“Grandson of Gypsum Miner returns home to lead the West Grand Neighborhood Organization”
Grand Rapids, MI – West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) (www.westgrand.org) announced today that Robert Tolbert, Jr. will lead the organization as Executive Director. Tolbert brings a wealth of experience across both the public and private sectors as a highly skilled leader of collaborative change initiatives. A native of Grand Rapids, Tolbert’s career includes corporate leadership roles on cost reduction projects for global industry leaders in Transportation and Media (FedEx, Walt Disney, Time Warner, NBC Universal). Since returning home he has consulted for a trade organization focused on minority business development (Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council) and worked in the Grand Rapids Public Schools as a substitute teacher. Tolbert’s business skills combined with a sincere passion for helping people will ensure WGNO remains a strong voice for the neighbors it serves during this period of rapid economic development. Tolbert is a proud graduate of Michigan State University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy as well as an MBA with a concentration in Supply Chain Management. Robert also speaks Spanish and holds an Executive Certificate in Doing Business with Mexico and Latin America.
Ed Ashbaugh, President of the WGNO Board of Directors said “I have been involved with West Grand for more than twenty years, and I am excited to bring Robert on board at this time of rapid change for our area. We were faced with many decisions regarding the future of WGNO as a board, and we look forward to supporting Robert as he rolls-up his sleeves to take us to the next level. Our vision for change is aggressive and we needed a leader who could execute and hit the ground running. We are committed as a board to moving WGNO forward and supporting Robert as he executes this vision.”
Tolbert joined WGNO as Interim Executive Director in July 2015 to steer and stabilize the organization through a period of leadership change and transformation. Tolbert’s impact has been felt immediately by leading a record-pace of event fundraising and grant writing for the organization. Most recently, Tolbert has secured grant support for technology resources which will result in the rebuilding of the website and membership database for the organization. Tolbert will also oversee the implementation of city services provided by WGNO including Crime Prevention and Community Organizing; on the state level the Auto Theft Prevention Authority program, funded by the Michigan State Police Department.
Tolbert comments “I am honored to serve at this time for a few key reasons. First, my Grandfather moved from South Carolina to Grand Rapids to work in the Gypsum Mines on the West Side over sixty years ago and he took pride in being a part of that industry – always careful to show us “sheet-rock” so that we knew what it was. I remember helping him pull his boots off after work and seeing his helmet with the light on top, which he would let me wear to hunt for Night Crawlers for our early morning fishing trips. I smile when I think of how he moved the family to this town during The Great Migration period of U.S. History when many African-Americans left the south for new jobs in the north. It was a different time then in Grand Rapids and I am sure he is smiling down from above on this day when his Grandson is taking the lead of this organization. Also, I am excited to join WGNO during a time where there is a spirit of collaboration growing on the West Side between community-based organizations. My experience lends to building teams and collaborating on projects to gain maximum return – it feels great to have this focused on helping my neighbors during this phase of my career.”
Tolbert will kick-off his administration with a series of neighborhood listening sessions next month to gain even deeper understanding of the concerns of neighbors and businesses. The listening sessions are being funded by the Non-profit Technical Assistance Fund (NPTA) and will be professionally facilitated and structured to gain insights from WGNO neighbors and community leaders.
West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) is the second-largest neighborhood organization in Grand Rapids. Its boundaries include the Grand River to the east, Bridge Street to the south, Bristol Street to the southwest, and the city limits to the north. We are a non-profit organization.
WGNO has a great mix of residents and businesses and is home to two neighborhood business district within its boundaries –West Leonard and Stockbridge. It is our goal to produce such programs that enable our residents and businesses to coexist in an environment that produces a healthy and vital neighborhood for all.