In Memory of our Founder, our Mentor, and our Friend

Cynthia Allen Gracey

Please Congratulate EWPBF Board Member Julie Swindler Featured in the July 10th edition of the  Palm Beach Post

MONDAY MEETING A Q&A WITH ... JULIE SWINDLER CEO, Families First of Palm Beach County

Families First's CEO says early intervention is key

Agency's 60 employees serve more than 1,200 families a year in county.

By Susan Salisbury Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Julie Swindler, CEO of Families First of Palm Beach County, has been at the helm for 25 years and worked at the nonprofit since its founding  in 1990.

Since its beginning, Families First, based in West Palm Beach, has focused on prevention and early intervention, understanding that it is better in human and economic terms to help

solve emerging issues rather than trying to "fix" them later, Swindler said.

Many of the families served face life-altering circumstances, such as domestic violence, homelessness, physical or mental health concerns or unemployment, that affect their ability to focus on providing stable, loving homes for their children.

Early trauma and high levels of stress experienced by either the child or family can have a long-lasting impact on the developing brain of a young child.

For that reason, services focus on the physical and mental health and wellness of the child and family - ensuring that women have access to health care even before becoming pregnant and during their pregnancy, and understand child development, especially during critical early years from birth through age 5, when the majority of brain development occurs.

Name: Julie Swindler

Age: 59

Hometown: Royal Palm Beach

Education: Master's degree in social work, licensed clinical social worker

Family: Husband, one daughter and two stepchildren (son and daughter), two grandsons

About your nonprofit: Families First of Palm Beach County's mission is to advance the well-being of children and families through high-quality programs in prevention, early intervention, child development, behavioral health, education and advocacy.

The agency has 60 employees, serving more than 1,200 families per year, with a budget of $4.6 million coming from Children's Services Council, government, foundations, United Ways and private donors.

Families First offers six programs that help children and families build on their strengths and provide individualized plans that meet each family's specific needs. They have an outstanding record of success: 100 percent of the families served through the nationally evidence-based Healthy Families program remain free from abuse and neglect; 100 percent of the babies born to HIV-positive mothers through the Targeted Outreach for Pregnant Women program are born healthy.

Hundreds of women of child-bearing age are giving birth to healthy infants because they receive health care before conception and prenatally. Children through age 5 are able to recover from trauma and maintain healthy attachments to their caregivers. Grandparents and others raising a loved one's children are getting the resources they need, and behavioral health services are supporting the healthy development of children and youth.

First paying job and what you learned from it: My first paying job was at age 12, baby-sitting for 50 cents per hour. I learned how to be a caretaker understanding a child's needs, flexibility, patience, being creative and multitasking, sometimes caring for five children at a time. At 16, I worked for Dunkin' Donuts and learned about the importance of great customer service and getting to know people, the regulars.

First break in the business: I had only been a social worker for four years, two as a case manager for Families First, when I was promoted to chief executive officer. The board of directors was looking to make a change in leadership and saw something in me that I did not see. The board president said they needed a "super duper" social worker to mend fences since the reputation of the agency was not good after two years of existence. It was felt that I would be able to learn the management and leadership skills needed to lead the agency.

How your business has changed: With increased emphasis on the use of evidence-based services came increased requirements for accountability and documentation. Funders and donors want to know more than ever what they are receiving for their investment. While once there was competition for every dollar, now nonprofits are seeking each other out to collaborate and partner to reduce duplication of services and ensure that those needing us have access to the best services possible.

Best business book you ever read: "Good to Great" by Jim C. Collins

Best piece of business advice you ever received: Always surround yourself with people smarter then you are.

What you tell young people about your business: Don't dwell on a family 's flaws or deficits, help them build on their strengths so that they are the leaders in solving their issues. Keep families front-and-center so they are able to decide what services they need in order to become stable and functional. Celebrate each family 's successes, even the small ones. This encouragement supports families becoming more confident in their own capacity to take the lead. Of course, this results in an improved quality of life for their children. Give families a hand up, not a hand out.

Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? When I was first promoted to CEO of Families First of Palm Beach County, I thought I needed to have all the answers and was not sure how to work with a board of directors. One of my first mistakes was signing a five-year lease on a rental that was too small to accommodate pending expansion. The board's attorney was able to get us out of the lease, and I learned very quickly how important it is that a CEO is able to work closely with a competent attorney and board of directors. Most importantly, I learned to seek out help when needed and that doing so is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? I see many opportunities for nonprofit leaders, the business community and faith-based organizations to work together to improve services throughout Palm Beach County. The county has a wealth of talent and excellent leadership that will collectively improve outcomes for our county's most vulnerable population - our children.

Power lunch spot: City Cellar in City Place

Where we'd find you when you're not at the office: At the beach with my husband, sunbathing and watching the waves, at family activities especially Sunday breakfast with my parents after Mass, or escaping to New York for a Broadway mother-daughter Broadway show binge.

Favorite smartphone app: Google Maps

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Passion, high ethical standards,commitment to the work, engaging personality, and interest in continuous  learning and improvement.

Congratulations to the 2017 Women In Leadership Award Honorees

Private Sector 

Nellie L. King

Public Sector

Jean Wihbey Ph.D.

Nonprofit Sector

Linda DePiano Ph.D.

Volunteer Sector

Sharon Gill

Upcoming events

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2017 WILA Honorees with Keynote speaker Captain Mark Kelly


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