Chris Overington

Chris Overington

After 27 years at Hidden Villa – 14 as its executive director – Chris Overington decided now is the ideal time to move on.

“This is a perfect juncture,” he told the Town Crier recently, citing a just-completed strategic plan and solid financial footing for the 1,600-acre nonprofit organic farm and wilderness preserve in Los Altos Hills. Hidden Villa was founded by Josephine and Frank Duveneck, who purchased the property off Moody Road in 1924 and held the first multiracial summer camp in 1945.

Overington announced his decision to transition out of his leadership role Aug. 4. He will remain at Hidden Villa through November as he helps the board of trustees, staff and community define the role of the new executive director in implementing the organization’s new strategic plan and ensuring its long-term financial sustainability.

“It has been a profound honor and privilege to serve as Hidden Villa’s executive director over the past 14 years,” Overington said in a statement. “In collaboration with our dedicated staff and board of trustees, phenomenal pool of volunteers, innovative community partners and exceptionally generous donors, I am equally humbled by, and proud of, all that we’ve accomplished together. Literally hundreds of thousands of children, youth and families have been able to enjoy the unique beauty and experiences that Hidden Villa has to offer during that time, and they give me great hope for the more sustainable, healthy and just world of the future that we aspire to.”

Overington oversaw a financial turnaround after he was hired as interim executive director in 2007.

“We weren’t in the best shape financially when I started this job – it was supposed to be for six months,” he said. “I feel really good that we’ve built a strong endowment. We had the stock market crash in 2007, and here we are bookending with the

COVID crisis. In both incidences, it’s amazing how Hidden Villa supporters stepped up.”

Peter Hartzell, Hidden Villa board chairperson, said Overington shaped Hidden Villa into a “vibrant, strong, aspirational organization.”

“We are also excited about the challenge he is giving to us: to reimagine the role of executive director and use this transition to begin the next phase of the organization, building on the legacy of the Duvenecks while stretching to realize the full potential of our vision and mission,” Hartzell said.

Educator at heart

According to David Duveneck, Hidden Villa board member, Overington has expanded the work of the organization during his 27-year service. Hidden Villa’s milestones while Overington served as executive director include partnering with Community Services Agency to deliver garden-fresh produce to the underserved and forming a youth development department to focus on middle school and high school youth.

“An educator at heart, Chris brought that dynamic into every corner of Hidden Villa as an educational organization,” Duveneck said. “His presence has been deeply felt, a steady hand navigating the ranch through the changing times we all have lived through.”

Over the course of his decades at Hidden Villa, Overington served as day camp director, intern coordinator, director of environmental education and director of programs and partnerships, culminating in his 14 years as executive director.

“Hidden Villa has had a rare luxury in Chris: a person who embodies the values of the Duveneck family and has stewarded the legacy with integrity and grace,” Duveneck said. “As he releases the burden of leadership, I hope he continues to stay involved with all of us at Hidden Villa.”

Overington praised the organization’s latest strategic plan as its “biggest and boldest yet.”

The plan offers a new vision, mission and values statements; a theory of change and a set of four impact areas to focus on: Mitigation of Climate Change, Healthy Local Food Systems, Place-Based Outdoor Education for All and an Antiracist and Just Society.

The recent hiring of an associate director, he said, is a “major asset in terms of sharing the load of operations. … So all those things added together, it’s a really good time for someone to have the opportunity to be successful here.”

Overington was not specific about his future plans but noted, “I’m reaching the tender point on that career curve where, if I’m going to do something with the skill set somewhere else, (now is) probably a reasonable time frame for doing that.”

Post-pandemic plans

During the pandemic, Hidden Villa’s acreage remained open to the public. While visitation and farming continued, a vast majority of its services were put on hold, including in-person summer camp, environmental education field trips, youth development retreats, community programming and hostel and facility rentals.

During the past 17 months, the organization shifted its focus to free and low-cost online educational experiences while planning for the return of in-person programming.

“In the spirit of the Duveneck family, this is an exciting time for Hidden Villa to embrace the opportunities offered by this time of transition and our new strategic plan and vision,” Overington said. “I see a bright future ahead and am dedicated to supporting this transition in leadership so that the organization can continue to have the greatest impact on the areas outlined within that plan.”

Hartzell and the board are preparing to search for a new executive director, forming a committee to drive the process.

“The search committee will be seeking diverse input from our community of program participants, partners, volunteers, donors and staff as we define the role of our new executive director,” Hartzell said. “We will also be engaging a professional search firm to assist in finding the best pool of candidates to consider. Together, we will find an exceptional leader who will engage our community and help deliver on the impact areas defined in our strategic plan.”

To share input on the hiring process, email Hartzell at boardchair@hiddenvilla.org.

For more information on Hidden Villa, visit hiddenvilla.org.