Van Go looks to continue art-based social service mission under new leader with corporate, nonprofit background

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lynne Green, left, who created Van Go Inc. 23 years ago, has recently retired as director of the nationally recognized public arts program for at-risk kids, and passed the job to the new executive director Carol Kobza.

A career path that included stints in the corporate and nonprofit worlds has prepared Carol Kobza to fill the big shoes left by Lynne Green at Van Go inc.

Kobza took over Jan. 15 as executive director of Van Go after Green, who founded the nonprofit in 1997 and was its executive director until her Dec. 28 retirement.

Green said Van Go is an arts-based social service agency that transforms the lives of the at-risk 14- through 24-year-olds it employs. The teens and young adults in the Van Go program are paid minimum wage as they work with artists to create public art, including the colorful benches that enliven the Lawrence landscape. Through the process, the teens and young adults learn the workplace values, such as showing up to work on time, that employers prize.

Although Van Go will be a new direction for her, she has been professionally active in the arts since 1996, Kobza said. She worked at Hallmark Cards Inc. from 1996 to 2007 — first, as the company’s art director, and then, as leader of its innovative team. In that latter position, she led in-house workshops on how to maintain  a creative spirit in the workplace. She also oversaw the introduction of Keepsake Kids, which resulted in $10 million of new revenue for Hallmark, Kobza said.

She became familiar with Lawrence from her time with Hallmark, Kobza said. As a condition of her position with Van Go, she will relocate from Prairie Village to Lawrence.

Kobza also has been an independent consultant since 2006, helping nonprofits with marketing, fundraising and event planning. From 2012 to 2015, Kobza served as executive director of the Bone Creek Museum of Agricultural Art in David City, Neb.

Kobza said working as a fundraising consultant taught her a valuable lesson about the relationship between donors and nonprofits.

“To me, fundraising is just like being a matchmaker,” she said. “It’s finding people who want to do good and matching them with the right agency so the donors feel like they are doing something valuable with their money they could not do on their own.”

Green said she was impressed with what Kobza will bring to the organization Green founded and led for 23 years, and is ready to turn over leadership of her “baby” to someone new.

“My son says Van Go is his sibling,” she said. “It’s like I’m letting another person adopt one of my children.”

Green said she founded what was then called Van Go Mobile Arts in 1997 after two years of preparation with a $2,000 grant from the Kansas Arts Commission and a donated Checker, a large car that once dominated American taxi fleets. The agency evolved into Van Go Inc. with its job training once it moved to its home at 715 New Jersey St. The building was purchased in 2005 and renovated through a project that started in 2007.

Green, who returned Wednesday from a vacation in Belize, said she will introduce Kobza to the ins and outs of Van Go and the Lawrence community through the end of January, and then step away from the organization.

“You want to let your successor grow and thrive without any interference from the old guard,” she said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help, but it’s not ideal to insert yourself into operations. I’m going to take a year sabbatical, do some traveling and regroup, and then find out what my next life will be like.”

Anthea Scouffas, Van Go board president, said Green left Kobza a great staff and an organization in sound financial shape.

“We have a very stable staff and are very stable financially with an endowment of more than $1 million,” she said. “I think Carol is someone who can step into those very big shoes and do very well. She will keep us on a steady course, but open new directions, as well.”

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