SAFEchild: Where are they now?

The SAFEchild partnership began nearly 15 years ago when founding executive director Marjorie Menestres reached out to Armstrong McGuire for assistance with an organizational assessment. SAFEchild was among the first group of agencies to benefit from a new capacity-building program of the John Rex Endowment.  

Since that time, we have partnered with SAFEchild in strategic planning, strategic refresh, succession planning, fundraising strategy, board training and retreats, executive transition management, talent acquisition, and staff coaching.  

Of all the many ways we have partnered perhaps the most impactful was through a succession planning process more than a decade ago.

Change Is Coming

“When the board engaged us to lead succession planning, Marjorie thought she was probably about 5 years away from retirement,” said Armstrong McGuire co-founder Bert Armstrong. “But the appeal of retirement came sooner than she expected - about 18 months after we completed the plan.”

When Marjorie shared her decision with her board, former board chair and Raleigh attorney Charles Raynal said his first reaction was a “mild sense of panic.”  

Raynal said, “Marjorie had been the only executive director of SAFEchild for over 20 years. She was involved in every major decision the organization had ever made, and she had developed every program SAFEchild offered. There was no other person in the organization (or the world) who knew SAFEchild like Marjorie did, and I knew right away that there was no way we could replace her.”

Panic then turned to deep gratitude for all Marjorie had accomplished for SAFEchild and the community. Next, Raynal reached for the succession plan.  

“While the task before us was daunting, we had a roadmap in hand for how to navigate the transition and the long-term future of SAFEchild,” Raynal said. “I had confidence that with the assistance of thoughtful and committed volunteers and highly skilled and experienced advisors in Armstrong McGuire we could and would have a successful and smooth transition.”

And that they did.  

A Thoughtful, Strategic, and Successful Transition

By executing the succession plan and engaging in Executive Transition Management with Armstong McGuire, the SAFEchild board launched a national search that brought highly talented candidates into consideration. After a thorough process that engaged the staff, board, and critical partners, SAFEchild named Cristin DeRonja as Marjorie’s successor.

Nine years later, DeRonja and her team are serving more than 16,000 children annually. In September 2023, DeRonja ushered SAFEchild into a brand new expanded home that not only brings all of its critical programs under one roof, but also provides the opportunity to deliver its programs in spaces designed specifically for the children, parents, and families they serve.

DeRonja said, “Our new space offers healing and hope to children and families every day from the time our doors open just after sunrise until well after the sun sets each evening. I am humbly honored and proud. We did not allow the pandemic or any other obstacle to derail our quest for children and families.”

Sunshine Not Storms

The transition from a founding executive director, especially one who has served the community in powerful ways for more than two decades, is an enormous challenge. Guided by Marjorie’s vision and leadership, SAFEchild built trust with local law enforcement, members of the judicial system, medical providers, educators, social workers, and families across Wake County. The next leader needed the skills to embrace these established relationships and the courage to imagine new ways that the organization could serve the community.

Armstong said, “When I reflect on the SAFEchild partnership, I am grateful the board had the foresight to engage in succession planning. This organization has protected and nurtured our community’s children for more than 30 years. They could have floundered after Marjorie’s retirement, but instead they have flourished.”  

A Steady Partner

Since 2009, SAFEchild and Armstrong McGuire have journeyed together to position the organization for sustainable impact.

DeRonja said the Armstrong McGuire partnership has been a “rock” for her over the years. “Armstrong McGuire just gets it. They are a wealth of knowledge and experience. They understand the difficulty of the terrain and provide the tools and talent to help you succeed.”

What is Next for SAFEchild?

Another step in meeting the needs of children and families.

DeRonja said, “Now that we have moved into our new home, my biggest dream is to discover the “what’s next” that the community needs from SAFEchild and for these dreams to be community informed and to reflect a diverse voice that furthers SAFEchild’s mission of making sure all children thrive in nurturing and loving environments.”

Thank you, SAFEchild for your tireless work on behalf of our children!

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