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A half-century of compassion

Nancy Keating celebrates 50 years at Challenge Enterprises

Posted 9/14/23

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – When Challenge Enterprises opened in Clay County in 1972, the organization that provides support, empowerment and training to residents with different disabilities needed a full-time employee to organize their many programs.

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A half-century of compassion

Nancy Keating celebrates 50 years at Challenge Enterprises


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – When Challenge Enterprises opened in Clay County in 1972, the organization that provides support, empowerment and training to residents with different disabilities needed a full-time employee to organize their many programs.

That person was Nancy Keating.

Her hire date was Sept. 4, 1973. She celebrated her 50th anniversary with the organization. But she recently informed the board of directors there won’t be a 51st celebration.

After serving the needs of residents with different abilities to embrace their challenges so they can become enterprising members of the community, Keating plans to step from her desk and onto the tee box at the end of the year.

“I do plan to retire,” she said. “And so the board has set up a leadership transition committee. The story has been for my tenure at Challenge Enterprise, but I promised the Board of Directors I’d give them two good years when I started.”

The board discounted Keating’s suggestions of retirement. Two years turned into 10, then 10 to 20. And 30. And 40. And 50. Now, she plans to spend more time on the golf course. And she meant it.

Now, the organization has to find just its second chief executive director since Richard Nixon was the president and the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed Roe v. Wade.

“I think it’s time for somebody else to have the privilege of leading this incredible organization, you know,” she said. “Now they know I’m serious.”

Keating left an indelible mark on the county, but none more impactful than putting hundreds of residents with challenges to work.

“I can think of no one better characterized as a true pillar in our community,” said The Way Free Medical Center Executive Director Don Fann.

Challenge Enterprises isn’t a daycare for those with disabilities. According to its website, it provides individuals with unique intellectual, physical, social and emotional needs to live an active, productive and rewarding life.

For many, that means earning a paycheck – and their dignity.

“Nancy Keating’s tireless efforts in championing the cause of people with differing abilities and providing them with meaningful employment have created a brighter future for countless individuals, said Impact Clay President and CEO Connie Thomas. “Her dedication exemplifies the power of inclusivity and the potential within each person.

“Through her work, she has not only transformed lives but also shattered stereotypes, proving that everyone deserves the chance to contribute and thrive.”

Keating works primarily out of the Green Cove Springs headquarters, but she’s also responsible for an office in Orange Park. There, members receive adult day training, residential and supported living supervision, participate in recreation and job training that includes job searching, resume writing, interview skills, workplace etiquette, job-specific skills, conflict resolution, time management, transportation and community competitive employment.

“Nancy Keating is a pioneer who has set a high bar for transformative leadership. Her passion, inventiveness, and unwavering conviction elevate the lives of individuals with disabilities and the broader community,” said Amy Parker, Executive Director of The Paul E. and Klare N. Reinhold Foundation, Inc.

“Her dedication to promoting the potential of those often marginalized demonstrates a deep commitment to social impact. The significant growth of her organization is a testament to her effective leadership, innovative thinking, and ability to rally others around a shared mission. Her position as a leading figure in transforming challenges into opportunities highlights her ability to envision a better future and make it a reality.”

The Reinhold Foundation awards $100,000 to Clay County nonprofits every year, and the group was so impressed with the work at Challenge Enterprises that it won the top award of $10,000 in 2011 for the Community Service Award and another $7,000 in 2021 as one of two Judges’s Choice Awards.

“The sustainable business model she has developed, with a Social Entrepreneurial approach at its core, is a shining example of how social good and financial viability can go hand in hand,” Parker said. “This model not only meets the needs of challenged individuals but also exemplifies the concept of self-sufficiency, earning a substantial portion of funding through service contracts with government entities and private industry.”

Keating also was the first recipient of the Extraordinary Executive Director Award from Celebrate Clay.

Challenge Enterprises currently has 265 members employed. Together, they’ve already earned nearly $2.2 million. One of the organization’s most prominent projects is Shred for Good, which has destroyed as much as 5,000 pounds of personal documents daily.

“I first met Nancy in 1994 when I started at CBHC (Clay Behavioral Health Center),” Irene Toto, CEO of CBHC, said. “We had a small vocational program, and Nancy and her team contacted us about employment opportunities for our clients to work at the base commissary. In the years since we’ve had many opportunities to collaborate. I’ve always appreciated her knowledge and her sense of humor.

“She not only challenges the individuals she serves to achieve great things, but she also challenges each of us to see opportunities to build a stronger, healthier community where everyone matters. I’m proud to call her a colleague and friend.”

In less than four months, it will be somebody else’s job to continue the work, and it will be a tough act to follow.

“We have staff who can help them find a good fit,” she said. “We have dignity in our work. We have socialization. We’re recognized for our good, the good things that we do. You can’t put a price tag on that, which has much greater value than just your paycheck.

“It’s a it’s a commitment to your social well-being in the society where you live. Everybody needs a chance to contribute to improve the quality of life.”