After growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and living 15 years in Trumbull, Conn., John Tighe (pronounced “tie”) moved to Colorado Springs with his wife Shari in 1997. Being fond of golf and skiing and having traveled all over the world (London is one of his favorite spots), he knew Colorado would be the right environment. After living on the East Coast, he and his family preferred the friendly environment here, not to mention the mountains. Tighe took time recently for a live interview with the Business Journal to discuss his career change and what motivates him.
How did your career background prepare you for your role as CEO of the Pikes Peak Community Action Agency?
I’d spent most of my life in the corporate world back in Connecticut for Cadbury Schweppes and bought a division with several other executives and ran it for about eight years, which gave me a great entrepreneurial background. Then my family and I moved to Colorado Springs in 1997 to be closer to the rest of our family. We already loved Colorado and we came out here three to four times a year to ski. My wife Shari was a flight attendant, so she could just fly back to Philadelphia to go to work.
I worked out of the Springs for a while, until we decided to divest the company, and I got into real estate then. For two years I worked for a company and then started my own. I ran that for about six years until the market really turned down in 2008, and I closed the company.
In 2004, I had joined the board of the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. I was there for six years, until term-limited, and left as chairman of the board, and that’s where I got my nonprofit experience. At that point, while working for another real estate company, I heard about this position. I really enjoyed helping families when I was with the Alzheimer’s Association, and this is similar — helping families and children in need. I decided I wanted to get back into the nonprofit sector as a career.
What are your goals for Pikes Peak Community Action Agency for the next two years?
We need to increase our individual donor and corporate sponsorships, and we want to be more resourceful and entrepreneurial to raise money. We’ll be looking at social enterprise to raise additional funds. And, of course, brand awareness — basically, getting people to know who we are and what we do. We’ll be hiring a development officer early next year, and we just hired a new grant writer.
What has been the highlight during your tenure at PPCAA?
Combining the two offices together in August. We had three programs at the Norvell Simpson Center and clothing and food pantry donations the Billie Spielman Center on the Westside. It’s worked out very well for us to have the offices combined and under one roof. And in September, we had our annual fundraising event, Groovin’, which was dinner, live auction, silent auction, a jazz band during cocktail hour and the Nostalgics later in the evening — and with this great staff I have, we were able to raise about two times more than the prior year. So we will definitely keep the event for next year — and find a way to celebrate and showcase our 50 years in El Paso County in 2014.
What legacy do you hope to leave for PPCAA?
We need to get the word out about who we are so we can help more people. There’s a great need in this community — about 14 percent of children are living in poverty here, which is one in seven children. Colorado has one of the fastest growing child poverty rates in the nation. I can’t stand to see a child not have an opportunity in life. I just can’t stand it. I want to make sure we help more people every year to be self-sufficient and stay off government assistance. Once people get on government assistance, they tend to lose their self-independence. They may turn down jobs so they won’t lose food stamps. We want to make some bold moves — knowing that some will work and some might not, but if you don’t move, you stay static.
In general, some government grants are shrinking, and therefore, as an agency, we need to be more self-sufficient. We are the No. 1 referral agency for the Pikes Peak United Way 2-1-1 program. We received about 4,100 phone calls in 2012 from 2-1-1.
What can people do to improve the climate for nonprofits in Colorado Springs?
I think the community needs to realize more about nonprofits in the Springs. Nonprofits employ about 17,000 people in the area, which makes them about the seventh largest employer in El Paso County.
At Pikes Peak Community Action Agency, our primary focus is to increase the capacity of low-income individuals and families and keep them off government assistance. In 2012, we served 15,000 individuals with over 20,000 services in El Paso County.
We’re not a hand-out agency — we’re a hand-up agency.
What does your agency do that you’re most proud of?
Each year, on Christmas Day, we present Miracle on Tejon, which is sponsored by CraftWorks Foundation. About 400-500 of our clients come to Old Chicago on Tejon Street and have a holiday meal, and Santa Claus hands out gifts to the children. For most of those children, that’s the only gift they’ll receive.
I’m really proud of our employees that they don’t mind working on Christmas to help our clients. They all work whenever we need them. They don’t hit the road at 5 o’clock. Nonprofits are different. Our staff is instrumental in making our agency help keep people self-sufficient.