Corinne Allen | 13 Years, Executive Director, Chattanooga’s Benwood Foundation
“My family couldn’t decide whether I was crazy or courageous.”
Corinne Allen, recently retired executive director of Chattanooga’s Benwood Foundation, laughs as she describes her transplant to Chattanooga at the age of 52. The year was 1999, and with the exception of time spent earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Allen had lived all of her life in Charlotte.
This is, until she got a call from a search firm looking for a new Benwood leader.
“They were baffled that I would leave my hometown and come to a community where I knew no one,” Allen reflects. “In reality, it was neither crazy nor courageous, but a remarkable opportunity for service in an outstanding community for which I shall always be thankful.”
Prior to Allen’s leadership, the Benwood Foundation met its charitable mission by responding to requests for support. But with Allen at the helm, the Foundation shifted its approach to focus on proactive change in Chattanooga and developed its first strategic plan. Today, it continues to be a catalyst for change in the areas of education, arts and culture, the environment, and community development.
A graduate of public schools, Allen started her career as a social worker investigating child abuse and neglect. She then moved to overseeing adoptions before she was hired as the executive director of a United Way counseling organization. She became the founding executive of a local education foundation in Charlotte, and spent seven years focused on education finance and governance. Then came Benwood.
When she moved to Chattanooga in 1999, Allen says her main challenges were getting to know the community and respecting and understanding its history. A quiet, private person by nature, Allen likes to read and take long walks. However, she’s also challenged by new ideas and drawn to new experiences. “I am a forced extravert,” she explains.
This quality, coupled with her strong conviction and commitment to community service, led Allen to seek a path of servant leadership in Chattanooga. She “made friends with change,” and as part of her role with Benwood, sought to meet as many people as possible.
Since her retirement in January, Allen has enjoyed planning and planting a new garden, tackling a shelf of books she’s been meaning to read, and sharing time with family and friends. She qualifies that this is just a “re-set and refresh” time, though, as she weighs numerous invitations and evaluates just how she’s going to continue her life of civic involvement—working, in her dedicated way, “for good, not for glory.”