Fate leads business grad to higher calling

By BRITTANY WALLACE/Montana State News

The future isn’t always what you expect. Sometimes, it’s so much better. Such is the case for Christel Chvilicek, the grants and sponsorship manager at the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit that works to bring education to children around the world, especially where no other education options are available.

Chvilivek works in their development office here in Bozeman, heading up grant sponsorships and major donations. It’s her job to acquire and manage funds for the institute.

Christel’s passion for the cause shines through when she talks about the importance of their work. She speaks of the options opened up by education; the opportunities children have when they get to choose their own futures, without necessarily having to follow a family tradition, or in simply achieving more than what’s expected of them.

“Without education, who are you? If you can’t go to school as a kindergartener, what will you do with your life?” she asks. As she talks about personal choice and letting children around the world explore and find what they love, it’s obvious that she’s doing what she loves as well.

“It’s so unique and so different than what we do here in the United States,” she says enthusiastically, tucking her short blond hair behind her ear.

With a husband, two sons, and two dogs, she is far from bored during her time spent away from the office. They can often be found camping, boating, wakeboarding, or hiking with their dogs. Anything to spend a little time in nature, especially with the kids.

Having been born and raised in Montana, Bozeman is littered with Chvilicek’s family members. She’s got two older brothers and 12 cousins here, and her grandmother has 21 great grandchildren residing locally.

The full life that she’s built here is far from what Chvilicek originally imagined for herself while getting her business management degree from MSU. At the time, she had every intention of moving to New York City to work on the 100th floor of some skyscraper, far away from Big Sky Country.

Instead, when her grandfather got sick after Chvilicek graduated from college, she took a sales job in Bozeman and stayed to take care of him. She hated working in sales. “I felt like I was working for the man, and I wanted to get away from that,” she explains.

“I decided to cash in my 401k and travel for a bit,” she says, “and eventually I landed a random job at a nonprofit.” That was the Human Resource Development Council, where she worked for their Head Start program. It was her first foray into the world of education. It’s where she fell in love with her field, and decided to get a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Walden University.

From the HRDC, Chvilicek moved on to the YMCA. She eventually became their Early Learning Director, and worked with kids ages two to five, providing programing and early education for families in the community.

In August 2015 she transitioned from helping families in Montana, to helping provide education in countries around the world, when she got a job at the Central Asia Institute.

Since then Chvilicek has fallen completely in love with the organization and its goals. According to her, the job would be very difficult otherwise.

“You can’t work for a non-profit without really believing in their mission, especially when you’re asking people for money,” she states.

After spending nine years working for different nonprofits, “I see myself being here for quite a while,” she says, “There’s a lot of great opportunities.”

Chvilicek’s job now focuses specifically on the financial side of things, which for a nonprofit, isn’t always easy. As well as the grants and donors Chvilicek works with, the Central Asia Institute also has a campaign called Pennies for Peace.

Organization co-founder Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time, states, “they did it with something that is basically worthless in our society – pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains.” Chvilicek keeps the organization afloat, coalescing sometimes meager sums into big differences that change people’s lives.

For now, Chvilicek aims to enjoy the family she loves, in the city she loves, while making sure the organization she loves’ future is secure. Her goal is to ensure that they at the institute continue forward in ways that are financially responsible.

“I believe nonprofits need to be run like a business,” she says firmly.

She’s says she is determined to help further the institute’s mission, and hopes to become a Certified Fundraising Executive in order to facilitate the building schools and establishing sustainable education all over the world.

As their website says, “It’s CAI’s philosophy that people don’t need a hand out, but a hand up.”

– Edited by Anson Nygaard

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