Editor’s Note: After two-and-one-half years leading the Washington Department of Social
and Health Services, the largest Washington state agency, Susan Dreyfus joined the Alliance for Children and Families Jan. 3, 2012 as president and CEO. Dreyfus takes over for the late Peter Goldberg, her friend and mentor. More information about her background and role at the Alliance and Families International is available in the article, Dreyfus Rejoins Families International as New Era Commences.
When I finished my address at the Alliance and UNCA 2011 National Conference last October, I closed with a word that I know the late Peter Goldberg would welcome and enjoy: “forward!”
I join you at a tough, yet exhilarating time. There is no doubt that people across this country are hurting; accordingly, your agencies are feeling it too.
Not to minimize in any way the significant challenges faced by the nonprofit human services sector and the individuals we serve, I have to express that I have become a person positively addicted to hope. Because during my career, I, like you, have experienced people of all ages at the worst of times demonstrate, despite the odds they face, belief in us and the work we do, incredible resiliency, and hopefulness.
Therefore, today I remain more than hopeful as I rejoin Families International, the Alliance, United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA), and Ways to Work as your CEO. I offer my sincere thanks to these great organizations’ staffs, boards of directors, and memberships for their confidence and warm welcome.
I join you after spending the last two-and-one-half years as secretary of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. My life has been forever blessed for the time I spent there under the inspiring leadership of Gov. Christine Gregoire.
My experiences have led me to clearly understand that it will take all of us—public, private, and nonprofit sectors—to share governance and responsibility if we are to achieve the America we all aspire for.
Leaving my previous position has been bittersweet on a number of levels, but I know the paths my life has taken have prepared me to help further advance the impact of the nonprofit human services sector. These paths have shown me how, through a commitment to high performance and the maximization of partnerships, we can emerge from this recession as a more vibrant and relevant sector in America.
I promise that I will do no less than what I have witnessed all of you doing each day. That is to love my work, be present and engaged at all times, think and act with creativity and boldness, and actively listen and learn at all times.
I will proudly serve and represent you as we, through the missions of your inspiring organizations, position Families International and its affiliated organizations to achieve a vision of a healthy society and strong communities for all children and families.
We must continue to move beyond program outcomes to partner and leverage resources across sectors and within communities, to reduce poverty, improve people’s health, and improve people’s educational and employment success. These ultimately are the issues that hold so many children, families, and communities back from truly realizing their potential and dreams.
In addition, let’s never forget that we are advocates first and foremost; advocacy is part of our values, missions, and histories. There is no doubt that the social compact is being renegotiated, and we need to be more active now than ever before. So as we move forward with being integral agents for change and impact, we must continue to be highly strategic, involved, and visible as we generate the political will necessary to ensure the true engagement and authentic voices of the people we exist to serve and represent.
While the landscape we face is full of challenges, it also is full of opportunities. Indeed, I believe we are at an historic moment, and at this crucial and exciting time, this sector can certainly shine its brightest.
To shine our brightest, each of us must be open to the ambiguity and uncertainty of change as we—in the words of our friend Peter Goldberg—envision and create “futures different from the past.”
As I closed my address at the 2011 National Conference, I shared an email I received from Peter’s daughter Jessica Goldberg after the announcement of my hiring. Her message read, “My dad’s focus was always on what came next. He wasn’t a believer in carrying out someone else’s legacy. He often told me to learn from my mentors and then go do something bigger and better. He would be excited to see how you will change and grow Families International, the Alliance, UNCA, Ways to Work, and FEI; and I am too.”
I know that Peter wants me to exceed his expectations as I assume the position he was so proud to hold for 17 years. So, in memory of my friend and mentor, and as we position the Alliance and UNCA for the next 100 years, I ask you to join me, as together we say: “forward!”
Cover Photo: A youth participant in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC) program of Alliance member Hillside Family of Agencies, Rochester, N.Y., receives mentoring support from a local businessperson. HW-SC is a nationally recognized dropout prevention program proven to dramatically increase graduation rates for at-risk youth by offering employment training, career exploration, skills development support, and financial literacy education. Photo by Paul Van Hoy II
About the Author
Susan Dreyfus is president and CEO of the Alliance. Immediately preceding this role, she was secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. She also previously was senior vice president and COO of the Alliance and Families International from 2003-2007.
In 1996 she was appointed by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson Administration in Wisconsin to be the first administrator of the Division of Children and Family Services.