By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service
Things happen for a reason, and in the case of Catawba College Alumna Kyna Foster '89, that could not have been truer; when she found out that her position at Food Lion had been eliminated, a new door opened.
"I can apply for the job at Rowan Helping Ministries!" she thought.
"So I did," says Foster, 45. "That's why I ended up here. My life's journey and everything that I learned along the way prepared me for this."
Foster became executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries on July 1, taking over from Dianne Scott, who held that position exactly 20 years.
A fourth-generation native of Rowan County, Foster grew up off Long Ferry Road and graduated from North Rowan High School in 1983. Her parents, the late Dr. William Henry Snider '51 and Leona Massey Snider '49 both graduated from Catawba. Snider was a dentist and his wife was a schoolteacher and principal.
But Catawba was the last place on Foster's mind when she graduated from high school. Instead, she went to UNC, then Gardner-Webb, taking a year off in between schools to model in Atlanta and get married. She arrived at Catawba her junior year, a new mom to Karla, now 23.
She started out as a biology and chemistry major, planning to take over her father's dental practice. Instead, she says, she found her "inner geek." She switched her major to business with a concentration in accounting.
Her second daughter, Kia, now 21, arrived two weeks before graduation. "She came with me to my final exams," Foster says. One professor kept the school nurse's number in his pocket that whole semester, afraid Foster would go into labor while in class.
Working 20 hours a week, Foster graduated cum laude from Catawba and was a member of the Alpha Chi honor society. Son Kenan, 19, was born in 1991.
At Catawba, she respected Bill Trenchard, a former R.J. Reynolds executive who was her accounting instructor. "He brought into the classroom real-life case experience," she says.
Dr. Stephen Hiatt was her marketing professor. He always mispronounced her first name, but she never corrected him. "Correct people," he told her when he found out. "Your name is important."
Foster's mother went to the Rowan Public library to find a name, she says, "that meant something." Kyna, pronounced 'kee-na,' is Gaelic and means "wise lady." "You've got to live up to that," she says.
Since she has been back in Salisbury, Foster has returned to campus to play tennis or just take a walk. "The fact that I have a history there with my parents is the same as going home," she says.
After graduation, Foster accepted a position in Greensboro as an accountant, later going to work for Tanner Companies in Rutherfordton as corporate controller and director of support services. She joined Food Lion in 2000 as assistant controller.
Foster had been a single mom since 1996, and wanted to come back home since her parents were getting older. She liked what she was doing at Food Lion, but she wanted something more. "I wanted to do something that made a difference," Foster says.
She remembers praying the Prayer of Jabez, that she would be blessed and that her territory would be enlarged. A couple of days later, a vice president at Food Lion asked her to manage the department of community affairs and later she was promoted to director of community affairs and customer relations.
Now, Foster's territory has again been enlarged with the position at Rowan Helping Ministries.
Having two kids before she graduated from college, Foster knows how it is to live on a tight budget. "It gives me insight into the struggle that people have," she says. "You don't want to call your daddy and say ‘help.' We were struggling between paychecks to put food on the table."
She had her daughters without health insurance and made payments while she was pregnant to be able to deliver at the hospital. "Those struggles prepare you for life," Foster says.
At Food Lion, she got to know the non-profit community in Salisbury, since administering Food Lion's foundation was part of her job.
"Every day here feel like it makes a difference," Foster says. "That was what was missing in my corporate career."
Foster worked with Scott for three weeks before her position became official.
"This is an awesome place to work," she says. "Everyday, we have more volunteers here every day than we have staff. Our staff and volunteers are a wonderful group of people who work hard to improve the quality of life for others. Without the dedication of our volunteers we would not be able to open our doors."
Rowan Helping Ministries board member Jean Wurster is good friends with Scott, and is getting to know Foster as well. Foster is meeting separately with each board member.
"The one thing they (Foster and Scott) do have in common is a heart for the job," says Wurster, who works in the college's Corriher-Linn-Black Library. "Kyna has a real understanding of how the corporate world works. I'm just so proud she's a Catawba graduate. I think she's going to take Rowan Helping Ministries to new levels and we're ready. Dianne moved us forward and Kyna is going to keep moving us forward. I'm just thrilled that we found her."
Foster says she feels an "incredible responsibility" to the community. "They're entrusting us with their charitable donations. We are charged with meeting the needs of people in crisis and those less fortunate.
"You don't want to mess this up. I pray a lot."
A member of Trading Ford Baptist Church, Foster likes the fact that her staff prays before every meeting. "You don't do that in the corporate world," she says.
Yet she's brought a lot of the corporate world with her, making many changes in the last eight weeks. Foster has created a forecasting process for cash flow, and operates within a monthly budget. "Given this economy, it's been a real challenge," she says. "We are pressed on two sides in that the demand for assistance is increasing while many of our donors are not able to give at the same level as they have given in the past."
Foster has restructured the organization. More than ever, it has a focus on the clients it serves. Foster has given the organization more of a business model and expanded resource development. She moved her administrative assistant to a position in this area. "It's not about me," she says. She eliminated a management layer between herself and the staff, and rewrote every job description.
Foster doesn't care for the "lean and mean" analogy that so many businesses use these days. "We want to be lean and kind," she says. "It's all about helping."
That's why she wants staff members to say "Rowan Helping Ministries" instead of using the acronym "RHM." "It's who we are," she says.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.