Updated March 30 at 12:29am

Self-discovery breeds success

Amanda McMullen, Meeting Street, chief operating officer

CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, NONPROFIT With an art history degree freshly in hand, Amanda McMullen left Syracuse University some years ago looking for work in a museum. That search, which led her to Boston and an administrative …

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Self-discovery breeds success

Amanda McMullen, Meeting Street, chief operating officer

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CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, NONPROFIT

With an art history degree freshly in hand, Amanda McMullen left Syracuse University some years ago looking for work in a museum. That search, which led her to Boston and an administrative assistant position at the Old State House museum on the Freedom Trail, also exposed McMullen to the world of fundraising – a world she quickly realized that she liked very much.

"I realized how much I enjoyed and felt successful in the development path," McMullen recalled. "I loved connecting donors to the mission, and I enjoyed organizing the department and putting structure in place."

Following two-year stints with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Smithsonian, McMullen accepted the role of senior director of external relations with Providence-based Meeting Street, an organization dedicated to providing educational and therapeutic support to children with special needs.

Meeting Street, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, has more than 300 employees serving the needs of more than 5,000 children of all abilities at its two campuses – an 80,000-square-foot main campus on Eddy Street and a 21,000-square-foot facility in Dartmouth.

"Being a development professional teaches you to think strategically, navigate unknown circumstances, and build relationships," McMullen said. "At Meeting Street, I had the chance to hone my skills with an incredible team."

McMullen was part of a group that raised $15 million for Meeting Street's campus and building in Providence. She soon expanded her role, overseeing marketing and communications, eventually moving into the role of chief strategy officer in 2013.

"This role came my way after a decade-plus at Meeting Street, and when you think you have learned it all – you are wrong," McMullen said. "I had a vantage point in this position that planted the seeds to moving into operations and it was the best training ground I could have asked for."

McMullen, now chief operating officer, looks for opportunities to strengthen and expand upon Meeting Street and its mission.

One example includes the early childhood division, which McMullen says needed some restructuring in order to strengthen the programs that worked with the youngest populations (children up to age 6). Meeting Street is focused on being a leader in education, she said, particularly in its core businesses or programs that fall under early childhood or school age.

"I have spent considerable time and effort realigning our early childhood management team and the seven different programs that fall under this umbrella to unify their work," McMullen said. "Having a cohesive team has already surpassed expectations as demonstrated through our outcome attainment, employee engagement and program growth."

In the summer of 2014, McMullen was part of the team that led the acquisition of The Schwartz Center in Dartmouth. The facility provides not only a woodland setting, but a heated pool for aquatic therapy, a sensory integration room, a living skills apartment, and abundant outdoor areas for exercise, therapy and play.

"Part of our strategic planning identified goals around program and geographic growth," McMullen said. "Taking over leadership of another not-for-profit presented great opportunity liesas well as a number of challenges. We have learned an incredible amount on this journey. … We have continued to work on the integration of two cultures."

Cara Jean O'Hare, Meeting Street assistant director of corporate and foundation relations, felt McMullen's strong leadership very early after joining Meeting Street in 2012.

On her second day, O'Hare was asked to write a proposal for an EPA Brownfields Cleanup grant that was due in three weeks. Knowing nothing about brownfields and having no federal grant writing experience for the EPA, O'Hare turned to McMullen.

"Amanda pointed me in all the right directions, fed me past proposals, position papers, planning documents, you name it," O'Hare said. "She answered all my questions and briefed me on the program history. She helped edit drafts and provided thoughtful feedback. Her generous assistance helped me craft a winning proposal that generated $200,000 in funding."

O'Hare describes the impact McMullen has had and continues to have on the organization as transformative.

McMullen, meanwhile, finds it impossible to lack passion for her work.

"You walk into our buildings, see the work with children, see the incredibly talented and dedicated staff and you are instantly lifted and motivated to do your job," she said. "I am truly inspired each day to provide the support and strength for Meeting Street so we can carry on the innovation that our founders put in place. … I take that duty very seriously." •

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