Special to The Catholic Virginian

Joanne Nattrass

From her very first days with Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Joanne Nattrass reflected on her new position as executive director in the 2006 Annual Report.

“Each day at CCC brings both the expected and unexpected; a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and a sense that there is still more to be done; an environment to celebrate life’s joys with co-workers and friends and to seek or give support when needed; a workplace where day-to-day activities make a very real and positive difference in the lives of children, adults and seniors,” she wrote.

At the end of this year, Nattrass will retire from the agency.

“The expected and unexpected in her 12 years have been handled with visionary and compassionate leadership,” according to Cliona Robb, chair of the CCC board of directors. “Joanne has guided us into a future that continues to address the needs of the most vulnerable with greater capabilities.” 

Asked about her leadership philosophy, Nattrass said, “My desire has always been to empower those around me and for all to feel respected, heard and valued. I trust that people will do their job and will do the right thing.”  

In her time at the helm, the agency expanded its services throughout the Diocese of Richmond, improved its financial stability, re-established the Richmond offices to a building that is better able to serve clients and staff, and saw the completion of a chapel in that building. 

Nattrass was most gratified to be able to strengthen the financial stability of the organization, to ensure that CCC offices around the state were improved and accessible for clients and staff, and, most recently, to establish a housing corporation that will assist low-income individuals. 

Her leadership of the agency was recognized and praised by board members and staff.   

“The first time I met Joanne, I knew we had selected someone special,” said Joseph Boisineau, long-time CCC board member. “We were a nice, local non-profit before Joanne’s arrival. But we became a world-class charity when she came on board. I have worked for many managers in my professional career who had some of the qualities of a good manager. Joanne has all of them.”

Her ability to lead and nurture staff was noted by Lori James, CCC human resources director. 

“When I accepted the job at Commonwealth Catholic Charities in 2012, I was looking to advance my career by getting experience in a different industry. In reality, my career advanced because I worked under the leadership of Joanne Nattrass,” James said. “She has been such a wonderful mentor to me and helped me recognize and strengthen abilities I never knew I had.” 

Others expressed admiration for Nattrass’ ability to include them and feel empowered in their positions.  

“I can remember clear as day talking to my husband about what an amazing opportunity I fell into because most young supervisors don’t get weekly supervision with an executive director,” said Abby Boyd, Supportive Housing and Homeless Services director.  “I enjoyed those meetings so much because not only did I learn a lot from Joanne, but she always made me feel like I mattered and that my input was valuable.” 

As Adoption and Pregnancy Counseling manager, Marge Thornton saw firsthand the caring Nattrass brought to the agency. 

“Over the years, Joanne has been incredibly supportive of the children and birth parents in our adoption and pregnancy counseling programs. There have been situations where we have had infants with very special needs, knowing that we will have a child in care for a long time to enable us to find the right family for them,” Thornton said. “No matter how great the need, we have always been able to say yes to those referrals. To quote Joanne, ‘Caring for these children is what we are about.’”