Samaritan House moving toward new leadership

Linda Ryan steps back after 11 years in post

Joel Lehman

By Joel Lehman

Managing Editor

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS – Samaritan House, Inc., the non-profit organization that provides shelter and housing services to individuals and families in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, is undergoing a change in leadership.

Executive director Linda Ryan, who has served the organization for 11 years at the Kingman Street facility is reducing her role and will eventually step aside.

In her place, the organization’s board committee has hired Joe LeClair, a St. Albans native with a background in grant writing and development at the international level.

Since 2005, when Ryan took over Samaritan House, the organization has increased its budget from $70,000 to almost $450,000, said Ryan. She will continue to work part-time for the next year writing development grants and fund raising as LeClair transitions into the executive director’s role.

“It was time to step back a little and let some fresh ideas come in, someone with new energy, new ideas and I could help guide the process,” Ryan said.

LeClair, 44, a 1990 Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans and University of Vermont graduate, started Monday, March 21, after being hired by the 12-member board from a final pool of two candidates. Previously, he worked for eight years at Tetra Tech, a Burlington company based in California. He’s spent 20 years working in international development for the U.S.Agency for International Development.

“I think we have a really good and solid foundation but there’s always room to grow so we would look at expanding that into new grant and donor service pools,” said LeClair, an Essex resident. “I also come from experience in grant writing so we would look to diversify and expand our resource base to any extent that we can.”

Ryan leaves behind a legacy at Samaritan House that has seen the organization grow from a second-floor shelter at the Kingman Street location, with Martha’s Kitchen located on the first floor leaving little room for offices, to having two single-family transitional housing apartments there plus three more on Lake Street. Ryan said the clients were mostly men when she started. But slowly, Samaritan House became an emergency and temporary shelter used by women, single fathers and eventually, families.

Tim’s House, which includes the Kingman Street shelter and transitional housing, is part of the Samaritan House organization, which includes additional transitional apartments off-site and other services for the homeless.

Samaritan House funds its Lake Street transitional housing with a state grant from Reach Up, and also received a grant from the Vermont Dept. of Corrections to provide housing for recently released non-violent offenders, among other projects.

“Linda’s passion to serve the homeless at Tim’s House is evident in the success rate of homeless individuals and families reaching self-sufficiency,” said Lisa Bovat, Tim Bovat’s sister, who is the namesake on the Tim’s House building on Kingman Street. Lisa Bovat is the director of hospitality at Northwestern Medical Center, and also serves on the Samaritan House 12-member board.

“When the Samaritan House Board approached Timmy’s Kids in 2011 for a $100,000 donation it was and instant connection between Tim Bovat’s service to our community, and Linda’s hard work recognized at the state level as a model shelter for the state,” she added.

Ryan gave the board a two-year notice that she was leaving. “I feel a huge sense of excitement,” she said. “Now, two years ago when I gave my notice, if I had left then it would’ve been hard. It’s going to be hard anyway because it is kind of a baby that I’ve grown. But I’m in a different place.”

Northwestern Medical Center CEO Jill Berry Bowen, the Samaritan House board chairwoman, said Ryan’s compassion and dedication to the community will be missed.

“Linda has really given her heart and soul to ensure housing and safety for the community and the population we serve,” she said. “She has an incredible relationship with the community, but also with the government, agencies. She’s just so diligent.”

Berry Bowen is on the executive committee that was responsible for hiring LeClair. “I think he’ll take the program to the next level, I think he’s going to really excel,” she said.

In only his first week, LeClair highlighted an ambitious plan, one that seeks to provider a greater, physical presence in other towns and cities throughout Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

“There’s budgetary constraints, staff constraints, and we’ll see how it grows but we do have vision in terms of depth and breadth of services increasing.”

Ryan, who is also a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor, only calls this move “semi-retirement.” She’ll work part-time at a new practice in that field on Fairfield Street, while continuing to work about 20 hours a week at Samaritan House for the next year.

“I hope to carry on the reputation and the mission that’s been established by Linda and by the wonderful people that work here and just to make that even more brilliant,” LeClair said.