GLADWIN COUNTY – The communities of Gladwin County will see a change in local leadership as Yvette Keast, Executive Director of the Gladwin County Chamber of Commerce moves into a new role at the Sacred Heart Mission. 

Yvette is preparing for her final day as the chamber’s executive director this Friday (Feb. 12). 

“I’m very excited to get started at the mission,” Yvette said. 

She will take on the Operations Manager title at the Sacred Heart Mission in Gladwin the following Monday (Feb. 15). The current Operations Manager, Aggie Mackie will be retiring from her role at the mission on Feb. 26, but not from her role in the community. 

“I’m retiring because my husband is retired and wants to actually enjoy his retirement,” Aggie laughed. “It’s heartfelt that I’m retiring because the volunteers and the workers are the core of the mission, and I’m going to miss all of them; we’re kind of like a little family. And just because I’ll no longer be the coordinator, doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to be active with the mission or the community.”

Yvette and Aggie both started in their jobs in 2015. Aggie became the operations manager for the mission in March, and Yvette became the executive director for the chamber in June. Each, with just under six years of experience in their roles, have chosen to continue their community leadership in other areas. 

The Sacred Heart Mission is a non-profit organization that takes in donations ranging from non-perishable food items to clothes and furniture that are in good condition. They are able to aid families and individuals in need with their donations as well as by selling donated items at their store. With these sales, they fund emergency needs and necessary assistance such as energy bills and prescription costs. If there is a loss due to disasters such as a fire, the mission offers food, clothing and household items for those who have been displaced. 

“Sacred Heart Mission is a faith based organization,” Aggie said. “At the mission we try to be God’s hands and feet.”

The Sacred Heart Mission has served the communities of Gladwin County for over 40 years. The mission began in an old stone school building that was associated with the Sacred Heart Church. According to Aggie, the mission’s origins can be traced back to women who were creating rags for the war effort in the basement of the old school building. Over time, instead of rags, they would collect clothes that they would donate and then sell in order to purchase food and other essential items for those in need. Aggie believes that as the mission grows, the impact they are able to make becomes greater. 

“It’s much bigger now,” Aggie said. “And some of those ladies who started it many years ago are still volunteering at the mission.”

The mission had been looking for a new operations manager for awhile, and once Yvette showed interest in the role, things began to move very quickly for her. 

“We wanted someone who knows the community and who has a heart for the community and she was definitely a great choice,” Aggie said. 

During the May flood disaster, Yvette kept herself busy by doing everything she could to help with relief efforts. She was able to bring in support from all over thanks to the various connections she had made during her time as chamber director. She credited both the emergency personnel for their continued support and the many community leaders for their selflessness dedication during the recovery period. The community had come together in many ways to provide aid, and Yvette was no exception. 

“I had gone to the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to meet with Cristy Gutierrez who had been in charge of the area while Bob North (Emergency Manager) was away,” Yvette said. “We met for a morning meeting and I said ‘you need help, how can I help?’ After that, I jumped in to help where I could.”

Eventually Yvette took over and managed the volunteer center for the EOC, dispensing volunteers out to homes in need of assistance and performing background checks on potential help. According to Yvette, she had a devoted crew of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members and volunteers that made her role at the volunteer center much easier. 

“If it wasn’t for the people who help us in these roles, it would be nearly impossible,” Aggie said. 

Yvette believes that the timing is good for the new transition. She has her mind set on an eventual retirement that would have been difficult for her to do as the executive director. She expressed how the pandemic has affected the chamber in its support role for local businesses. As the executive director, Yvette was working to relay communications for small business relief in Gladwin County during the COVID-19 shutdowns while the chamber itself, being a non-profit small business, hadn’t qualified for a majority of the grants available.  

“I am walking away from the chamber knowing that it is a stronger entity than what it was when I arrived,” Yvette said. “And when they find the right person to come in here and take over the chamber, they’re going to be set up for success.”

She mentioned that she had created an “operations manual” for the next person who takes the executive director position in hopes that it will help them in learning the ropes.

Yvette has left big shoes to fill for the next person to take the job. She has been a part of major projects during her time with the chamber such as the Michigan’s Backyard multi-marketing rebrand for all of Gladwin County. During Project Rising Tide, when the cities received state funding to improve upon the communities, Yvette and the chamber board saw an opportunity to collaborate in rebranding the county with the cities to appeal to a broader demographic. This created a similar branding for the cities and county while keeping their community uniqueness. 

After years of planning and development, the chamber and the Gladwin County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held a public launch for Michigan’s Backyard in early March which focused on providing local businesses and organizations with the means to promote the county in a new and exciting way. Yvette believes that the COVID-19 pandemic (beginning shortly after the launch) affected the momentum of the project, but also showcased Michigan’s Backyard as a strong branding for the communities and businesses to use for marketing and promoting. 

Yvette also brought a new format to the chamber directory with Stearns Marketing. According to her, the old directory was printed on newsprint and had distorted images and text, whereas now, the directory is presented as a professional-style booklet for local businesses and organizations to display. 

She credits her ability to make the many business connections and building business/chamber relations as her most challenging and most proud accomplishments as executive director. 

“One of the assets I have from being in the chamber and going into this position is the business connections and non-profit connections that I’ve made,” Yvette said. “A lot of the people that Aggie would have had to introduce me to, I already know.”

One of Yvette’s final acts as executive director was assisting the board with the development of a Michigan’s Backyard mobile app. The app’s development has been an extensive and exciting process according to Yvette and the board hopes to will make it available by April 1. 

The app will include a business directory that will show local business phone numbers, addresses and website links; a business locator that will feature business mapping and a locator arrow for businesses; a landmarks locator that will include landmark mapping, including historic landmarks with provided information; and a community events section that will feature an event calendar and a website link to a list of local events, registration for the events will be available through the app. 

“It’s going to be a real struggle to find someone that works as hard as Yvette has for the county,” Bob Balzer, Gladwin County EDC and Gladwin County Chamber of Commerce Board Member said. 

According to the President of the Gladwin County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Angela Bigham, the executive director position has been posted for a couple of weeks. The board hopes to at least have an interim director in place after Yvette leaves with a more permanent individual in place as soon as possible. 

“We’re very happy for her, she will be hard to replace,” Angela said. “Everyone is sad to see her go, but glad she isn’t going too far.”

Yvette and Aggie both agree that community leaders will continue to be community leaders, even when it’s no longer in their job description. They have each had their own achievements in community leadership. As Yvette moves into her new position at the mission, she leaves a place open for a future leader to continue the goodwill.

“I have loved my chamber job,” Yvette said. “I hope they find someone here that has enthusiasm and passion for the community and the businesses. When you love where your living and you know that you can do good, you will.”

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