Touchstone Center for Crafts appoints New Director

Shauna Soom, Executive Director of Touchstone Center for Crafts

Shauna Soom, Executive Director of Touchstone Center for Crafts

Shauna Soom lends her extensive business experience to Touchstone Center for Crafts as its new executive director.

Shauna Soom began her tenure as executive director at Touchstone Center for Crafts in 2015, bringing with her vast experience in business and non-profit entities in particular.

Touchstone Center for Crafts, Pennsylvania’s only residential craft school, is tucked neatly among the beautiful Laurel Mountains in Farmington. In operation since 1972, Touchstone originally sought to preserve traditional mountain crafting techniques. Since that time it has evolved into a full service residential art school with courses ranging from blacksmithing to painting, drawing and printmaking. One look at Touchstone’s impressive gallery and it is apparent that this organization is something quite special.

Unless you have her resume in hand one would never know how accomplished a person Soom is. She is modest to a fault and exudes professionalism and small town charm in equal measure. Some prying reveals an impressive list of personal and professional achievements.

Shortly after earning a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology from the California University of Pennsylvania and beginning her career, Soom suspected her efforts might be better suited in another area. It was a chance meeting with a former professor at a shopping mall and his advice to not “punish yourself for the rest of your career for a decision that you made when you were 18” that inspired her to follow her instinct and pursue an MBA at Waynesburg University.

She earned her MBA while working full time at her current career in medical technologies.

As executive director at American Red Cross, River Valley Chapter, Soom oversaw service delivery for 18 counties as well as fundraising and ensuring all areas had sufficient resources.

It was during this period when she was put to the test. Hurricane Sandy had wreaked havoc on much of the east coast and its ripple effect was felt as far inland as Preston County, West Virginia. Substantial snowfall in this area resulted and many residents were left without heat and electricity for extended periods. To make matters worse, a lot of resources were justifiably being directed to those areas most affected, New Jersey and New York. Pumping gas was not a possibility without power; further complicating an already difficult situation. It would be three days until Red Cross divisional help arrived. Until then the River Valley Chapter was on its own in contending with a major crisis. Lives were literally on the line.

Touchstone Center for Crafts is Pennsylvania’s only residential craft  school and has been in operation since 1972.

Touchstone Center for Crafts is Pennsylvania’s only residential craft school and has been in operation since 1972.

Creative thinking was required to feed and shelter an entire county with limited resources. Under Soom’s guidance, quick decisions were made. The American Red Cross, River Valley Chapter set up a staging area at a local high school where the high school cafeteria staff was hired to prepare meals for the citizens of Preston County.

Over the next 10-12 days 3,000 meals were prepared three times a day. Soom discusses this as if it were another day at the office mentioning that it was “logistically challenging.” But the fact is that Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and the second costliest in U.S. history, which delivered a major emergency to one of her regions of responsibility.

Is Shauna Soom a cool customer? Definitely.

In her free time she enjoys challenging herself physically, competing in on-road and off-road races. She recently completed the Mud OnThe Mountain at Seven Springs, which consisted of 8 miles and 31 obstacles. She also recently competed in the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in Washington, D.C. It comes as no surprise that a person who has shown such hard work and dedication over the years professionally has a hobby for which hard work and dedication are prerequisites.

While working at Seton Hill University, Soom held many positions ranging from program manager of the ATHENA Power Link, a business-mentoring program that helps women-owned businesses, to adjunct faculty member where she instructed undergraduate business and finance courses.

“I miss working with students the most,” Soom said of this experience. She also mentions the satisfaction of watching an entrepreneur go from “an idea in their head to the ribbon cutting” of their new business and how proud she was for them on each of these occasions.

It is this same level of enthusiasm and commitment that Soom brings to Touchstone Center for Crafts.

Motivated initially as a dedicated wife and mother who wanted to work closer to home after many years of commuting, Soom came across an article in the Sunday paper regarding Touchstone and its search for a new executive director. With a lot of experience in the areas of grant writing and fundraising from her former positions combined with her impressive business background and love of the arts, Soom was a natural fit.

Upon arriving at Touchstone she hit the ground running, fine tuning some staffing issues and hiring more part time staff to “smooth the work load a little bit” during the summer season.

Potters at the wheel during one of Touchstone’s many hands on workshops.  For a full schedule, visit www.touchstonecrafts.org

Potters at the wheel during one of Touchstone’s many hands on workshops. For a full schedule, visit www.touchstonecrafts.org

When asked if she faced any unexpected challenges at Touchstone, Soom mentioned the amount of work and level of detail that goes into each program was indeed a surprise. Details such as the correct amount of ounces of clay for a course are very important as was “learning the language of the artist.”

She is quick to compliment the wonderful people with whom she now works and applauds their level of commitment in making Touchstone what it is today. Her love students is obvious as she beams when discussing Touchstone’s full scholarships for summer programs that are awarded annually to two Allegheny County high school students during Touchstone’s Teen Week.

Reminiscing about former colleague and mentor, Jayne Huston, Soom’s level of respect and admiration for those who have helped her along her path in both career and life comes to the surface. She fondly mentions how Huston, the director of Seton Hill University’s E-Magnify business center, listened to and challenged her and offered her opportunities.

One can’t help but wonder if Shauna Soom realizes that she too, has undoubtedly listened to, challenged and offered opportunities to many in the past, much as her mentor did, and Sooms continues to do so now at Touchstone Center for Crafts.

Information about Touchstone Center for Crafts can be found at touchstonecrafts.org
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Story by Jim Miller for Pennsylvania Bridges

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