It’s Magic Time: David Obedzinski Comes Home and Shares his Vision for Leading the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain
David Obedzinski will assume the presidency of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain in August, succeeding the retiring Jim Williamson and becoming the third president in Foundation history. David has held a number of significant roles of escalating management authority with a variety of educational institutions, non-profit organizations and health care providers and is the former chief development officer and executive director of institutional advancement for the Hospital of Central Connecticut. He joins the Foundation from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, where he is vice president of philanthropy. A Hartford native and Glastonbury resident, David brings not only more than 30 years of philanthropy management experience to the job, but a deep connection to and fondnes for the Greater New Britain region, a place he considers in many ways to be home. David recently spent some time talking about his life, career and his vision for the Community Foundation.
Tell us, David, about your roots and your family.
I grew up in the south end of Hartford the oldest of five, three brothers and a sister, and went to the old South Catholic High School. I went to Hofstra University on Long Island and met my wife Linda there. She’s from Long Island and we’re both Hofstra grads. We both got involved in the alumni association at the university and had leadership positions there. Linda’s parents were on Long Island, we bought a house on Long Island right next to the university and I worked there for 10 years. When her parents moved to Florida, we ended up coming back to Connecticut and settled in Glastonbury where my parents had relocated to. We’ve been there 22 years now.
Linda is a business initiatives consultant for Wells Fargo and she’s been with them for the past four years. Kate is our only child and she will be entering her sophomore year at Emerson College in Boston in September. She is studying visual and media arts and is doing very, very well. We’re so proud of her. This summer she’s working part-time with me down at the Coast Guard Academy doing video and social media projects, and she’s also working with Glastonbury youth and family services. She would love to be a producer one day, maybe for children’s programming.
How is it that you ended up working in philanthropy and making it your career?
I didn’t realize it at the time but what happened at Hofstra impacted my professional work for the rest of my life. And that is, I switched from communications to sociology. I already had a pretty broad background in communications here in Connecticut by working at my high school’s television and radio station and being an overnight producer at WPOP all-news radio. My cousin Bobby Krowka was a producer and he got me an interview with Joanne Nesti. She hired me as an overnight producer and it was a wonderful experience.
Those opportunities, along with public speaking opportunities I had working in leadership with the Boy Scouts, really gave me a sense of the art of communications and that experience has served me well. Down the road when I got into sociology and health care administration, and was responsible for raising money and handling public relations for various organizations, it all just came together. Today, coming to the Community Foundation, I am able to take all of those skills and experiences – the public speaking, the communications, the public relations and the philanthropy – and apply them to help this organization and this community reach its goals.
In addition to your career, you’ve always been engaged in your community on a personal level. Where does that commitment to giving back come from?
Linda and I have always been natural volunteers, I guess. It’s in our DNA. We’ll serve on our alumni boards. We’ll serve in our church for whatever the church needs. In fact I’m president of our church council now at St. Mark’s in Glastonbury. When I came to New Britain to work for the hospital I served on the board of directors for the public library. I organized the golf outings for Rotary. And our family has been involved with the Catalyst Fund here at the Foundation for years – the three of us served as tri-chairs in 2013 and 2014 when Kate was only a teenager.
Our family for years had something we called the Obedzinski Family Foundation. Of course, it wasn’t a real foundation, but it was something we created as a family and made a commitment to. We would sit around the kitchen table once or twice a year and say, “Okay, here’s is the money that we’ve set aside for charity. And we’re going to decide as a family where it’s going.” The idea was, what can we do together, as a family, to make an impact in the community with the gifts that we’ve been blessed with? It was a healthy family exercise and a great teaching moment for Kate about the importance of giving back.
How is it that you have such a connection to the Greater New Britain community and what’s it feel like to be, well, coming “home?”
I always hoped that I would one day have the opportunity to come back to New Britain. It sounds trite, but in many ways it’s like a dream come true. It feels so natural, to be able to apply the sum of my career experience with an organization that my family and I have been involved with for many years. When I was here in New Britain previously I was exposed to people from all four communities, and I just thought the people who live and work here are fantastic. They care so deeply about their communities, I couldn’t help but be drawn in. I joined the Rotary. I got involved with the Polish American Foundation. I got involved as a corporator of the hospital, a member of the institute, with the Foundation’s Catalyst Fund. The only way that you can really get to know a community is to dive into it, that’s what I did and that’s what I’ll do again. It will be a thrill to come back and reengage with the people and organizations I know as well as the people and organizations I need to learn more about.
Talk about the concept of leadership and the leadership role of the Community Foundation.
The leadership skills that I’ve learned during my career, especially with the Coast Guard Academy, have been so important. My Coast Guard experience, the people I’ve worked with and the leaders I’ve been exposed to, have meant the world to me. It’s given me such valuable guidance and insight into the right way to lead and to achieve goals.
I think there’s a leadership role the community foundation must play; we are in a unique position because of the faith and trust the initial industrialists and others placed in this organization when they started it in 1941. To have all of those different people, all those different businesses, all those different organizations, from so many parts of the community form one organization that can help lift up the community – that’s an enormous responsibility.
We have an inherited responsibility to use our resources effectively, efficiently, smartly to effect change in a positive way. To touch people’s lives. To help somebody go to college. To make an art show possible when there was no other possibility. To assist a small non-profit struggling to survive. That’s leadership.
Are there any particular challenges you foresee in serving four connected but different communities in Berlin, New Britain, Plainville and Southington?
I recognize the fact that these are four distinct and different communities with various populations with different levels of need. You have to recognize that first and foremost. My first two months on the job will essentially be the Dave Obedzinski listening tour. Many of the people reading this can expect a phone call because I’m going to be going out into each community and talking to the people – the town leaders, the organizations that already serve those towns, the educators and the donors who live in those towns. I want to find out what they think, what’s been done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, what they think should be done. Hearing it from the people who live and work in those communities will give me the perspective we need about the role of the Community Foundation.
What other priorities do you see for the Community Foundation moving forward under your guidance?
I want to build on the success that this organization has already achieved, which is substantial. Jim Williamson and his staff have done a wonderful job. I see it every time I come to a meeting, the enormous effort this organization makes to ensure we are covering the important topics and issues that need a light shined on them in this community.
One thing that will be very important to me is to help those in the community who are trying to make the community better. There are dozens of small non-profits that struggle and I believe a community foundation can assist these organizations and help to make them stronger. If we are all stronger together, well, to use a nautical term, a rising tide lifts all boats. Handing out checks is one thing, but to see the lasting impact of having helped an organization be more self-sufficient, that’s tremendously satisfying for me.
Also, and we touched on this already, but I can’t say enough about how important it is for us to be a good steward of the gifts that have been given to us. That will be at the core of everything we do. It’s something that was instilled in me early on in my career in philanthropy. The goal is to have those gifts make as great an impact as possible in the community. If donors know that we can be trusted, that we’ll take care of things, that their legacy is in good hands, then we are doing right by the donor, we are doing right by the organization, and we are ultimately doing right by those in the community who can be most impacted by those gifts.
Matching a donor’s interests and ability to give with a community need that excites them is the challenge. The same goes for volunteers, collaborating organizations, staff and the community at large. When we can bring all those elements together, that’s my magic time.