by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
Dexter Hairston is a little over a month into his 90-day fact-finding mission as the Kingsley Association’s new executive director. The board announced he would be taking the reins from longtime director Malik Bankston July 31, but he actually started three weeks earlier.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge,” Hairston told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an Aug. 26 interview. “This is a very popular place, with people coming in for an array of wants and needs—and that’s good. It’s supposed to be the hub of the community.”
Hairston said he is meeting with existing and potential partner organizations—the city, county, Pittsburgh Public Schools, the foundation community, the United Way, and others—to understand and solidify their relationships with Kingsley.
“We have some partnerships that are essentially gentlemen’s agreements,” he said. “I want to solidify those. I want everything in writing so there are no surprises coming down the pike.”
Hairston, who left as CEO of the McKeesport YMCA in 2018 after 17 years, said every nonprofit has unique challenges, but they also have similarities; developing and enhancing partnerships is one of those.
“I’m trying to get in front of everyone, so I can hear from them how important Kingsley is, and if there are any gaps or weaknesses that need to be addressed.”
On a smaller scale, Hairston has made a few internal changes that align with his management style, which, he said, relies on communication and cooperation.
“It’s like we’re taking a cross-country trip and I’m just driving the Winnebago, but everyone else has a role,” he said. “Communication is critical to making people feel valued. I want to empower people in supervision roles to use their power—and I will support that. The staff seems excited about some things we can get done in a short period of time—and if they’re excited, that makes me excited.”
For his part, Bankston, who led the organization for 22 years, said he has not retired, but merely stepped down as executive director.
“There’s a difference,” Bankston said. “There comes a time when smart people recognize the need to make room for some new ideas and new thoughts—there’s a lot of work that I’m still involved in that I plan to continue and I’m looking forward to continuing it…but as I have said, I’m stepping down so that I can focus and concentrate on the things that I want to do—and leave the things that ‘have’ to be done to somebody else.”
During his tenure, Bankston’s greatest accomplishment was bringing Kingsley back to Larimer where it began as part of the Settlement House movement in the 1890s.
“We made a pivotal decision and commitment to come back to Larimer,” he said. “It was absolutely a demonstration to invest in the community when nobody else was. What we built here would have been welcomed in any neighborhood.”
He said the $10 million investment in the center sent a signal to others about reinvesting in the community—and that has actually begun with the $30-million Choice Neighborhood Grant which is bringing 350 housing units to Larimer, half of which are set aside for people already living there.
And Kingsley’s wellness programming, family services programming and its education and training continues to prosper.
“The center is remarkable and important, not just because of what Kingsley has done and supported under this center but because of all the other civic, neighborhood interests who have been able to use this space,” Bankston told the Courier. “It’s an actual centerpiece in the neighborhood, a stable and reliable platform.”
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