New leader of Community Action has plans to move agency forward

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 25 October 2020 at 10:01 am

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Renee Hungerford, left, new director of Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, compares notes with Annette Finch, director of Emergency Services at CAOG.

ALBION – The new director of Community Action of Orleans and Genesee brings a ton of credentials and a world of ideas to the table.

Renee Hungerford of Waterport was recently hired to replace former director Ed Fancher, who worked for Community Action for 32 years and passed away on May 24.

After Fancher’s death, CAOG’s board chair, Veronica Barhite, stepped up as interim director while the search for a new one began.

“We tried to find an interim, but in all of New York state, there were no interim directors available,” Barhite said. “So I offered to be that person. It has been a learning experience.”

The job was advertised and Bruce Schmidt was named head of the Search Committee.

“We were sent the resumes the end of August,” Barhite said. “But we knew right away who we wanted. Renee rolled right to the top of the list.”

Hungerford grew up in Cheektowaga and graduated from Maryvale High School. She got a degree in music performance at the University of Buffalo, a degree in business management at Bryant & Stratton and a bachelor’s degree in information systems at American Sentinel. She received her master’s in health informatics from Kaplan University, now Purdue Global.

She married in 1989 and has three grown children, ages 28, 25 and 22.

She had divorced and came to work at what was then Anchor Bank in Albion, where she met Mark Hungerford in 1993. Anchor became Washington Mutual, and then Chase Bank. Renee was vice president of business analytics at Chase when the company wanted her to move to Columbus, Ohio, but she decided to pursue her degree in informatics, because of her interest in medicine. She completed that in a year, she said.

“Many times during my career I have been offered the chance to relocate, but always refused for all the right reasons,” Hungerford said.

She had started dating Mark in 2005 and they were married in 2009.

Her career next included five years at Oak Orchard Health as director of informatics, quality and population health, during which time she took course work in data science.

Veronica Barhite, left, chairman of the board of Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, chats with the agency’s new director, Renee Hungerford of Waterport. Barhite stepped in as acting director after the death of Ed Fancher Memorial Day weekend.

When Covid hit, Hungerford began working from home, and it was on one of those days she happened to see an e-mail about the opening at Community Action.

She started to call, then put the phone down, but she kept thinking about it.

“I was drawn to this,” she said.

She went to the kitchen to make a sandwich, then dropped down on the stairway and decided, “I’m going to apply for this.”

She figured she’d apply and forget about it, so she quickly sent off her resume. Then she realized she hadn’t included a cover letter and she wrote one the next day and sent it along.

“I didn’t think anything would come of it,” she said.

Hungerford called a friend and told her, “This really matters.”

Then she was called for an interview, and then a second one. She began work within the week.

Her start date was Oct. 5 and the first week was spent touring all the facilities and meeting all the directors in the area.

“In 30 years, I had no idea of the extent of things Community Action does,” she said. “The highlight was going to the Main Street Store. What a great place.”

“We are over the moon excited about Renee,” Barhite said. “She’s a perfect fit, with her variety of education and experience. She is a very visionary person. She’s looking at all the possibilities we can do to help people. The whole area needs a shot in the arm, and she’s it.”

Hungerford plans to fast forward Community Action into utilizing more technology.

She was amazed to discover that for some of the employees, this is the only place they’ve ever worked.

“They’ve never used the new technology, but there’s going to be more of it,” she said. “A lot of walls are going to be broken down, and we will start a technology upgrade next week. I have a lot of ideas.”

Hungerford was also amazed at the amount of buildings Community Action has throughout Orleans and Genesee counties.

“Technology can help us all work as a team,” she said.

Hungerford said Community Action doesn’t simply give handouts to those in need.

“It’s about making them self-sufficient,” she said. “They will not only receive food, they may also learn how to prepare it. They will not only learn how to apply for a job, but get the clothes for it. It will be the whole person package.”

Finch took Hungerford to the Eastern Orleans Community Center in Holley, and she was impressed with the site. Finch said they have a new generator at the Holley Center, meaning it can now be used as a warming center in the event of a power outage.

One of Hungerford’s plans is to cross-train everybody, so if someone is on vacation, another employee can step into the position.

“What touches me is Renee’s vision for this agency,” Finch said. “I’ve been here 43 years and this is the fourth executive director I’ve worked with. It’s scary, because I didn’t know what to expect. We wondered how much things were going to change. But I can see her heart is here. This agency is going to go places.”

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