Crystal Anderson is hitting the ground running as she eagerly starts her new role.

Monday marked her first day as the new CEO of the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., replacing former chief executive officer Richard Jackson, who retired in May after spending the past 50 years advocating for community action programs.

Despite the emails, phone calls and last-minute meetings, Anderson remains focused on the big picture, and continuing the ECKAN mission of helping people help themselves.

Offering a Helping Hand

Anderson grew up in Maple Hill, Kan., attending Wabaunsee High School in Alma. Following graduation, she attended Washburn University, earning a degree in human services. During her career, Anderson worked as the housing director for a Michigan homeless shelter, facilitated after-school enrichment programs and worked with urban youth in a residential facility there.

After returning to Kansas, she later worked for The Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence for nearly a decade. After working as a coordinator for Franklin County clients, she spent her last five years there as the director of survivor services. In 2013, Anderson started her employment at ECKAN as the case management director, providing oversight and supervision to the agency’s nine primary service counties. Three years later, she was promoted to assistant CEO, carrying on most of those duties as well as adding planning and administration responsibilities.

“I have always worked in and for the nonprofit sector and in service agencies,” she said. Anderson eventually decided to work for ECKAN because she had already established a close working partnership during her time at The Willows, and was impressed with the dedicated staff.

“I was familiar with ECKAN’s services, staff and mission, and I was excited to work for an agency with such a wide range of programming geared to assisting folks with exiting poverty,” she said.

As she begins the next chapter in her career, Anderson feels fortunate she’s had six years with ECKAN working alongside staff - something that will only benefit her in the long run.

“Community Action has such a vast and rich history - ECKAN has been here since the beginning and committed to the fight against poverty. I’m excited to get out to our sites and interact with staff and also to visit with our community partners - all of whom are critical to carrying out our mission.”

Looking Ahead

While the new role is a huge opportunity for Anderson, she’s most excited about the chance to effect change at different levels.

“My primary focus is at the local level in our service counties, but we are also involved on a state and national level – which can have huge impacts,” she said. “And honestly, one of the best things about this agency is a dedication to serving others....dedication that is demonstrated by our staff, our board of directors and our amazing volunteers. I was able to see from day one that ECKAN is firmly centered on serving its community and supporting folks on their journey toward self-sufficiency. What I enjoy most is helping folks find new strategies to overcome barriers standing in the way of their success.”

While Anderson is familiarizing herself with her new role, she’s examining current programs and also gearing up to develop a game plan for the agency’s future.

“ECKAN will be working on our next strategic plan in 2020 – which could not have been better timing for our agency – I’m really excited to begin that process,” she said. “For the initial months, I’ll be heavily focused on internal analysis of programs, and supporting folks through the leadership transition. We are already working on updating our social media and website – (because) being more accessible and visible in all our service communities is important to me.”

Anderson has lived in Ottawa since 2004. Her husband is employed by Kansas State University in Manhattan, where he works as a virology research assistant. Her daughter is a student at Ottawa Middle School. Her parents have also retired to the community. “Which has been wonderful for all of us,” she said.