Catherine Meloy

Defining People

Everyday for the past fifteen years, Catherine Meloy’s phone has rung at precisely 6:03 AM. With gratitude and the day’s first smile on her face, she picks up to hear the voice of her 94-year-old father reciting the Lord’s Prayer. “Have a good day, Catherine Anne Cecilia,” he says, and then hangs up.

Each morning, Catherine knows her father will call her older sister first, then Catherine, and then her younger brother and sister in sequence. His warmth and dedication is reminiscent of his own mother, a lady who stood over six feet tall with a personality to match her height. She played the church organ for 74 years, often wearing a blue hat with a small veil over her face. “She was an incredible woman of God who made each and every one of us 23 grandchildren feel special and loved, always,” Catherine recalls. “I’ll never forget the time my father told my sister and I not to drive on country roads on our way to our grandmother’s house when we were teenagers. Of course we disobeyed and ended up sliding off the road. A farmer had to help us get it out, and it was caked with mud by the time we got to our grandmother’s house. We thought we were done for, but she never breathed a word of it to our father. She was always quietly supporting us in whatever way she could. When I think back through life, it’s not so much made special by defining moments, but by defining people.”

Now President of the Goodwill of Greater Washington, Catherine channels her energy into an organization that is dedicated to defining people—or, rather, to allowing people to define or redefine themselves. Goodwill is about enhancing the dignity and quality of life by helping people reach their full potential through education, skills training, and a good day’s work, concentrating on populations that are often discouraged from trying. “I’ve been so blessed through my entire career to work with incredibly bright, engaged, fun people who are passionate about what we do,” she says. “To me, what makes it all worthwhile are the people I work with and the people I work for.”

Founded in 1902 by the Methodist minister Edgar J. Helms, Goodwill is now comprised of over 160 separate community-based 501(c)(3) organizations across the country. As a common household name, Goodwill is generally associated with its over 3,000 retail stores, but its true power lies in its role as a path to employment and professional success for millions. In 2013 alone, over 260,000 people landed a job with Goodwill’s help, and 9.8 million people used the organization’s services to advance their careers and manage their finances.

Each Goodwill franchise pursues its own unique workforce development strategy, and Catherine has brought an entrepreneurial mindset to the approach of the Goodwill of Greater Washington. She was drawn to the social enterprising nature of the organization, wherein job training and placement could be paid for chiefly through its retail operations instead of through fundraising. In fact, of her $40 million annual budget, $28 million is furnished by its retail stores alone. Ten million dollars of revenue comes from the organization’s janitorial business, which employs people with disabilities on many contracts including contracts with the U.S. Senate Office Building, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, and Bolling Air Force Base. Only $2 million comes from grants and cash donations.

When Catherine took the helm as President in 2004, the organization had six retail stores and a $23 million budget eclipsed by its $24.5 million in expenses. Its job training program was minimal, and Catherine saw the potential. The organization has since grown to 15 retail stores and 800 associates, with plans to grow to 25 stores by 2020. Its training programs have expanded and evolved, now providing solid instruction in the hospitality, retail, and security and protective services industries. They also offer a three-week career navigation course designed to help trainees, particularly immigrants, with resume drafting, job searches, and online application completion.

The organization’s reach and legacy will be defined not only by what it has done, but also by what it will do. In 2012, the Marriott Marquis at the convention center in downtown DC put out a Request for Proposals to fulfill its commitment to partner with a nonprofit to train local residents to fill 51 percent of its jobs. Goodwill of Greater Washington won the $2 million contract and now heads up the training program, an honor that speaks to its reputation and potential. “Every single person on our team was involved in the success of that project,” Catherine recounts. “It means so much that Marriott and the District of Columbia were willing to entrust us with something so monumental.”

In fielding 3,000 applications to fill the training program’s 700 slots, Catherine was shocked to discover that 1,846 of those individuals could not pass a reading and math test beyond eighth grade, and most of them could not even test at a fourth grade level. As the scope of the problem unfolded, Catherine happened to visit the Goodwill of Indianapolis to observe transformational best practices for e-commerce, but far more valuable was her exposure to their adult charter schools. Designed for high school dropouts over the age of 18, the model eliminates two common barriers to education and employment training by providing childcare and transportation. “The District of Columbia is charter school-friendly, and 63,000 of its adult residents are high school dropouts,” Catherine explains. “If people are going to hold a job or create a career, they need more than a GED—they need an experience that teaches them how to think. And beyond that, they need a support structure where their children observe their commitment in working toward an education. We wanted to provide a holistic experience that breaks generational poverty in several key places along the chain.”

In May of 2015, the D.C. Public Charter School Board conditionally approved the Goodwill Excel Center, a 20,000 square-foot project serving 350 students annually. With the hard work, vision, and enterprising spirit that have come to be the hallmark of the organization’s ethos, it will be the first of multiple such schools throughout the District, providing case studies in success that might then be used to expand into Maryland and Virginia and change even more lives for the better.

Catherine may seem destined for the work she’s doing now, but it took a tremendous leap of faith from her comfortable decades-long career in the broadcasting business to get her here. Thankfully, she was raised on leaps. Born in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to a father who served in the Marines for 25 years, Catherine and her family spent her childhood moving to a new place every two years. All in all, she attended seven different schools growing up, but it taught her to embrace the thrill of change.  “My parents were incredibly good at making those moves fun and exciting, each one like a new adventure,” she remembers. “To this day, change doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes you fail and sometimes you win, but if you’re afraid of change, you miss out on so many great experiences. It created in me a willingness to embrace change in my own life and not be afraid of what the outcome might be, opening myself to God and possibility.”

Catherine’s mother, a quiet and loving woman who was a good balance to her father’s disciplinarian nature, navigated through life with an understated courage. At four years old, Catherine could sense a sadness permeating the home when her mother had two miscarriages, and then the joy that replaced it when her brother, Joe, was born. In the years that ensued, they moved from DC, to Georgia, to North Carolina, yet every summer they returned to their grandparents’ home in Teutoplois, Illinois, to reconnect with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins on their father’s side.

Catherine was the second of four siblings, and one of three girls, but always felt as though her home environment was pervaded by a sense of equality and fairness. “Our parents never treated the girls differently from our brother,” she reflects. “We all cut grass and did the dishes. Gender just wasn’t a thing in our household, and our parents recognized that all four of us are very different people. They really supported those differences and accepted all of us for who we are, and as a result, the four of us are very close. I have so much respect and appreciation for my parents for raising four children who are all very successful in their own right but never competed amongst each other. It’s a really wonderful thing.”

Growing up, Catherine always had a job, whether it was babysitting, working in retail, or ushering at the baseball stadium in college. Unlike her siblings, who dreamed of becoming doctors or professional golfers, she never really had a clear idea of what she wanted to be when she grew up. “When I look back at my career path, I’m amazed at how things evolved without a clear urge to do one thing,” she says. “I had a lot of freedom to explore.”

Her father retired when Catherine was 17, and the family moved to St. Louis. There, she finished high school and enrolled at Fontbonne University on scholarship. “I absolutely hate owing money to anyone, and by the end of my first two years there, I had racked up $10,000 in loans,” she recalls. “I decided to take a break from school to pay them down, but I ended up not returning. There was too much to do and learn in the real world, so it seemed silly to break myself off from that at any point.”

Through college, Catherine had worked as an usherette for the St. Louis Cardinals. When she decided not to return to school, she was offered the opportunity to work for Joe Torre and the team. “He was incredibly disciplined, motivational, and kind, and he thought I could do anything,” she reminisces. “He was great to have as my first boss.”

Two years later, she took a job as an assistant to a Sheraton Hotels general manager, who gave her the transformational piece of advice to get into sales. Before long, she had become the General Manager of a Sheraton hotel in Kansas City. Five years into her career in the hotel business, she attended a conference and met David Meloy, the most accepting and supportive human being she would ever encounter. She fell in love, and despite her parents’ skepticism, she picked up her life and moved to Boston to be with him.

In her new town, Catherine had no job and no contacts, but she certainly had spunk. She felt she and David couldn’t both be in the hotel business, so she decided to start an adventure in a different field. With that, she went out for a walk one day and wandered into the Prudential Building, where WEEI radio was housed. She walked into the offices and announced that she didn’t have an appointment, but she was in sales and looking for an opportunity. The General Manager happened to hear her as he came back from lunch and offered her a job, jumpstarting her decades-long career in broadcasting. Fortunately, Catherine entered broadcasting at time when the industry was looking for women to succeed, and she remembers a number of male mentors who helped elevate her along the way.

The profession proved stimulating and incredibly versatile. When David was transferred to New York, CBS was able to transfer Catherine as well. When they moved to Denver, she was welcomed into a General Sales Manager position with open arms. When David transferred to Washington in 1984, she landed a job with WMAL. In 1990, she went to work as General Manager of WGMS. Steven and Mitchell Rales of Danaher Corporation had purchased the station, along with John VerStandig, when she was General Manager, giving her the golden opportunity to work with them in transitioning WGMS-AM to WTEM Sports Talk 980. “It was the best business education I could have gotten,” she remarks. “They bought the radio stations for $30 million, acquired a couple of other stations, and sold them in the late 90’s for over $250 million. It was truly remarkable.” Two Washington stations (WGMS-FM and WBIG-FM) also won the prestigious Marconi Radio Award during her tenure as General Manager, and she’ll never forget the look of excitement on the faces of her team members when those announcements were made.

Catherine loved every moment of her 20 years in broadcasting. By 2004, she was serving as the General Manager for two Clear Channel radio stations. The sales departments of an additional 23 stations in the region reported to her. She loved the visibility and empowerment of the work, which compelled her involvement in boards and around the community. She had no plans to leave when she got a call from an old friend who worked as a headhunter for the McCormick Group, asking if she knew anyone who would be a good fit for the President of Goodwill of Greater Washington. They tossed around a couple of names and hung up, but he called back two minutes later to ask if Catherine herself would be interested. “I found myself saying yes,” she recalls. “When I hung up, I said, Dear Lord, where are you taking me?”

Catherine had already planned to leave for a two-week trip to Europe, but the board decided to hold the position open until they could meet her. While she was away, she reviewed the organization’s financials to find it was not on strong financial footing. But where many would have seen fear, Catherine saw challenge and opportunity.

She returned to the U.S. on a Friday, and at 7:00 AM the following morning, she came in for an interview. By the following Friday, the Goodwill Board had offered her the job, and she gave her resignation to Clear Channel. “If you had told me twelve years ago I’d end up at Goodwill, I would have thought you were crazy,” she laughs. “I didn’t know anything about Goodwill and had never been to one of their stores. But it was the best move I ever made.”

To keep the organization afloat, the Board had sold its headquarters building two years prior to Catherine’s arrival, and by the time she took the helm, the situation was dire. She knew she could turn the ship around, but she’d need to learn quickly. “The one thing I’ve always been good at is finding the best person to provide guidance on a given matter and then seeking their advice,” she says. “Unlike major companies like CBS and Clear Channel, where all the infrastructure and administrative decisions are ingrained and streamlined, we were faced with all the obstacles of a typical small business. How would we do our health care benefits and payroll system? What were the financial ramifications of cutting paychecks every two weeks versus once a month? There were all these minor considerations that added up to major challenges.”

Catherine hired the best CFO she could find—someone with a for-profit partner who could really become a partner. They dismantled and rebuilt their balance sheets, committing to run Goodwill as a business instead of a mission to make it sustainable. First, Catherine studied other Goodwill organizations and discovered that there was tremendous opportunity to improve in their back-of-house processes, ensuring that the product was brought fresh on the floor and rotated constantly. Together, she and her team turned the organization around in three years, and have since evolved it into the vibrant, dynamic, promising entity it is today.

While Catherine will give her all in the office everyday, she and her husband have a long-lived understanding that work stays at work. When they spend time together, they remain fully present in the activity at hand, whether it’s sailing, skiing, or sitting down to dinner together every night. “I grew up doing that, and I think it’s an important way to show what’s really important in life, which is family,” she explains. “We have both feet firmly planted in the marriage at all times, and that’s made such a difference. What’s more, David actually accepts everyone for who they are, which is an incredibly rare and invaluable trait. I’m blessed to live with a man who has never wanted me to change in any way, shape, or form, and never expected me to be anything I wasn’t. He’s supported me endlessly.”

Catherine and David have one child together and two children from his previous marriage. All three have grown up together thick as thieves, and the Meloys celebrated 35 wonderful years together in April of 2015. They’ll never forget the night in 1988 when their home in Old Town Alexandria caught fire, leaving them with only a suitcase of picture frames that a fireman had managed to save. “Like many people, we had amassed things in life—beautiful furniture, paintings, and some antiques,” she reflects. “When it all goes up in smoke, you can be the person who’s life has crumbled, or you can be the person who realized what’s really important. Watching it all burn, I realized that my husband was fine, and our one-year-old son was safe, and that’s what mattered.”

In advising young people entering the working world today, Catherine emphasizes the importance of being open to what we don’t know yet, and to what we can learn from others. “You can learn every single day of your life,” she says. “If you’re humble and you have a thirst to learn, you’ll do well no matter where you are. The more success you have, the more you’ll realize how much you have to learn, and how much we all rely on other people. That’s what makes the differences in people so great. We can shine a light on each others’ blind spots and fill each others’ weaknesses with strength.

“I always stand in awe of how life happens,” she affirms. “It’s all about defining people who expand our point of view, advance our thoughts and beliefs, and transform our understanding of what’s possible.”

Catherine Meloy

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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