For the first time since its inception, the Avedis Foundation — which literally means bearer of good news — is actually sharing some bad news — CEO Michelle Briggs officially retired Friday. But, the good news bounced right back with the announcement that Briggs' successor will be former board member Kathy Laster, who begins her new role of leading the nonprofit Monday.

For the first time since its inception, the Avedis Foundation — which literally means bearer of good news — is actually sharing some bad news — CEO Michelle Briggs officially retired Friday. But, the good news bounced right back with the announcement that Briggs' successor will be former board member Kathy Laster, who begins her new role of leading the nonprofit Monday.

The foundation has spent the past five years establishing itself as a driving force behind the goal of betterment for the community — and the county; all with Briggs at the helm.

Through the changeover, Briggs said she has agreed to stay close by as a consultant — remaining available to Laster for the next several months.

“It's the end of an era,” Laster said.

The challenge now, she said, will be sustaining the many programs Avedis has under its wing and keeping the momentum to see them through.

The change is well-timed; for the next year or two, while the organization takes a breath to transition, Laster said Avedis will continue to follow the path it began — helping current programs and projects get on their feet.

After that, she said some of those resources will become available to bring about more opportunities.

“We have big decisions to make as we carve out the next phase of our foundation’s history,” Laster said.

In hindsight, Briggs said the nonprofit's success has been overwhelming.

“I'm not sure I knew enough to think big,” Briggs said of the organization's beginning. “I knew $5 million a year would make a difference, but not until we started thinking strategically did we know how large it would be.”

As the foundation has moved forward Briggs said the outcome has been unbelievable.

“What we've been able to accomplish has exceeded my expectations in many ways,” she said. “It's been an honor to be part of and assist in something that has made such a difference in the community; it was a phenomenal way to end my working career.”

Briggs said the foundation's mission remains focused on a balance of two areas: social services and wellness.

Shawnee City Manager Justin Erickson has worked with Briggs on several of Avedis Foundation’s projects. "Her entire career has been about breaking barriers and expanding opportunities," Erickson said. “I know firsthand that Michelle Briggs has made a dramatic difference in the quality of life for thousands of individuals in this city and throughout the region."

Avedis Foundation Board Chair Mike Adcock agreed.

“Michelle’s consistent ability to care for others has distinguished Avedis as one of our state's leading foundations,” he said.

She has been seen as a leader among her peers for many years, he said, and Avedis' reputation and performance have benefitted from both her leadership and her guidance.

“We will miss these qualities and we will certainly miss Michelle as our CEO,” he said.

Adcock said Laster will bring with her valuable institutional knowledge of Avedis, as she has been a valued board member for many years.

“I look forward to carrying out the important work of the Avedis Foundation, helping continue to evolve its strategic vision and path forward, and leading a team effort with the foundation’s exemplary staff, the board, and our community partners to achieve great things for Pottawatomie County and our surrounding communities,” Laster said.

Avedis beginning

With assets in excess of $100 million, Avedis Foundation is one of Oklahoma’s larger foundations.

Briggs assumed the foundation’s leadership role at the time of its formation in June, 2012, following the sale of Unity Health Center to SSM Health Care/St. Anthony Shawnee. The sale prompted the establishment of a foundation from Unity’s former board, known as Community Health Partners. Briggs joined the Community Health Partners board in 1996, serving as its chair for the last six years before the transition and negotiating the sale of the hospital to St. Anthony.

Under Briggs’ leadership of nearly six years, Avedis has issued more than $19 million in grants to numerous organizations in Shawnee and Pottawatomie County, in fulfillment of the foundation’s mission “to measurably improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the people of Pottawatomie County and its surrounding communities.”

During her tenure at Avedis Foundation, Briggs has also overseen numerous projects, initiatives, and partnerships benefiting the communities within the foundation’s service area. Some of those include:

• Collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) for the construction of trails in six Pottawatomie County communities;

• Establishment of a citywide Master Trail Plan, in partnership with the City of Shawnee, consisting of planned trails to be constructed in four phases and to be funded over five years; the completed project, which will provide a network of walkability across Shawnee for years to come, is currently in Phase 2;

• Launch of Oklahoma’s first Blue Zones Project (Shawnee); Blue Zones is a nationally recognized, research-driven, well-being improvement initiative, designed to enable community members to live longer, happier lives with lower rates of chronic diseases and a higher quality of life;

• Construction of Avedis Park at Shawnee Middle School, a $1.5 million project that includes four multi-purpose courts, an outdoor amphitheater, an outdoor classroom, and a walking/biking trail which is open to the school and to the entire community;

• Construction of the Shawnee Water Park, the Maud swimming pool, numerous splash pads, school security systems, and playgrounds throughout Pottawatomie County and surrounding communities;

• Partnership with the Regional Food Bank for the establishment of the Community Market of Pottawatomie County, a client-choice, free grocery store, available to anyone in need of nutritious food;

• Funding for and collaboration with the Partners in Caring education initiative, which consists of a collaboration of numerous agencies in service of children;

• Establishment of Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County, a relational program designed to put intentional caring back into our neighborhoods, to provide free summer camps and after-school programs for children through the construction of the program’s first "Friendship House,” currently underway, with a second in the planning stages;

• Funding a licensed cosmetology school at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud; the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma, the program allows inmates to become licensed prior to their release from prison;

• Establishment of Shawnee’s annual Health Week, engaging the community through different events every day and culminating in a Glow Run;

• Establishment of the Avedis Nonprofit Leadership Institute; in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and independent consultants, the focus of the Avedis program is to enhance the capacity of area nonprofits through courses in marketing, board development, strategic planning, and more;

• Establishment of the Avedis Speaker Series, which brings nationally renowned speakers to Pottawatomie County to broaden knowledge and thinking on various topics.

For more information, visit the Avedis Foundation website, at avedisfoundation.org.

For more

Watch The Shawnee News-Star in coming weeks for an update on the new Avedis Headquarters under construction. Briggs said completion of the site is still on target for its Fall deadline.