Walking Bob’s walk

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan.–As a young man, Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Scott Wasserman worked hard to reach his goal of becoming an attorney.

He graduated from Harvard Law School at the top of his class and launched a successful career spanning 28 years.

But last month, he finally found his vocation.

In response to what he felt was a clear call from God, Wasserman closed his thriving law practice to begin a very different journey as CEO/president of Unbound, formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.

No one could have been more surprised by the move than Wasserman himself.

“The whole thing took me off guard,” he said. “But that’s the way God works with vocations.”

A door closes, a window opens

When its president and co-founder Bob Hentzen died suddenly last October, a door closed on the heart of Unbound.

It’s often said when God closes a door, he opens a window.

Wasserman, then chairman of the organization’s governing board, didn’t expect to be that window.

But as he listened to the board discuss the future leadership needs of the nonprofit and the qualifications needed to fill Hentzen’s shoes, he started to think, “They’re describing me.”

After much prayer and discernment, Wasserman shared with his wife Annabella the idea that he may be the best applicant for the position.

“And she asked me one question: ‘Why do you want to apply?’” he recalled. “So I started describing to her what I would bring to Unbound.”

Indeed, Wasserman’s experience is impressive and shows a long-standing dedication to working for children.

The focus of his law practice for the last 20 years has been child advocacy law.

He is vice-chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, where he’s currently on the task force rewriting the 2002 Dallas “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

He also chairs the independent review board for Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, which advises on issues regarding child protection in this archdiocese.

Wasserman and his family have sponsored children with Unbound for 25 years — and their close friendship with Hentzen dates back to when he ran the organization out of a small farmhouse here.

Wasserman has served 15 years on Unbound’s governing board, the last 14 as board chair.

He also speaks fluent Spanish. And, with Annabella, who is from Guatemala, he hosts mission trips each year to San Lucas Parish there.

After Wasserman rattled off his litany of qualifications to his wife, she responded simply, “I didn’t ask you why you think you would benefit Unbound. I asked you why you want to apply.”

“That drew me back,” he said. “I had to think, ‘Why do I feel called to this?’ It was her original question, but it wasn’t the question I was answering.”

In response to Annabella’s question, Wasserman finally said, “It has to do with my relationship with Bob and how much I admired him – how I was formed by him. I feel personally called to continue the walk that Bob began.”

After that realization, Wasserman resigned from the board and submitted his application.

Called to carry on

Fortunately, Wasserman’s enthusiasm for Unbound’s mission was met by enthusiasm for him on the part of the organization’s leadership.

“We’re thrilled to have Scott here,” said Laney Haake, director of U.S. out-reach for Unbound.

“Scott’s been a part of Unbound for 15 years now, as a member of the board and board chair,” she said.

“He was known to us. We were excited about having him in the building,” she added. “He brings a lot of love for the organization, a lot of knowledge.”

With its new leader, the organization’s first order of business was to carry out Hentzen’s last great aspiration — to give the nonprofit a more meaningful name.

“We wanted to reflect Catholic social teaching and the Gospel message of liberation for the poor in a way that is emotional, brief and memorable,” explained Wasserman.

Hentzen loved the name Unbound. “What he was so excited about is that it has that theological base that spoke to why they started this in the first place,” said Haake. “It speaks to diversity; it speaks to unity; it speaks to all the ideas and individuals involved.”

Weeks before he died, Hentzen wrote letters to sponsors and recorded messages to families in the fields announcing Unbound as the new name.

“Through all the shock and the sadness [of his death],” said Haake, “we knew we had to continue. It was a rallying cry — we had to see this through. We see it as his final gift to the organization.”

The transition took place at the first of the year. So far, the response to the new name has been positive.

“We’ve had a lot of support for it from sponsors and from people who are just hearing about us,” said Haake. “It’s unique and it’s easy to remember.”

Wasserman’s next order of business is to reassure and inspire not only the people who make up the Unbound organization here, but also its huge family of sponsors and sponsored individuals throughout the world.

“The way to reassure and inspire is to meet people in a personal way,” he said. “In order to do that, I have to get out there and meet them.”

True to his word, Wasserman left for the Philippines the day after this interview.

Though he’ll be headquartered locally, Wasserman intends to travel often to the many areas where Unbound fosters sponsorships.

And he hopes Annabella can sometimes travel with him.

“We’re both very dedicated to missionary work,” he said. “When we go to Guatemala especially, it will give me so much credibility to travel with Annabella.”

As Wasserman starts on his new journey with Unbound, he can’t help but marvel at the road that brought him here.

“I just look back at all the experiences I’ve had, all these twists and turns,” he said. “And I realize, this is why God brought me there. He was getting me ready for this.”

About the author

Anita McSorley

Anita, managing editor of The Leaven, has over 30 years’ experience in book, magazine and newspaper editing, including stints as the assistant editor of the “Diplomatic Papers of Daniel Webster” at Dartmouth College and then in the public relations departments of Texaco, Inc., and the Rockefeller Group in New York. Anita made the move to newspaper editing when she came to The Leaven in 1988, where she has been ever since. Anita is a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and in her spare time, she enjoys giving her long-suffering husband, her children and her staff good advice that they never take.

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