consistently, believe in accountability and self-discipline, and love change and growth. I’m always looking ahead, and long-term results are my primary focus, even while day-to-day responsibilities are in the works.

At this point in my life, I realize I can trace the development of my leadership style directly from my life story. I’ve never been very interested in being recognized externally—through money, fame, etc.—but by examining what I’ve learned from all my experiences, I do see some commonalities. I take ownership for and gain strength from my successes. I use my values, show concern for others, promote respect and dignity, and encourage the organization I lead to achieve success in all it does. I enjoy watching people—whether it’s our staff or our program participants—grow and develop their own paths in life.

What do you consider to have been the most pivotal point in your career?
That’s easy—the day I accepted the position as CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois. The organization was in disarray, running in the red every month and bogged down with almost every problem a poorly-run business can have. But that’s not what I saw.

From the first days I walked through the doors, I could see, feel and hear the enduring spirit of Reverend Edgar J. Helms, the man who founded Goodwill Industries in 1902 in Boston. Helms had a strong desire to help people in need without taking away their self-respect. His desire to find a way to provide jobs and wages for those who were unemployed was the catalyst for the business and mission we know today as Goodwill.

The more I learned about Goodwills across the country, the more I felt our local organization was a sound ship that could be of great benefit to the people of central Illinois—if we could just get it off its side. That’s what’s happened in the last 20 years, and we are now at the mouth of the ocean ready to embark on uncharted waters.

Key to our success is the extraordinarily generous donors in our communities and the smart, savvy shoppers who frequent our stores to find quality merchandise at a great value. I’m confident that, aided by a dedicated staff and board of directors, we can build on our successes and reach new heights.

What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
The year I graduated from college and began teaching at McKinley School in Peoria, I lost my dad. He was my rock, and school was all I had known for most of my life. My mother was only 49 when my dad died, and I was supporting her day to day. It was an extremely difficult time, but I got through it by following the old adage, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I realized that my parents had given me a strong core and insights that would guide me. That year has become my compass for how to cope with other difficult times in my life. It had a transformative effect on me.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Life can be hectic and frustrating, and we may feel we’re just spinning our wheels every day. I was told once to think of one thing at the end of each day that made me happy—a smile, a comment, a conversation, even a moment with one of my dogs. When you build on the positives in your life, when you look for the good in people and places, good things surround you. Dreams and goals come true.

What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
Think of your life as chapters in a book you’re writing. Keep in mind how you want it to end, and perhaps, what the content of each chapter will be. Then concentrate on the chapter you’re currently writing. Do the best job you can possibly do on each chapter so when you move on to the next, you don’t have any regrets. At the end of your “book,” you want to feel as if you have lived each chapter to its fullest and love the contents. It should be deep and rich—because you did the best you could do at each juncture without worrying about what’s next or hurrying to move on.

What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
There’s one chapter left in my life, and I hope to live for at least 20 more years simply to enjoy the people who are important to me. I want to live in the moment and not feel any pressure about what I have to do or where I need to go. I’ve been blessed in so many ways and am surrounded by family and friends whose company I truly enjoy. There are books to read, places to visit, and children and grandchildren to spend as much time with as possible. iBi