Nearly 28 Years Ago
By Cheryn Weiser, Executive Director, Island Senior Resources
Nearly 28 years ago, my family and I arrived on Whidbey to settle into a little pastured farm in Freeland, surrounded by frog-graced ponds and forest. Two extended family members had already moved to Whidbey the year before and another couple planned on settling here a few years later. My 84-year-old mother came with us to live in the house next door.
With caregiving as a cornerstone of my adult life, in 2010, I was drawn to the position of Executive Director of Island Senior Services, then known as Senior Services of Island County. It’s been my privilege to serve in this position for nearly 12 years. We’ve seen many changes over my tenure. Managing change and moving toward an ever more sustainable organization have been constants as our board, staff, volunteers, donors, and key stakeholders have invested time and treasure in an organization that serves not only seniors and adults with disabilities across Whidbey and Camano Islands but also every person that cares about them whether they be a next-door neighbor or a family member living in Maine.
When the pandemic came, we all rose to the moment, transforming how we delivered our services to assure that access to our programs increased rather than decreased. Our last two years stats are:
- Aging and Disability Resources: 17,202 contacts with seniors, caregivers, adults with disabilities, and those who care about them
- Meals on Wheels: 164,156 home-delivered meals for a total of 65,404 miles
- Medical Transportation: 4,061 trips to medical appointments on island and covering from Bellingham to Seattle, for a total of 293,721 miles
- Support Groups: 313 support groups providing social connection
- Medicaid Community Case Management: 255 clients in 2020 and 283 in 2021
- Outreach Website: 169,356 views, up 47% in two years
- Outreach Website: 53,876 new users, up 43% in two years
- Volunteers: 460 in 2020/500 in 2021
With much accomplished, and many challenges that are sure to lay ahead, it’s time for me to let go of 10 to 12-hour workdays, calls in the middle of the night, and hours of meetings each week. It’s time to pass the torch to new leadership.
I am excited to introduce Michele Cato, who will take the helm of ISR on February 28. Michele brings a rich and varied background in nonprofit leadership to the position. Her deep commitment to community and her understanding of the complexities of social services will make her an excellent leader for ISR. When she begins her tenure at Island Senior Resources, she will be residing on Whidbey Island.
I will be walking along with Michele for at least a month to assist in the onboarding process and make the leadership transition as seamless as possible.
Michelle is joined by another relative ‘newbie’ at ISR, Katheryn Howell, our Director of Community Programs. Katheryn has served the Puget Sound Community for over 20 years, with her recent career supporting the work of community-based organizations. Partnerships and collaboration have generated good, fruitful outcomes in her work and the people she serves, from clients to staff.
ISR is incredibly fortunate in bringing talent dedicated to excellence in community nonprofit leadership and management in Island County.
My last 12 years with ISR have been an expansive and rewarding experience. I have had the opportunity to work with wonderful and talented staff, dedicated and multi-talented volunteers, committed donors, and a host of community stakeholders engaged in supporting ISR’s work to serve all of our Island communities. What a wonderful way to top off a nearly 50-year career in human services.
Although I resist the notion of retirement, I will reinvest my talent in using some of my highest and best skills in ways that support community life, increase dialogue about what means most to us in our communities, and contribute to the common good. What that looks like, I’m not sure yet. I plan to take a ‘sabbatical’ from my professional engagements to downsize stuff, play in my garden, connect with those near and dear, and, as my mom used to say, ‘Follow my nose’ into a new life chapter.
Thank you all for your support along my journey with Island Senior Resources!