After seven years of bringing people together, Sheila Coonen, founder and executive director of Connecting to Serve (CTS), has announced she’s retiring from full-time work with the nonprofit.

Coonen is famous among friends for inviting them to lunch, learning their passion, and getting them involved in a cause. Since starting Connecting to Serve in 2007 out of Mountain View Lutheran Church, she has helped form several community advocacy teams in Ahwatukee Foothills working on addressing issues like education, homelessness, foster care and senior care.

She announced her plans to retire to the Connecting to Serve Board of Directors in December. Coonen said she plans to travel to Italy this summer and spend more time with family. She’ll still be involved with CTS, most likely serving as a board member.

“She has done so much,” said Mike Kanes, CTS board member. “She’s able to collaborate groups that might be in competition with each other and able to get them to focus on the people they are trying to help. Quite often the resources are within the community, but in all different bits and pieces everywhere. If you can bring people together and get volunteers to kick in it helps. She’s good at building that collaboration in the community. She really connects people well that way.”

Kanes said the board has had a chance since December to talk with Coonen and learn more about how she has identified leaders for different causes and gotten groups together.

Connecting to Serve’s goal is to bring different groups from the same community together to solve problems. CTS developed the Ahwatukee Community Network (ACN) to address issues in Ahwatukee. In Ahwatukee churches, nonprofits and service groups have all come together to share resources. ACN hosts monthly town hall meetings to bring up different issues and start conversations for solutions.

That community network will serve as a model as CTS attempts to enter other communities and bring leaders in those communities together.

CTS is currently conducting a search for a new executive director, experts for business planning, major funding to continue and a CTS connector who is responsible for leading the ACN. CTS is setting appointments to give presentations to interested communities and philanthropists. Interested groups can contact Barbara Boone at or Mike James at

For more information on Connecting to Serve, visit

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