Greg Echele spent 43 years with Family Resource Center in South St. Louis, the last 28 years as CEO. So, it’s not unusual that he has some mixed feelings about stepping down from his position at the end of 2016.
“I helped found the organization with several others back in 1974, so I have some powerful emotions about walking away,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a lot of pride in knowing that we built Family Resource Center into one of Missouri’s largest family counseling agencies, and have helped thousands of children through the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect and family violence.”
During Greg’s tenure, Family Resource Center grew from a start-up organization to a $7.2 million agency that serves thousands each year in St. Louis City and St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin, and Jefferson Counties. Greg says that growth has resulted from a focus on “always trying to run the place more efficiently and looking for new and more effective ways to help at-risk kids and families succeed.”
In particular, Greg points with pride to three programs that have helped put Family Resource Center on the map. “Fifteen years ago, we started our foster care program in partnership with the City’s Children’s Division,” he explained. “Back then we were serving about 60 children. Today, we’ve developed ongoing collaborations with Youth in Need and Epworth Children and Family Services that enable us to serve 630 foster children each year.”
Another success story is the Family Preservation program, which was started as a way to help keep children out of foster care. Family Resource Center’s clinical staff works with parents and guardians to identify and address problems that could otherwise lead to the child being removed from the home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. “Our goal is to help keep families together whenever possible,” Greg explained. Over the past 20 years more than 4,500 families have been served through this program, with 75 percent of the children avoiding foster care.
The third initiative that Greg extols is the PathBuilders Program. This evidence-based program, created in partnership with the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, focuses on helping families better their lives when they are challenged by financial hardship, unstable housing, unemployment, mental or physical health problems, limited parenting skills, or other issues. “Our goal with PathBuilders is to mitigate child abuse across generations by helping families overcome those things that may often lead to domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse,” he said.
These successes, Greg adds, have resulted from a realization that delivering good clinical services is no longer enough. “It’s all about results now,” he noted. “You have to be able to show how your programs are working, whether your audience is donors, board members, potential partners, or others.
As a leader, Greg stressed that results come from building relationships and trust. “A great deal of my time is spent building relationships with all of our constituencies, including staff. It’s important to get input, to listen to those directly involved. That builds trust, and trust leads to results once everyone gets aligned around a single goal.”
When asked for the advice he would give to someone just starting out on a career in the nonprofit sector, Greg quickly exclaimed, “Go for it! The key is to know your dream, but not to be a single skill person. You have to be able to build relationships, to handle multiple roles and juggle lots of different things. That’s the nature of the business.” As an aside, he wishes that someone would devise a better way to manage what he calls the ‘electronic explosion.’
“Time management is critical when you’re getting 400 emails a day,” he said. “People need to do a better job of deciding what really needs to be communicated, and how.”
With the decision that Greg was stepping down, Family Resource Center’s board looked at three options: finding a replacement CEO, investigating the formation of one or more strategic alliances with like-minded organizations, or pursuing a merger. After two years of planning, Family Resource Center announced in September 2016 that it would be merging with Children’s Home Society of Missouri (CHS) in order to provide children and families “with a full spectrum of services and support.” CHS Executive Director Karen Nolte will assume the role of executive director of the newly merged organization when the merger is completed in early 2017.
“This is a logical move for both organizations as it will enable them to provide more comprehensive services and support to clients in an expanded service area,” Greg said. “It represents a strategic opportunity to advance the missions of both organizations in a faster, more effective way than they could do separately.”
As for Greg’s future, he and his wife plan to retire to a home in Asheville, North Carolina, where he plans to “back off” for a while without the pressure of a professional to-do list. Of course, he’s already signed up to take several mini-classes at a local college there, and he may do some consulting, as long as it does not interfere with his backpacking hobby. “I’ve done 900 miles backpacking in my life and I hope to keep doing more, even if I’m walking a bit slower these days,” he added with a smile.
How does this long-time friend of children and families hope to be remembered? Simply said, “I hope they remember me as a true innovator of child welfare services.”