SAWYER RETIRING FROM YOUTH SERVICE BUREAU
Having reached two of her three goals, the executive director of New Horizons Youth Service Bureau is ready to hand off the third to her successor.
On Sept. 1, Elizabeth Sawyer will retire and Cindy Martens will take on the job.
Sawyer has worked for the Hammond-based Youth Service Bureau 25 years --
19 years in the field as a licensed professional counselor and program director and six years as executive director. She is pleased to leave the nonprofit agency in a financially viable condition and with community respect intact.
Those were her first two goals in the top director’s post, and they provide the groundwork for Martens to strive for the third -- expansion of the bureau’s services that help families care for their children.
A licensed clinical social worker from Hammond, the bureau’s new executive director has extensive experience. Martens worked with Crisis Phone, served five years in the Youth Service Bureau’s Pathways program and 10 years in the bureau’s walk-in Counseling Center as both director and therapist. She went on to manage four health units in the region for the state health department and, for the past several years, she has been a social worker at Angola.
“Cindy and I have exactly the same values. She will be as dedicated as I am,” Sawyer said Friday. “Our personalities differ. I am more laid back.
She is very energetic. I did what I do best. She is the person to make it grow.”
New Horizons Youth Service Bureau will be four decades old next August.
Situated on five beautiful acres north of Hammond High School on River Road, the agency was long best known for Horizon House, its residential shelter for abused and neglected kids.
Today, the bureau continues to operate three evidence-based programs: the Counseling Center, the Pathways in-home therapy program and the Multisystemic Therapy program for juveniles.
About 10 years ago, coinciding with community changes occurring in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the bureau went through its own turbulent period of transitions. Jeanne Voorhees, the founder and long-time executive director, retired. State and federal funding for residential shelter declined. The Horizon House program was unsuccessfully repurposed and eventually closed. Two other executive directors were at the bureau’s helm for relatively short terms.
Sawyer was director of Pathways when she was hired for the top job.
She had come to the agency fresh out of graduate school to work with Pathways, a program the bureau established in 1987. It involves going into homes of families at risk of having a child removed due to abuse, neglect, psychiatric reasons or juvenile justice reasons.
The ultimate goal is to help the families to overcome the difficult situations so that the child can remain. It is intense work, and Sawyer loved it.
“I loved being in the field and doing therapy,” she said.
She had been with Pathways four years when the program director retired and Sawyer capably stepped into that job, mentoring and supervising a staff of 10 who affected the lives of some 800 to 1,000 children and their families every year.
Pathways had contracts with the state Department of Children and Family Services, the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice and Florida Parishes Human Services Authority.
When the executive director position next came open, she agreed to take it on because she wanted the bureau to “settle down” and get through the turbulent transitions.
Under her administration, the bureau became accredited with the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. This major achievement was accomplished around the same time the staff was also having to deal with another major upheaval -- the state takeover children’s mental health care.
The switch from having contracts with state agencies to working with the state management organization, Magellan, required changes in billing and referral procedures. And now, it’s about to happen again. As of Dec. 1, Bayou Health will replace Magellan. Instead of one entity to get authorization for services and payment, there will be five different organizations to deal with.
Sawyer expects a smooth transition because she and the bureau staff have already done much of the footwork and have become credentialed with all five entities.
“We are financially viable now. We still have our programs going strong.
We’ve been a United Way agency all these years. We never lack for referrals. I guess I’ve done my job,” she said Friday. “The one thing I wanted to do was to touch lives in a positive way. I’d like to think I have.”
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PERSONAL NOTE — I served on the Youth Service Bureau’s board of directors for more than a decade and was president of the board during some of those turbulent years. I know the challenges Liz Sawyer faced.
Getting the bureau on solid footing took professionalism and hard work. It took persistence, courage and investments of time, energy and resources.
It was not easy, but Mrs. Sawyer, the staff, the board and board President Mike Whitlow did it.
They care that much for the children and families of our Florida Parishes.
I, for one, sincerely thank them.
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Lil Mirando an be reached at 254-7834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.