Larry Elsner

Larry Elsner
  • Name
  • Larry Elsner
  • Title
  • Executive Director
  • Organization
  • Open Door Preschools
  • Years as Executive Director
  • 13 years

  • What does your organization do?
  • I think our mission statement says it all: We nurture and inspire young children of diverse needs, economic levels, and family backgrounds in an engaging educational environment. We’re unusual in Austin in that we bring together families across the socioeconomic spectrum.
  • How did you become interested in this work?
  • My background was in social work but I had worked in our family business for 20 years before returning to this sector. I had long been affiliated with Open Door—our daughter went there and I served on the board and even chaired it in the early 90’s—so when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance. I think the Board that hired me liked my combination of social services, business, and institutional history.
  • What drives your passion?
  • I believe that high quality early childhood education is the greatest anti-poverty program there is. This is a social justice issue and early education is an effective way of bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots. We get a lot of great feedback from our parents, former parents, and the community, which is a wonderful reminder of why I do this work when I’m mired in budgets, personnel issues, and clogged toilets.
  • Did you have a mentor or role model?
  • I did not have a formal mentor but Susan Eason of the Arc of the Capital Area took me under her wing. We knew each other through our bingo partnership (yes, we co-own River City Bingo along with 3 other non-profits) and she was generous with her advice, guidance, commiserating, and contacts. We remain good friends.
  • What's the biggest challenge in your work?
  • Our biggest challenge is trying to be affordable for families and paying our staff a living wage.
  • What's the best advice that you have ever received?
  • The best advice that I ever received was at my field placement at the VA when I was in graduate school. My supervisor pointed out that the programs within that system that were considered cutting edge and exemplary were the ones that broke the rules.
  • What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
  • - Find your tribe. Early on, I joined a group for new ED's that Greenlights set up. Julia Spann, Dan Pruett, Regina Rogoff, Alan Graham, and a couple of others were all newbies together. Being an ED can be incredibly isolating, even if you’re around people all of the time, and other ED’s tend to understand the pressure one feels.

    - Be straight with your Board and straight with your staff. We’re all in this together.

    - Don’t be intimidated by what other nonprofits seem to have. Envy is ugly and this isn’t a competition (although sometimes it feels that way).

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