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CEO finds growth through challenges

Alumni Jul 6, 2021
A woman poses for a portrait
A woman poses for a portrait

 If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.

That’s the leadership philosophy at the heart of Brianne Boles’ professional success. As Chief Executive Officer of Bona Vista, a Kokomo-based not-for-profit, she leads a team that provides services for pre-school children, and children and adults with disabilities.

“We serve, or could serve, people from birth to death, complete life wraparound services, depending on what someone needs, and where they are in their current situation,” said Boles, B.G.S. ’03, M.P.M. ’06.

“Even with 13 years at this agency, and three years in the CEO position, I challenge myself to find ways to push myself, to stretch my abilities,” she said. “We’re responsible for thousands of lives, and I’m running a company that is one of the larger employers in the city of Kokomo and Howard County. I take great pride in that.”

While her original plan was to be an elementary teacher, Boles reached back to childhood experiences, volunteering in the community with her mother, Vicki Boles, a long-time Kokomo teacher.

“Giving back to our community was in my blood,” she said. “When I decided to switch, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I turned to what we did as volunteers, began working for the American Red Cross, and fell in love with it.”

As she figured out her career, mentors from campus all advised her, leading her to the Master of Public Management program as it was getting off the ground.

Armed with her graduate degree, Boles began her career at Bona Vista as a vice president in communication and development — with plans to continue growing into new roles. She discussed these goals with Jill Dunn, the CEO who hired her.

“I told her that I would want to grow. I had professional goals and that Kokomo was near and dear to my heart, and I would like nothing more than to grow and give back to my hometown professionally,” she recalls telling Dunn.

She began stretching herself by moving from communications into programming for the individuals served by the organization, starting out in the employment division. In that position, she helped people with disabilities secure and maintain employment.

“What I liked about it, and what I think grabbed me, was the ability to still network and meet people,” Boles said. “I like the opportunity to do something different every day in this job. Regardless of what position you are in here, it is definitely not the same thing every day.”

She found she enjoyed working more directly with Bona Vista’s clients than her previous role allowed.

“What has kept me here is I can walk into any of our buildings and see clients, and see the difference we make, and that the staff makes. That’s what’s locked me in and has kept me here 13 years later,” she said.

“For many of our persons served, we are their family. We handle everything someone would handle for their son, their daughter, their parent, like haircuts, grocery shopping, teaching grooming etiquette, and helping with daily hygiene. That is what we do every day. We develop relationships and bonds grow organically. The staff loves the persons served, and it’s hard not to. They are very, very special people.”

Having the ability to see the impact Bona Vista has is how she knows she’s grown as a leader during her career.

“It’s inspiring to work for a company that provides essential services every single day, regardless of what’s going on in our local community, let alone nationally,” she said. “I definitely have grown in the area of patience, and celebrating the small moments. It’s important to celebrate those small victories, and we have a lot of them here.”

She encourages other women to look for opportunities to serve, both personally and professionally.

“If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing, in my opinion,” she said. “Put yourself out there, challenge yourself, be open to anything that comes your way.”

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