Lee Graham has been a leader and an advocate for our celiac community for three decades. From the days when the organization was known as Healthy Villi to the current version of the National Celiac Association (NCA), Lee’s involvement has been instrumental to its growth and success. She has developed relationships with academia, the medical community, and generous individuals to support her vision and allow NCA to achieve our mission and goals.
After 28 years of service, Lee has decided to step down as Executive Director of the National Celiac Association at the end of this year. While it will be an adjustment to not have Lee involved with the day-to-day operations at NCA, she is confident that her decision will allow the organization to grow and explore additional areas that will help the individuals in the community that she loves. We appreciate everything that she, her husband Bob, and her family has done and we can not thank her enough.
At this time, you are probably asking who gets the monumental task of filling Lee’s shoes as the new Executive Director of the National Celiac Association. Well, that would be me. For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Chris Rich and I have been a member of the celiac community for the past ten years.
When my son was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 12 in September 2013, it was a life-changing moment for our family. Obviously, he had to make significant changes to his everyday routines but his diagnosis also affected me both personally and professionally.
I immediately wanted to become involved and bring awareness to this disease that the majority of people, myself included, did not know about or understand. I joined the Gluten Intolerance Group staff in 2014 and started to build valuable relationships with individuals, product manufacturers, and medical professionals to support community outreach programs. One of these programs was Generation GF, designed to empower kids, teens, and young adults to be their own celiac disease advocates. In 2020, I joined the team at Beyond Celiac and worked with pharmaceutical companies in an effort to promote clinical trials and advance research toward finding a cure.
Throughout my time with these organizations, I was lucky enough to meet so many people from different walks of life who all had stories of their own unique celiac journeys. In listening and learning about them, my focus became less centered on my own son and more about the community as a whole, and during my two years away from direct involvement, there was a consistent internal voice telling me that I could do more. I wanted to come back and create a positive impact. I wanted to say “hello” again to all of the wonderful people that I have met who support others when and where they can. I wanted to do more to help this community. The National Celiac Association is providing me with that opportunity.
Yes, I am a bit trepidatious about filling the gap left behind when a legend in the community decides to move on, but it eases me to know that I am not going to be alone. The Board at the National Celiac Association is second to none, and is supportive of a vision to move the organization to the next level. The everyday team at NCA is committed to our cause and goes above and beyond to support our continued excellence.
And then there is you, our celiac community. You are the ones who have helped us get to where we are today. If I have met you before, I look forward to reconnecting with you soon. If I have not had the honor to meet you as of yet, I greatly anticipate the opportunity to do so and learn your story. I am a firm believer that we are stronger together and when we play to our strengths, no goal that we set will be out of our reach.
Here’s to the start of our journey.
Chris Rich, Executive Director