The CEO of Volunteers of America draws inspiration from those she helps.
No acrylic figurine, plaque, trophy or certificate memorializes Pam Richardson’s achievements. She has plenty of them, but for the president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Oklahoma, success is reflected in the accomplishments of the disabled, disadvantaged and homeless Oklahomans her organization assists.
To call her passionate would minimize her energy. She sets her goals high, and she meets challenges with a smile. Richardson expects the best of people. As a result, those who work with her and those she serves seem quite willing to answer her challenges with their best. Richardson is the kind of person you’d want to pick you up, dust you off and tell you that you can do it after you fall off your bike, because you would absolutely believe her.
After nearly 19 years at Merrill Lynch, Richardson began contemplating new challenges. Her son suggested she needed a new mountain to climb. This sage advice put her on a path that included acting as executive director at The Bridges Foundation, completing an MBA, working as associate vice president of development at OSU and executive director Resonance Center for Women before taking the reins at Volunteers of America nearly a year ago.
Oklahoma Magazine: How has your first year at VOA been?
Pam Richardson: I absolutely love it. There has been a tremendous amount of personal growth. There are challenges, of course. I love this kind of challenge. It is just who I am. It is so diverse, and there is just so much to do every day. And every solitary day I go home and I’ve had a good day.
OM: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
PR: My favorite of all is a coloring book picture of a penguin that one of our little clients colored in orange and black because I’m an OSU fan. I still have that. I have a whole box of mementos, and those are my rewards
Once I was out at a fast-food chain and saw a woman that I remembered working with at Resonance. I couldn’t approach her to protect her privacy. But she remembered me. She came up to me because she wanted to tell me how she had her children back and she was in school and she was working. Her success is the accomplishment.
I have had an interaction with a gentleman who was previously homeless. He is working now. He got his first microwave oven, and he can cook warm food. When he described what that was like to me, he said, “I got my understanding about life back.” I thought, “Wow. This is what life is really about.” That is an accomplishment.
OM: What do you attribute your success to?
PR: I don’t see myself as successful at all. I see myself as a very, very blessed individual. I had great parents. I had a great upbringing. I had a great education. And I have always had a great job. I look at the people we work with and that is how I measure my success: in their success. How can we help them overcome their obstacles? This is what makes me successful. It is not about anything else.