Darrin Utynek, who assumed the role of chief executive officer at Bernie’s Book Bank in May, was drawn to the organization’s mission to serve others.
“I think first and foremost the mission to serve at-risk youth and its recognized brand got me excited,” Utynek said.
The role is a first for Bernie’s Book Bank, which was founded in 2009 by Brian Floriani, and has grown extensively in nine years. Bernie’s Book Bank sources, processes and distributes new and gently used children’s books with the goal of increasing book ownership among at-risk infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout the Chicago area. Floriani will transition to founder and chief advancement officer.
Bernie’s Book Bank felt like a natural fit to Utynek, who has experience in both the business and nonprofit sectors. He previously worked at nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, where he was chief operating officer, and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, as well as The Habitat Company, a real estate management firm.
“I think I will bring a really diverse background that will see the vision of the future and get Bernie’s where I want it to go,” Utynek said.
Given the success of Bernie’s Book Bank, Utynek envisions growing the concept. “I would love to see us expand nationally,” he said.
While the nonprofit serves more than 300,000 children locally, Utynek believes a similar need exists in other cities, and that Bernie’s Book Bank is a model that is easily replicated. At this point, specific plans are in the works with no exact timeline in place as of yet, Utynek said.
While Utynek interned for a professional sports team in college, he soon realized after landing a job in the nonprofit sector after graduating that mission work was the right path for him.
“I have based my career movements on charitable organizations, and organizations I can get behind, and make a difference while I was there,” Utynek said.
Although many people make a distinction between the business and nonprofit sectors, Utynek said many of the same principles apply to both for daily operations. Instead, Utynek said the defining factor for most organizations is the culture and mission — something that Bernie’s Book Bank has in spades.
“Bernie’s Book Bank has an amazing culture thanks to the founder and his vision to start such a tremendous organization,” Utynek said.
Bernie’s Book Bank serves a unique role in the community. It not only serves at-risk youth, but it also provides a gathering place for volunteers. “It is such a dynamic way to engage people,” Utynek said.
There are many ways to get involved with Bernie’s Book Bank. Some people donate time, some donate money, others donate books. It’s not unusual to see people of all ages and abilities volunteering there, including scheduled groups, or people who volunteer on a regular basis.
Moving forward, Utynek plans to work with the board to refine the nonprofit’s policy and processes, in order to implement a strategic plan to replicate the organization across the country.
“Bernie’s Book Bank’s biggest strengths are the culture and mission, and to capitalize on those is critical to advancement,” Utynek said.
For more information about Bernie’s Book Bank, please visit www.berniesbookbank.org.