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Leaving Her Mark
Tamara Zavislan’s Impact on the Community Reaches Far and Wide

February 2016


“You never know what kind of impact you’ll have on people,” says Tamara Zavislan. “Being present and available is what it’s all about.”

Zavislan’s impact on the northern Baltimore area began six years ago when she became the executive director of the Community Foundation of Harford County. She was its first full-time, paid employee. She recalls it as quite a challenge, but says the enthusiasm for the concept was present within the community. The Foundation was designed to promote and increase philanthropy by building and managing permanent endowments and gifts. It enables individuals, families and businesses to leave a legacy to benefit specific causes.

Her non-profit background made Zavislan the ideal person to lead the fundraising efforts for endowment grants, and she successfully opened five funds totaling $60,000 that first year. Today, the Community Foundation boasts 41 funds and $1 million. The Foundation has given $300,000 back to the community through scholarships and grants to various groups and individuals. Zavislan also proudly points out that the first fund she opened, the Ann K. Gaumond Fund, is still in the portfolio today.

While Zavislan says fundraising is always a challenge, she loves creating development programs that will encourage both individual and corporate giving. “Having the passion and believing in the cause enough to join in the mission is what makes someone successful at fundraising,” she explains. “Then, you have to be responsible for the investment and put it to the right use. You have to be credible in order to develop relationships with the donors.”

Zavislan says she has always wanted to help people and connect to them. From working at a summer camp for disabled children while in high school to getting a college degree in music therapy, she says she gravitated toward the helping professions. She spent 10 years as a music therapist and worked for the American Music Therapy Association, the Kardon Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Cleveland Music School Settlement, where she gained experience in non-profit administration. As she and her husband, Barry, moved around the country, Zavislan continued building programs and impacting lives.

She relates one story about a high school student in Philadelphia who wanted to volunteer at the Kardon Institute while Zavislan was executive director there. “I signed the paperwork and said yes, and didn’t give it a second thought,” Zavislan says. “That student eventually went to college for music therapy, graduated and got a paying job at the Kardon Institute. She called me specifically to tell me what an impact that first volunteer experience had on her!”

Zavislan’s influence will now reach wider than the Community Foundation. She recently took a new position at the Homeless Persons Representative Project, which she describes as, “a non-profit law firm that works with people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness to help them keep their housing.” The organization advocates for systemic changes to prevent homelessness and also runs a program to reduce homelessness among Veterans. She will be the first development director, giving her yet another opportunity to create something special that will have an impact on the community.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished at the Community Foundation,” Zavislan says. “I’ve done what I set out to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished.”

Indeed, the various funds continue to grow, and more are being opened. The Foundation reached $1 million in less than 10 years, a notable milestone. Zavislan helped to establish the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County, a group of women who commit to contribute in support of local programs serving women, children and their families. With 120 members currently, the group continues to welcome new members and give generously back to the community. Also under Zavislan’s leadership, the Community Foundation earned national accreditation for standards of excellence in community foundation best practices.

Zavislan leaves a legacy in Harford County, and she continues to encourage giving back to the community. “The Foundation was created by and for the people of Harford County. We help them tap into their inner philanthropist. Everyone can make a difference in the county.” She explains that a fund can be started with any amount of money – as little as $20. Businesses can also start funds. Donors specify how the funds should be used and in what geographic areas. To start a fund, donors should consider the causes or organizations they want to support, decide how the gift will be made – cash, stocks, life insurance, real estate, etc. – then finalize the details in a fund agreement that is executed by the Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.

As Zavislan moves on to create and build new frontiers in the non-profit world, she credits the non-profit leaders and volunteers with whom she has worked with being her role models along the way. She recalls a retired nurse who worked in a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C. “That nurse was a volunteer and every night she went out and cared for homeless men’s feet! I aspire to be like that nurse, caring and open and present,” Zavislan exclaims.

For her own volunteer efforts, Zavislan continues to foster her love of music by participating in the music ministry at her church, St. Francis de Sales, in Abingdon. She serves as the children’s choir director there. She also enjoys quilting and spending time with her husband exploring local
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