Stepping into a new field and a new position can be challenging. Doing so during a pandemic takes the challenge to a new level, as Ashley Jeffrey Bouck has found.
The Guilderland resident took over as CEO of Mohawk Hudson Humane Society on Monday, starting her day working from home and heading to the shelter later on for a virtual press conference.
MHHS, which has locations in Menands and Saratoga Springs, has had to make major changes in its operations in the last few months, thanks to COVID-19.
It has limited access to only essential staff members and has shut down spay/neuter clinics.
While Bouck is coming into the position at a strange time, she is rooted in non-profit work. After graduating from Siena College, she worked for the American Cancer Society for eight years. Bouck went on to become the executive director of at Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region, which focuses on the empowerment and education of girls. While there, she expanded the Albany location and doubled the number of people the organization could serve.
“When we set out to find a new CEO we set the bar very high. ... Ultimately, one person stood out beyond all others and it was a clear choice,” said Cynthia LaFave, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the MHHS.
Here, Bouck discusses the strangeness of starting the job during a pandemic, working from home while caring for her two young daughters and how she’s planning for the future of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.
Q: What got you interested in non-profit work in the first place?
A: My senior year at Siena, I was diagnosed with cancer and I was [studying] pre-med. I had every intention of going on becoming a pediatrician. But once you get a diagnosis like that ... It made me think about what I wanted to do.
I had done internships while I was at Siena and I was interning at a nonprofit, American College of [Obstetrics and Gynecologists]. I just saw how many more people I could help through non-profit work. So I decided to put a hold on taking the MCATs and instead decided to go into non-profit work.
I’ve loved it every single day. I started working for the American Cancer Society right after I graduated, started at the very bottom and worked my way up.
Q: How did you get started at Girls Inc.?
A: I love the American Cancer Society and, [as] a cancer survivor, the mission was very close to my heart so I said if I was ever to leave it would have to be for another nonprofit that I felt just as passionate about. You don’t go into non-profit work for the paycheck, you go in for the passion and what’s meaningful to you.
I came across the job announcement for the executive director of Girls Inc. and as soon as I saw the mission statement of inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold, I was like I need to apply for this job.
I was only 30 years old at the time. I think we as women count ourselves out if we don’t have 100 percent of the job requirements but I had such a strong network of family and friends that said to me, “You have to be an executive director for the first time at some point.”
So I threw my hat in the ring and because the organization so believes in empowering women I was exactly what they were looking for at the time. I became the [executive director] there in 2012 and was there for almost eight years.
Q: What made you want to take another leap and lead the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society?
A: I feel like everything happens for a reason. I wasn’t necessarily looking; I was actually eight months pregnant at the time, so it’s not the best time to be looking [for a new job].
But I’ve always admired the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. We adopted our youngest cat, (Lennox) from there about seven years ago and so ever since we adopted Lennox we’ve had some connection with them.
Just seeing [their] new building go up in 2017 and the growth of the services that they’re providing, when I saw that they were looking for a new CEO ... I just threw my hat in the ring and said: “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
[I] went through that [hiring] process — it was a nationwide search — and fortunately, they decided to go with somebody right in their backyard.
Q: Usually, during your first few days at a new job, you get to explore the office and meet most of your co-workers. Will that be possible for you?
A: I feel fortunate that the board of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society incorporated all the staff in the interview process so I thank my lucky stars that I did get to spend some time with them in person before all this happened.
I’ll go in [to the shelter] today, but there will only be a couple people there. It will mainly be through Zoom meetings with my leadership team [that I'll get to know people].
It’s all virtual and it just puts an interesting spin on everything. Then you add in the fact that I am home with my two young children. Both of my kids have been a part of Zoom meetings. The great thing is everyone is so supportive of each other during this time because we’ve all got something, be it animals or babies that are crashing our Zoom meetings right now.
Q: Stepping into any new position always comes with its challenges, but you’re coming into this job at a unique time, to put it lightly. What are some of the things you’re already expecting will be hurdles to overcome in the next few months?
A: That’s the thing. When I originally accepted the position, I had a different mindset of what even my first day [would] look like. With the coronavirus lens over everything, it’s changed slightly ... what will it look like reopening? That wasn’t something I had to think about when I accepted the position.
[We'll be] reopening in phases all in accordance with the governor so that it is safe for my team, my volunteers and the public; making sure that we’re taking the proper steps to reopen. Animals are still being adopted and we’re still doing everything that we need to do. I think the challenge will be reopening [safely].
Then, just like every nonprofit right now, figuring out fundraising at this time. We were supposed to have our Gala for Animals in June and that’s now been rescheduled to November. We still don’t have a crystal ball of what November may even look like for us.
Q: Before this pandemic, what were your initial plans or hopes for the Humane Society?
A: We had talked about putting together a strategic plan because this was the time for a brand new one. Everybody was looking forward to it. We were going to do some retreats and some work with the staff. There’s so many things that you want to do in person so that you could get a good feel of the organization and where it is and you need everybody’s input. ... We still plan on doing that, it’s just "Do we do it virtually? [Is it] something that we start with some mini strategic planning sessions?”
[These are] still things that we plan on doing, it’s just now we’ve got these other things that are more immediate need for us.
Coronavirus stuff and reopening will definitely be the first and foremost but we still have to move forward, be innovative. This is a new normal for us so it’s not going to go back to the way it was before, nobody will but it’ll be some semblance of it. You’re still going to have animals that need homes and animals that need to be advocated for. None of that changes.