Photo by Sonshine Portrait Design
From sports to 4-H to student government, Carol Merna has been involved in leadership and community service activities since she was a child. At the age of 16, the Oklahoma native landed her first internship—for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives—and her real-world education has continued ever since through a series of trusted mentors and advisors.
Ray LaHood, then chief of staff to former Congressman Bob Michel, hired her for the congressman’s district office in 1989. “He taught me every day how to care for the congressman’s constituents,” Carol says, “and mentored me about the personal value in doing it well.” She went on to serve the 18th Congressional District for more than 25 years, working in and overseeing constituent and community service operations for three members of Congress.
Carol began her role as chief executive officer for the Center for Prevention of Abuse in 2015, guiding its mission to help all people live peaceful lives, free from violence and abuse. Among her early challenges, she successfully led the organization through the State of Illinois’ longest budget impasse while increasing its fundraising revenue. She has strengthened CFPA’s relationships with elected officials and policymakers, and created a new department dedicated to serving victims of human trafficking.
This year, she has guided the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic. As people stayed home to prevent transmission of the virus, many victims of abuse and domestic violence found themselves quarantined with their abusers. This crisis has increased the need for specialized social services at a time when traditional fundraising has been extraordinarily difficult. Under Carol’s direction, CFPA has explored new ways to address community and client needs, while ensuring its professional staff remains readily available to assist anyone who is in danger or in need of safe shelter or crisis intervention.
Carol has been named Federal Executive of the Year, Illinois Rural Partner of the Year and ATHENA International Woman of the Year, and she was a finalist in NexStar Broadcasting’s nationwide “Remarkable Women” campaign earlier this year. Peoria Magazines has previously honored her as a Woman of Influence (2015), and among the third class of 40 Leaders Under Forty (1996). Now we are pleased to name her the 2020 40 Leaders Alumnus of the Year!
On Thursday, August 27, 2020, Peoria Magazines will honor Carol Merna and her accomplishments at a virtual celebration on Facebook Live at 4:00pm CDT. Please mark your calendars and join us to celebrate this remarkable community leader, friend and colleague! PS