When islander Carol Goertzel was in high school, the principal was on the verge of kicking out several students for sleeping in class. But the young Goertzel recognized the youth were “having a really tough time” due to alcohol in the family.
Decades later, moments like that are not lost on Goertzel, who is now the executive director of Vashon Youth and Family Services.
“I guess I have my parents to thank for giving me a sense of a life mission of doing whatever I could to facilitate people’s lives moving forward,” she said.
Goertzel is stepping down from her post later this year but will remain on the board of the VYFS, which provides services ranging from before and after school care for island kids to making sure adults can get financial support for unmet medical issues. She will stay in her position until the organization’s board finds a new leader, which will likely happen before summer.
Since she stepped into the top job in 2016, Goertzel — who has a 30-plus year career helping youth and families on the east coast — has worked to maintain existing VYFS services and add new ones, including outreach to the island’s Hispanic population.
Goertzel sat down with The Beachcomber in her office last week for an interview. The conversation has been edited for brevity.
The Beachcomber: How did you make the decision to step down from your position?
Carol Goertzel: Well, why don’t I go back? In 2016, I came on the board of VYFS and I’ve had over 30 years of experience on the east coast being chief executive officer of organizations that worked with low-income, middle-income children, youth and families. So, VYFS, it seemed like a great match for what my personal commitment is throughout my life and what I love to help facilitate. So I came out of semi-retirement because I love this organization and the work that they do and saw such great opportunities. It’s such a core of the island.
I decided to leave because I’m retiring for the third time, I intend to be really active in the community … I want to have some more family time and meet their needs as well as turn (VYFS) over to someone who can be here permanently.
BC: Did you feel like you had done what you needed to do at VYFS?
CG: Partly … it’s related to what we accomplished: establishing an electronic health records system, having a human resources handbook, having systems in place, getting a mailbox — we didn’t have a mailbox on the road before! There were a lot of needs that I saw that I wanted to help the organization start or strengthen.
One thing I brought (to the island) was I had a history of working with Latino families on the east coast. So when I came here, I looked at who was not being served a lot. One of the things we’ve accomplished is starting a really strong Hispanic/Latino outreach and services program. That’s really the fourth area of work of VYFS.
BC: What does the program do?
CG: We work with kids who are primarily Spanish speaking to help them through the school system and give them support. Then, we work with their parents so that their parents really understand the school system. We do translations at the [parent-teacher] conferences. We had one mom, the first year, who was … in tears because they never had somebody translating before. So, we want to make sure we strengthen the bond between schools and families.
Then we work in the community. We hold coffees — I always call them “coffees.” Parents come and we just talk about issues that they’re facing now. Either we help resolve them or refer them to the appropriate place.
BC: Is there a common thread between people in Philly and residents on the island?
CG: People are depressed; people get anxious. People are sucidal because they’re really upset about their life. This happens everywhere.
Vashon is such a peaceful place and so incredibly supportive. That, I think, is really a difference.
BC: What things did you take from Philadelphia that you could apply here?
CG: I guess listening to what people need, and then trying to meet the needs and the gaps in service that are there as you hear it from people. You can’t assume what people need without listening to them. And our commitment to supporting staff to be the best and most creative they can be.
BC: To wrap up, your experience in your line of work — what attracted you to it?
CG: I don’t know if it’s always been my life’s mission. … I guess I have my parents to thank for giving me a sense of a life mission of doing whatever I could to facilitate people’s lives moving forward.