Soon after joining homeless services organization Ascencia four years ago, Laura Duncan found out she was next in line to replace then-Executive Director Natalie Profant Komuro.
Duncan said she wasn’t thrilled at the time. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of the succession plan.
“But things change,” said Duncan, who has been Ascencia’s programs director since 2014. “The time to grow and do something a little bit different was a good challenge.”
Duncan stepped up as the organization’s executive director on Nov. 1, after a four-month stint as acting director.
Komuro, who has been with the organization since 2007, announced in June she would be leaving her post to work in Riverside County as the deputy executive officer for homelessness solutions.
In an open farewell letter, Komuro said it was “a real joy to work with smart and funny people in service of an important cause.”
Komuro’s departure announcement came while Duncan’s mother was passing away.
“It was wonderful distraction,” Duncan said. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time — or a better time.”
Previously a director with larger nonprofits organizations including Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army, Duncan said it didn’t feel like a dramatic career shift, even though it is a pivot in terms of her day-to-day work.
In Duncan’s former position, she worked a great deal with program staff, reporting on and writing grants.
Now, she’s primarily focused on the events and development departments.
“I’m actually enjoying it and having fun,” Duncan said. “There’s some learning going on, but it’s at a decent pace.”
A more than 30-year veteran in the nonprofit field, Duncan remembered being drawn to helping vulnerable populations from a young age.
As a girl, Duncan said she intuitively knew a special-needs child in her Orange County neighborhood required special accommodations — and made sure she received them, while also protecting her from bullying, Duncan said.
Many individuals in the nonprofit field seem similarly wired to help others, according to Duncan.
“It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg thing,” Duncan said. “I don’t know which came first: the wiring or the opportunity to see [a social issue] that needed to be addressed.”
Ascencia works to connect the homeless in Glendale and Burbank with permanent housing, beginning with street outreach and providing support even after housing is obtained.
Five beds were recently added to the organization’s shelter, bringing it to a total of 45.
While Duncan said getting five more people off the street is not a marginal feat, she added that the organization works with a total of 1,200 individuals a year, while housing just around 210 in the shelter annually.
“That tells you how many people aren’t fortunate enough to get into a shelter,” she said.
Formerly PATH Achieve Glendale, Komuro rebranded the organization as Ascencia in 2011 when it broke from its founding agency, People Assisting the Homeless.