Executive director, Chrysalis Foundation

Terry Hernandez says she always stops to assist drivers stopped on the road.

“There are just so many opportunities to do small things like that, that I like to encourage people to do things like that,” she said.

Helping others and empowering people have always defined Hernandez’s career.

Hernandez is a Des Moines native, and graduated from Grand View University with a degree in marketing. She said she grew up in a typical “Leave It to Beaver” family, and her parents taught her the value of empathy, which is reflected in her work today.

“One of the things I feel really strongly about is just being nice to people and helping people,” she said. “Everyone is equal; everyone has a situation and a story behind them.”

After taking on a primarily fund-raising role at the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, Hernandez was recruited to become executive director of the Chrysalis Foundation, a nonprofit in Des Moines that works to help girls and women through education and philanthropy.

While working with the YMCA, Hernandez honed her fund-raising skills and helped finance the construction of several new buildings in the area. She also helped to start an empowerment program for girls at the Y.

That’s when she started working with the founders of Chrysalis to “help girls understand that they have more value than what they look like.”

When Chrysalis’ leaders were looking for the organization’s first executive director, they came to Hernandez, who started and expanded the foundation, basically from scratch. Fund raising came naturally to her, she said, and she always tried to tell a story instead of giving a sales pitch and asking for money. She wanted to paint a picture of what a contribution could do and have a real conversation, she said.

After her first year at Chrysalis, Hernandez worked to create one of the foundation’s programs, Chrysalis After School.

Hernandez said she saw that it was important to reach girls early, before services were needed later. The program has been a success and has grown to include more than 30 schools in the metro area. One day, Hernandez hopes that every girl who goes through the program graduates from high school.

It’s that optimism and caring attitude that makes her an influential part of Des Moines. It’s what has made Chrysalis a leader in the nonprofit community, and one that serves as a model and guide for others, based on the simple principle of making the world better.

“I think we as human beings have a responsibility to help each other,” Hernandez said.