August Changemaker — Sherry Ristau

August Changemaker — Sherry Ristau

Sherry Ristau, President & CEO, Community Foundation of the Great River Bend //

Quad Cities has a very interesting dynamic. Can you talk a little bit about it?
My husband Bruce and I moved to the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities three years ago so I could take the leadership role at the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend (CFGRB).  Today it is truly our home and one of the best things for us is we now live in a community where my friends and family want to visit and spend the whole weekend! With beautiful Mississippi Riverfronts, our bi-state community includes both Iowa and Illinois and a ton of great FUN with lots of both cultural and physical opportunities.

One of the things I noticed right away, both in my role as the President and CEO of CFGRB and as a proud Quad Citizen, was the ways in which individuals, businesses and nonprofits in both states use the river as an opportunity—to build bridges among our Quad Cities communities to support one another and make this a totally awesome place to live, work and play.

What kind of infrastructure and relationship building is necessary for cities to create collaboration between other cities and even states?
The Quad Cities is actually made up of five (and more)—not four—communities: Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side, and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline on the Illinois side. There are those things that are common among these five communities, and many things that are unique to each city.  It’s a huge asset to have many communities make up the Quad Cities.

All the different personalities and politics of being so many cities and being bi-state requires, as we’ve heard so often at CEO for Cities gatherings and in our work with the Quad Cities Chamber’s Q2030 Regional Action Plan, strong relationships… built on absolute trust. Trust is the foundation from which all of our work builds. When we are deliberate, intentional and passionate about working with one another, no matter the side of the river we are on, the entire community flourishes.

What inspires you the most?
Every single day, I get to see philanthropy in its truest form—in the passion a new donor has for an issue in our community they want to tackle head-on, in the energy high school students bring to our Teens for Tomorrow Program, in the ways in which our board of directors and staff uncover new ways to connect donors to the greatest areas of opportunity in our region. I could go on and on.

We decided to invest in CEO for Cities last year to bring together leaders from different cohorts of our community—both seasoned and young professionals—engaged in the Q2030 Regional Action Plan so that we could catalyze our community’s talents and hopes and work side-by-side to make some real in-roads for the future. To see our business, government, nonprofit and social sectors working together reminds me what is possible in the years ahead.

Possibility. That’s what inspires me to do all we can to transform the region through the legacies of our donors of our Community Foundation.  And the possibilities our teenagers and young professionals are uncovering for the future of their Quad Cities.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 opportunities facing your city today?

  1. Q2030 Regional Action Plan
    We chose to participate in this community-wide effort lead by the Quad Cities Chamber because we see ourselves part of a larger vision to enhance our community. One of the opportunities we see coming out of Q2030 is the chance to think and act differently about the ways in which our community goes forward—and act on—ways to ensure our region is cool, creative, connected and prosperous (the four pillars of Q2030). In fact, we created a new grant program to encourage that thinking with our non-profits.
  2. Wealth Transfer in the Quad Cities
    Right now, we are experiencing one of the largest transfers of wealth in history—from one person to a beneficiary, and the depth of good that it could do for the people in the Quad Cities is unimaginable. By 2060, wealth transfer in the Quad Cities alone will total $36 billion. If we could capture just five percent of that, it would be $1.8 billion—or $81 million invested back in the community thru grants annually. As a comparison, last year we granted out nearly $10 million. Imagine the impact on our region!
  3. The New Bridge
    Construction is currently underway to connect Illinois and Iowa with a beautiful new bridge over the Mississippi River. It has been the catalyst for plenty of angst as we cross the river. But when I think of this new bridge, I can’t help but think what it means in the greater sense. Just as it is expected to create a viable lifeline among communities, we know our work—and the work of our donors—is a path toward a bright future for the Quad Cities.
  4. Adding one more – Our Changing Demographics
    As part of Q2030 and CEO for CITIES we have the opportunity to address and embrace being a welcoming and inclusive community.  Quad Cities leaders are actively engaged in making sure we address, learn, and build on our diversity and create opportunities that address equity for the future of our community.

What are one or two projects you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
There’s a lot happening at CFGRB right now, from working on a strategic framework for our future to a new effort to bring our donors together around field of interest funds that will address some of our greatest opportunities as region.

One of the things that immediately comes to mind is our Transformation Grants that we began awarding two years ago. In part inspired by community leaders, the grants demonstrate what is possible if we are purposeful in building relationships and bridging partnerships. The grant recipients thus far— the Quad Cities Housing Cluster, Opportunities Quad Cities, and the Women’s Leadership Council, Quad Cities Young Professionals —have opened our eyes further to the bigger thinking about what is happening in our community. With every grant we award, we learn how to be better, think better, live better, and care better.

What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
One of the coolest things about the cohorts we’ve brought to CEO for Cities has been the chance to collide with our community’s young professionals who are already taking on leadership roles in the Quad Cities. I’m thinking of people like Aaron Tenant, who sits on our board, and Sean Moeller, who is transforming the arts and culture scene in our region, or Kelly Thompson, our vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives in our office. Having their energy today makes me think differently, and want to be better.

My advice to them might be fairly simple: to simply think about leadership, both what it means to you and what you want your role to be. Leadership begins with one action that can have a ripple effect on one person, or thousands of people.  Like the ripples in our Mississippi we have growing ripples bringing lots of opportunities to the people of our Quad Cities.

Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know my first leadership award was playing basketball.  I have the honor of actually scoring the first two points for the first-ever women’s basketball team at Blue Earth High School back in Minnesota when I was a freshman in high school.  I was NOT a high scorer in my short basketball career, but I was a player who helped create future opportunities for young women to score many more points for the future of the program.

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