Sunflower Hill will have a new leader after Executive Director Edie Nehls announced she will be stepping down at the end of this month from the Tri-Valley nonprofit that aims to provide residential and vocational opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Nehls, who became the first executive director for the budding nonprofit when she was hired in May 2018, oversaw the organization through the construction and opening of its Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch housing complex as well as led its response and shift in programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janet Cohen, who has experience leading and consulting for nonprofits supporting people with developmental disabilities, has been brought on board as interim executive director at Sunflower Hill. Cohen and Nehls will be working together this month toward a smooth transition.
Reflecting on her time as executive director, Nehls said her tenure with Sunflower Hill "an incredible opportunity."
"It has been very gratifying to work with the Board of Directors to professionalize and grow the organization; it was also inspiring to work alongside such skilled, compassionate and talented staff to strategically pivot our programs and activities in response to COVID-19," Nehls told the Weekly.
"We are all very pleased that the changes we made expanded our reach and offered program participants ways to engage with our programming in their home environments to further develop their independent living skills," she added.
Of her resignation, Nehls said, "while it was not an easy decision to make, I am leaving Sunflower Hill to pursue other opportunities." She did not specify her next professional destination.
Nehls is set to remain with Sunflower Hill through the end of October, according to Kathy Layman, president of the nonprofit's Board of Directors.
"Edie's enthusiasm and professionalism has been an incredible asset to Sunflower Hill, and she will be missed," Layman said in a statement. "Thanks to Edie's efforts, I am incredibly optimistic about the future of Sunflower Hill."
Looking ahead, Layman said Cohen has the ideal range of nonprofit experience to lead Sunflower Hill during this time of transition.
"We are very excited to be working with Jan as we begin our search for a permanent executive director to lead us into the future. The wealth of expertise and skills that she brings strengthens our position as we prepare for significant growth over the next few years," the board president said.
Cohen previously worked as the director of new business ventures at Hope Services in the South Bay for three years. She also served as an affiliate consultant with CompassPoint nonprofit services, a senior consultant with the National Center for Social Entrepreneurs and CEO of Project HIRED, a nonprofit employment service serving individuals with disabilities.
She also has experience in interim executive positions for groups focusing on disability services and resources, according to Sunflower Hill officials.
"I am looking forward to having a positive impact during this transition by supporting staff and the board, while assisting with exploration and ideas for future services and funding for this very important and valued non-profit organization," Cohen said in a statement.
"There is a huge need for housing and engaging activities for individuals with disabilities. It's important and exciting to work with an organization that is doing an amazing job in providing both of these," she said.
The nonprofit has formed a Search and Transition Committee to recruit for the next permanent executive director, according to Layman.
Among the key efforts ongoing for the nonprofit is the development of a proposed 38-unit Sunflower Hill at Lafayette Lane residential community for adults with developmental disabilities in Lafayette -- following a similar model to that used to bring to fruition Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch. The 31-unit affordable housing complex near downtown Pleasanton was completed in September 2020 after nearly a decade of planning, fundraising, public review and construction.
Sunflower Hill also focuses on education and vocational opportunities for local residents with developmental disabilities, including through its Sunflower Hill Gardens and now a range of online activities.