A bright red male cardinal perched himself on the sill outside Trudy Ender’s office window at Humane Society of West Michigan. He tapped his beak on the glass to get her attention.
“Sue Ann had a window feeder and the birds don’t realize the restaurant is closed right now,” Ender said. “I have to get one. I just have not had time to do anything here with my office. Other things are more important.”
“Sue Ann” is Sue Ann Culp, the former occupant of the Executive Director’s office at HSWM. Culp resigned in early May, and Ender was promoted to the position after having served as Director of Operations at HSWM since February 2011.
Ender’s experience as Director of Operations has made for a smooth transition into the Executive Director role, bringing a bit of consistency to an organization that now has had five people, including an interim director, in the top job since 2010.
“I think this is the marriage we’ve been waiting for,” Amy VanDyke, president of HSWM’s Board of Directors, said. “We were thrilled to have her already in the organization and to watch her blossom over the last year and a half. It’s very fortunate for us to have her present when we needed her. It was the right time, the right place and the right fit.
“It’s an added bonus that the staff wouldn’t have to get used to someone new. They’re familiar with Trudy and have confidence in her. It made the transition relatively smooth on top of her work ethic and her commitment.”
Ender’s commitment and passion for her new position come through. She lights up when speaking about her role and her challenges, and even pokes fun at herself with her Pollyanna approach to the job.
“The more I’m here, the more I’m just in love with it,” Ender, 44, said. “I came on board as Director of Operations and that was a nice segue into this. I got to learn about the infrastructure, and I was fascinated, but I’m also passionate about animals and about people. I get to do human resources along with animal advocacy, and it’s a great marriage for me.
“I think people have heard these statements before, that time will tell, but you’ll see my commitment. Me being Director of Operations has helped the staff with that trust level. They already know me. Right now I can only say the words, but I can follow through with my commitment and my character. I truly think … this will sound corny, which I can be … but I truly think we can get to greatness. We have many challenges, but I think we can become that. We have all the elements.”
She admits she has thought about the high turnover rate, particularly its impact on the staff.
“Consistency is so key, because I don’t think we’ve had that,” Ender said. “How hard is that on the staff who have been here a long time to have that shakeup? It’s too much.”
The leadership changes haven’t changed the mission of the humane society, Ender said, and she’s grateful for the financial supporters who have stuck with the organization through the recent turnover at the top.
“We have people who support us often unconditionally despite leadership changes. That, to me, is a true testimony of supporting. We’re still an organization and still a business and still things happen, but supporting that main mission is important. Yes, some people have resigned, but that doesn’t mean the mission isn’t great and that doesn’t mean the support isn’t needed. In fact, it might be needed more.”
Ender’s commitment extends beyond the walls of the humane society. Her children — Ben, 12, and Ruby, 9 — have made HSWM part of their world as well.
“We are infused,” Ender said. “It’s our world. We talk about my work as though it’s an extension of our lives … it’s in their head and their hearts, too. There’s a commitment we have to these little heartbeats that we’re entrusted with. We have a tender responsibility.
“I get very excited that at a young age they are learning what we would love the public to learn as quickly, that we’re entrusted. This is something we’re supposed to do.”
Ender said that, unlike some of her jobs in the past, her children don’t mind the extra hours she puts into HSWM, like the after-hours events requiring Ender’s attendance such as the recent K-9 Cabaret or next Wednesday’s BISSELL Blocktail Party. As an added bonus, the kids get to help in fostering special needs pets, like “Gravy Train,” a weeks-old kitten with respiratory problems who needs constant supervision.
“We have three rescue cats and we’re fostering Gravy Train,” she said. “The kids get excited when I come home with a carrier and want to know who’s in there. I’m a single mom, so I’m very busy, but (the job) is kind of like a marriage. It’s one of those commitment things. This position is not 8 to 5 or just Monday through Friday.
“I’ve had jobs where I worked late or on weekends and it felt like it was taking away from my family. This feels like it’s putting into the family, not taking from it. They want to hear about my job every day.”
Ender’s first experience in the non-profit sector came with the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service in Marquette, shortly after earning her bachelor of science degree from Central Michigan University, where she majored in English. She then went to work for the U.S. Probation office in Marquette. A promotion brought her to Grand Rapids and, after 14 years of working for the government, she decided to leave that job.
“I felt like I was doing good work, but I didn’t have the connection I was looking for,” she said. “After 14 years, I wasn’t feeling it.”
Ender said she feels fortunate to be in a position now where she can be of service.
“This is a very important and impactful job,” she said. “It’s all about service and, for me, that is my heart. I get to be here every day, and every day I feel like it’s my job interview. I get to prove every day why I get to be here and be helpful to our animals. But for me, my passion is people, too, so I can do all I can for our staff and our volunteers and for the public and connect in a way that it’s all going to funnel back beautifully for the animals.
“That’s my gig … the people part and the animal part.”