Dona Zavislan: Budget Cruncher
Out of the wild blue yonder and into the top foodservice administrator slot with the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), Dona Zavislan still marvels at the quirks of fate that landed her there almost 17 years ago.
Born and raised in Colorado, she'd earned her bachelor's degree at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, in food science and nutrition, but really wanted to be a certified public accountant. Foot loose and fancy free following college graduation, she joined the U.S. Air Force, attended officer training school and saw four years of active service both stateside and in Guam before resigning with the rank of captain.
After a brief stint as quality assurance manager checking up on sandwich production being supplied by Walmart's main trucking company in Phoenix, AZ, Zavislan learned of a position overseeing foodservice for 15,000 offenders in 20 DOC facilities back home in Colorado. It was a job in which she could utilize her varied talents and broad-based expertise, while being back home.
After all these years on the job, Zavislan affirms that it's always interesting, although sometimes thankless. "It's a tremendous challenge because you're dealing with very tight budgets so you have to use a lot of creativity to improve things," she says."It's not the kind of field that's attractive to the average person, so in recruiting new staff we're always looking for ways to make them feel valuable."
Most DOC employees are lured by the department's good salaries, decent benefits and a good retirement plan. "They come, myself included, because they need the job," Zavislan notes. "But I'm convinced we need to do more in the way of training and we must give them the tools [including a clean, organized place to work with equipment that works] so they'll stick it out in this tough environment."
Tough environment: Albeit on rare occasions, that environment can become deadly, as it did in the fall of 2002. "One of our foodservice employees was killed in a close custody facility," Zavislan ruefully recalls. "An inmate worker assaulted our employee in the kitchen over the back of the head with a very heavy kettle ladle. While it was determined that this was an incident that was not in any way preventable or the fault of any DOC staff, my boss [one of our newest wardens] and I felt it was very important to visit all DOC facilities to connect with the staff and underscore our concern for their welfare. We also wound up installing a significant number of additional camera systems and tethering some large tools such as kettle ladles."
Sending a message: Zavislan heads up the department's foodservice and laundry central office with its administrative staff of six in Colorado Springs headquarters, and supports the foodservice staff of 256 paid employees as well as the laundry staff of 38.
More concretely, Zavislan has been steadily ramping up her efforts to mentor and educate staff so that increasing numbers can be considered for promotion. Recently, she and a colleague became certified to teach the FranklinCovey Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Seven Habits for Managers classes. To date, they have presented the "Managers" class to the foodservice and laundry program supervisors at one facility. "Those who have that aptitude, skill and desire could be future leaders of the department. My role is to motivate and encourage them to take the exams."
Of her own future promotion, Zavislan takes the long and patient view. As a single mom whose high school age daughter is just starting to drive, she's been happy, thus far, to stay close to home in Colorado Springs. Since she works in operations, a promotion could mean transferring to a prison facility. "Here at the central office, I'm able to get things done for foodservice. I'm often in facilities, on average three to four times a month, and it's a big state; some facilities are on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. We at central office exist to support the facilities."