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Deb Yandala Named GAR's 2024 Glass Half Full Award Recipient

Deb Yandala, Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park

GAR Foundation is thrilled to honor Deb Yandala as the 2024 Glass Half Full Award recipient. Since 2002, Deb has been CEO of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the nonprofit partner of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Deb grew up in Euclid, Ohio and attended Miami University, where she earned a B.A. in American Studies and History. During her college years, she worked as a camp counselor and naturalist, introducing children to the wonders of nature. After college, Deb continued her work at the camp in order to develop a year-round environmental educational program. She also furthered her commitment to environmental education by earning an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan.  

Deb YandalaAfter earning her master's degree, she assumed the role of executive director for an urban-based camping program in Dayton. Early in her career, Deb drew inspiration from mentors involved in the civil rights movement and advocates for those living in poverty. Notably, she made history as the first female executive director of a Lutheran camping program nationwide.

In 1992, Deb was hired by the Cuyahoga Valley Association (CVA) to write the curriculum for the soon-to-open Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC), which operated in conjunction with Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Eventually, she became the director of the CVEEC. When the CVEEC and the CVA merged in 2002, and its name changed to the Conservancy, Deb became its CEO.  

Under Deb's guidance, the Conservancy has experienced remarkable growth, expanding its budget from $1.2 million to $8 million and its staff from 24 to 93 members. Beyond the education center, the Conservancy actively manages the park’s volunteer program, cultural arts programming, stores, and event spaces. Moreover, it has successfully raised millions of dollars for the park. Deb takes pride in fostering a culture at the Conservancy that prioritizes service to the park and community, shared passion for its mission, and a strong sense of community among staff and volunteers.

Deb YandalaA national leader in the National Park Service partnership community, Deb has served as the president of the NPS Friends Alliance, a network of over 120 nonprofit partner groups. She currently advises the National Park Foundation on collaboration and fundraising with national park friends groups. Deb was recently honored by the National Park Foundation with a scholarship in her name for emerging leaders of friends groups. She has also received recognition from Crain’s Cleveland and other professional organizations.

Deb was married for 38 years to the late Rev. Sherman Bishop, whose work in urban congregations provided invaluable life experiences. She is a proud mother of three adult children.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Deb is an active community volunteer, serving on the Boards of Near West Theatre, the Ohio office of the Trust for Public Land, and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry. She also is a mentor with College Now and contributes her musical talents as a violist in the Cleveland Philharmonic and Chagrin Valley Studio Orchestras. 

On Tuesday, April 9, GAR Foundation honored Deb at a private ceremony at Andrew Jackson House. 

View Photos from the Reception

Q & A with Deb Yandala

GAR: How has a “glass half full” approach helped you in the work that you do?  
Deb Yandala: Positive energy is an important attribute as a leader.  Who doesn’t want to work in a culture where they are appreciated, where the value of each person is emphasized, and they know that their work makes a difference to others?  We have an amazing team and I believe that our love of the park and of our mission is infectious and impacts the people we serve and those who support us.   

GAR: What’s an important piece of advice that you would give to a new leader of a nonprofit organization?
DY: It is a privilege to work every day in an organization that makes the world a better place. Never take that for granted. You have a unique opportunity to shape an organization and impact lives. You are the face of your organization and set the tone for it, internally and externally.  This can be a big job, but the rewards of it are priceless. 

GAR: What’s one thing that makes you beam with pride as you reflect on your tenure at the Conservancy?
DY: We’ve gotten a lot done!  When I think of all the projects we have developed, funded, and managed, I’m overwhelmed with what we’ve been able to accomplish.  I’m most proud of our education programs, the Boston Mill Visitor Center, and the purchase and protection of the former golf course property. 

GAR: What’s something that refreshes and re-energizes you?
DY: When I need a break, I pick up my viola and play one of the Bach Suites.  I have to concentrate on the music and it clears my mind. 

GAR: If you had to choose one place to dine in the Greater Akron area, where would it be?
DY: I love eating at Mustard Seed!   

GAR: What’s a passion that you have that most people don’t know about?
DY: I love to canoe and kayak, but my first love is canoeing across a Canadian lake with loons calling in the distance. 

GAR: Do you think the Buckeyes have a chance to beat your beloved alma mater in football now that Coach Harbaugh has moved on to coach in the NFL?
DY: This Ohio girl moved to Ann Arbor and quickly became a huge Michigan fan. The Buckeyes always have a chance - it’s what makes this rivalry great - but I’m loyal to my team. Go Blue! 

Glass Half Full Award

Learn more about GAR's Glass Half Full Award and its list of previous winners by clicking the link below.

Glass Half Full Award

Deb Yandala: A Snapshot