The Chicago Area Runners Association will have a new leader at the end of July.
Wendy Jaehn, the executive director of the CARA, announced last week that she will resign at the end of the month. Before taking the position at CARA in November of 2010, Jaehn worked in the energy field. Jaehn will return to the energy sector after her departure from CARA, running the Chicago office of what she described as an “international energy consulting company” where she will oversee more than $40 million in projects and a staff of nearly 100 people. However, even after stepping down from her position as executive director, Jaehn said she will not be leaving the CARA family completely.
“My new office is four blocks away. I’m committed to helping CARA however is needed,” Jaehn said.
That help will come in a number of different ways both immediately and long term. Jaehn said that CARA’s Executive Board has asked her to be a part of finding her replacement and she is eager to help. She has also talked to the current staff about moving forward on projects and initiatives already in the works after she leaves.
In the three and a half years that Jaehn has been in charge of the day-to-day operations of CARA, the group regained its importance in the running community and has became one of the most prevalent running groups in the area. Jaehn said it was always part of her vision to maintain a certain level of quality in everything CARA does and focus in on runners advocacy. It is in the quality of its events and popularity of the training programs that this has come to fruition, Jaehn said.
With all of the growth within CARA, Jaehn is reluctant to take credit. Instead, she said one of her proudest achievements is putting together the team that could make all of it happen. Jaehn said she made sure to never micromanage, but instead just help her team with any of their projects by giving them the resources to succeed. It’s that infrastructure that will make the job easier for her successor than it was when she took over. “We don’t need to find anyone to make big changes,” Jaehn said.
The process for finding a replacement has already begun and is open to both internal and external candidates. Most importantly, Jaehn said, the new director will need to have a true passion for running. The ups and downs of the job will only be manageable with that passion, she said. A history working with non-profits is also important. While in charge, Jaehn said she would often make decisions that may not help CARA’s bottom line, but was the best choice for both the community and the group as a whole.
Jaehn will officially step down from her role at the end of July, but there is no timeline on finding a replacement. If the process to find a full-time director takes longer than the end of the month, Jaehn said they will find an interim director who she will work with whenever she can. When a full-time replacement is found, Jaehn will work hand-in-hand to pass the reigns so CARA and its members don’t skip a beat.
While executive director will no longer be in her title, Jaehn said she still considers herself a CARA lifer. After leaving the group she will continue to be a member and compete on the circuit. She will also work on a number of projects and anything else she can do to stay involved.
“CARA changed my life with what I’ve learned as the executive director,” Jaehn said. “The experiences I have, the friends I made: I owe so much to CARA and I want to continue to give back and make sure that my departure has no negative impacts. If I can play a role in it, I’m more than happy to do so.”