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Liz Mathis: Former Broadcaster Braves New Horizons

BY KIMN SWENSON GOLLNICK

"What you learn in J-School transfers to anything you want to do later," said Liz Mathis (B.A. 1980), pictured here in her new office at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
PHOTO BY KIMN GOLLNICK
A shelf above Liz Mathis' desk in her new office reveals her unique blend of professionalism and personality: A Concise History of the World, a poster of “Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas,” a sticky note reminder to “Get folders @ Staples,” A Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and a printed list of service agency goals. After nearly 30 years in radio and television news, in June 2007 Mathis traded her microphone as broadcast journalist for her new role as vice president of community relations at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A day in the life of Mathis engages all of her skills as communicator: writing grants, sending emails, gathering research, approaching corporate and community leaders, writing sponsorship letters, problem-solving. She recently met with her team of county contacts for a fledgling program, iCan. Mathis led a brainstorming session with the team to generate ideas on organizing their contacts with schools and community leaders to best reach families who seek assistance with behavioral and emotional needs.

Mathis is also the public voice for Horizons’ twenty other services such as the survivor’s advocate program for victims of crime, consumer credit counseling, employee assistance programs, counseling services and the child and family programs such as iCan. In another part of the building, Horizons staff and volunteers assemble hot meals for the Meals on Wheels program; warm, delicious aromas fill the hallways signaling the 11:00 a.m. delivery, a daily routine.

Mathis brainstorms with her county team leaders during a November meeting at Horizons' headquarter office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
PHOTO BY KIMN GOLLNICK

“How else can we reach them?” Mathis asks her team, referring to potential clients. Buoyed by Mathis’ contagious enthusiasm, ideas fly around the room about brochures, post cards, emails and phone calls involving physicians’ offices, daycare providers, Head Start, cub-scout and girl-scout packs, churches, rural 4-H extensions, even community car-seat checks and a new “refer-a-friend” style program.

Mathis isn’t afraid to go into the field, either. “If you make the contacts,” she told the team, “I will be there.” She promised to email a list of dates she could come to their counties, evidence that Mathis means what she says. And although extremely modest, Mathis is also savvy about her celebrity as a former news anchor.

“She’s got connections, which helps,” Kellie Spahn, Horizons’ office manager, said. Mathis has no “celebrity attitude,” Spahn added. “She’s so pleasant. Not at all like some TV personalities that can act, you know, condescending,” Spahn said.

Not that Mathis doesn’t have a lot of which to be proud. She co-anchored the five and six o’clock news at KCRG-TV9 where she worked from 1998 to 2007. Prior to KCRG, Mathis spent 16 years at KWWL-TV in Waterloo, where she was executive producer and the first female co-anchor of the evening news. Mathis got her start during her college years working for WMT-Radio and WMT-TV (now KGAN-TV) and KXIC-Radio in Iowa City.

Her education prepared her well. Mathis earned a double major in journalism and mass communication and broadcasting and film with a minor in political science at the University of Iowa (B.A. 1980) and has done postgraduate work in political science at the
Mathis talks in October 2007 with freshmen journalism students in Pam Creedon's first-year seminar class, Women and Journalism.
"I wanted to be a magazine reporter or a ballerina," she told them. "Then I took my first journalism class [at UI] and knew I was in the right place."

PHOTO BY MYRIAM FALLON
University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Mathis also chaired the Wartburg Communication Arts Department, teaching broadcast journalism and First Amendment law classes. She taught classes as a UI adjunct professor and currently serves as President of the J-MC School’s Professional Advisory Board.

Fund-raising is not new to Mathis, either. As a member of the UI Foundation committee in 2004-2005, Mathis helped raise millions of dollars for the new Adler Journalism Building. Pam Creedon, UI Associate Director for External Relations and former director of the J-MC School, credited Mathis for a video that promoted the effort and said, “Liz is one of the most loyal supporters of this program.”

Mathis’ decision to leave the newsroom for the non-profit sector came after her father suffered a stroke in April 2006. Sitting by his side in the hospital before he died in July, Mathis talked with her father "about life and loves, about regrets and joys." In her June 14, 2007 blog announcing to viewers her decision to leave KCRG, Mathis wrote, “I have about 15 really good years until serious retirement and I want to do all I can in those 15 years to make a difference….”

Liz Mathis talks about her new role as VP of Community Relations
at Horizons.

PHOTO BY KIMN GOLLNICK
A bookcase displays Mathis' family photos and Horizons' logo.
PHOTO BY KIMN GOLLNICK

When asked how Mathis has made a difference since joining Horizons, Spahn listed projects Mathis has already tackled and said, “Liz accomplished what would take someone else six months—in two to three months.”

Back in her office at Horizons, Mathis pulls brochures from boxes temporarily stacked against a wall, a sign of her recent move into the space. She had begun re-writing and streamlining the promotional materials to better communicate Horizons’ specific programs. She said she is constantly seeking ways to maximize their time and resources. She also keeps a thick binder of grant proposals and guidelines with deadlines for contacting sources for donations.

“It’s the same [as journalism],” Mathis said, smiling thoughtfully. “It’s storytelling, it’s sourcing, it’s writing; it’s finding who’s going to help you do the job.”  




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