A Farewell from CEO Poul JensenDecember 21st, 2012 by The Graham Windham Team
- In honor of Johnny and Chester McIver, I leave behind a profound appreciation for family, and the gifts that families bestow: identity, wholeness, sanctuary, unconditional love and permanency.
- In honor of the brave folks of Bogalusa, Louisiana, I leave behind a deep respect for the importance of community and its preservative and regenerative powers.
- In honor of all the direct care workers and foster parents I have had the privilege of serving with over the years, I leave behind the lessons I took away, and a commitment to never lose sight of what life is like at street level, where life is actually lived.
- In honor of all the directors, managers, administrators and government officials I have ever partnered with, I leave behind the assumption that we can always do better. I also leave behind a mirror.
- In honor of our Trustees, past, present and future, I leave behind a commitment to service excellence, transparency, accountability, continual quality improvement and organizational integrity of the highest order.
- In honor of all the kids who have been left behind over the years, I leave behind a solemn pledge to never ever relegate education to the back burner.
- In honor of all the kids and families I have ever served, cared for and cared about, I leave behind my heart, and boundless gratitude for allowing me to be part of their lives.
- And, in honor of Graham Windham and its extraordinary 206 year history, I leave behind all of the above, a wonderful and fully engaged Board of Trustees, an extraordinarily talented leader, an equally talented leadership team…and the future.
A Tribute to Poul from Our Staff
Tyrone Crowder, Facility Assistant, was a child in foster care at SCO Family of Services when he met Poul, who was working there. Although Tyrone was not one of the kids in Poul’s program, Poul said that he could call anytime if he needed someone to talk to. Tyrone took him up on that offer, and Poul has been a father figure to him ever since, through high school and college, and into Tyrone’s career working with nonprofits. He has now been with Graham Windham for seven years, helping to ensure that children grow up with the love and support that changed his life. He said:
“Poul told me, ‘Nothing in life is free, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish anything.’ He also once told me that he would provide an open ear and a hug every now and then free of charge. Poul was more of a father figure to me vs. a mentor; he was a hug when I needed one the most. There was an overstock of abuse and a shortage of hugs for me when I was growing up. Poul provided love.”
Rod Mizell, Division Director at The Graham School, has known Poul for about 40 years, and has worked with him at High Meadows, a residential facility in Hamden, CT; Lakeside School, also a residential campus in Spring Valley, NY; and the NYC ACS before joining Poul at Graham Windham 15 years ago. He said of Poul:
“I can respect and admire people who talk straight to me, even when it’s critical, because I can grow. I have a respect for honestness and openness. He’s a terrific guy – very, very bright, very savvy, lot of fire. I’ve learnt many lessons from him. One of things he said that stuck with me was, ‘Never box a kid in without giving them an honorable and dignified way out.’ Also, never, ever ask anyone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself. I’ve carried these concepts with me, and used them with both kids and adults. I was always captured by the fact that he always respected my ability to do this work. That’s why we always came back together eventually. There have been tough times too – tough situations, tough programs, tough kids – but it’s been well worth the ride.”
Gerry Leventhal, Vice President for Westchester Services, has also known Poul for close to 40 years. As Rod Mizell did, Gerry also worked with Poul at the High Meadows residential facility in Hamden, CT; Lakeside School in Spring Valley, NY; and the NYC ACS. Gerry has also worked with Poul for the last 15 years here at Graham Windham. He said:
“With humble beginnings in a small town in Connecticut, to the big stage in NYC, you have touched hundreds of young people’s lives and equally as many staff that found their calling by the leadership you provided. Your clarity of view and persistence of purpose instilled confidence in working at improving our product while always keeping an eye on the end game. One of the most important values learned in my work life was the sense of ownership you advocated and it is also one of the most important things we impart to those youth that we work with. Your unwavering commitment to these core values and not settling are those traits that most reflect your successful run.”
Sharmeela Mediratta, Vice President for Family and Community Support Services, worked with Poul at SCO Family of Services and Episcopal Social Services, before joining him at Graham Windham in 2011. She said:
“I’ve known Poul for 20 years. I met him when I was starting in the field as a caseworker in a residential program at SCO, then worked for a year as his assistant when he was radically restructuring the group homes at Episcopal Social Services, and now again during this remarkable period of time at Graham Windham. There are many constants that stay with me when I think of Poul. Here are two. Poul’s a tough love kind of guy. He’ll be really hard on you and demand that you do your best and be prepared to defend your position – but he has your back, and our kids knew he loved them. The other is – the man’s got moxie. Doesn’t matter who you are, what agency or program you come from, if he disagrees with you he’ll take you on and fight for what he believes is right for children, youth and families, and he gets the job done.”
Mayra Pacheco, Development Assistant, was in foster care with Graham Windham, and remembers Poul’s dedication to ensuring that her needs were met, especially at critical junctures in her life. Her words to Poul:
“As a former foster child, one thing that was very important to me was to know that the help that I received came from a genuinely caring and concerned worker who really and sincerely cared about my wellbeing, instead of looking at me like a paycheck or another name on their case list. Poul, you have advocated countless times for children who were not your own, but yet, you cared enough for them that you dedicated many years making sure they had the tools they need in order to have a bright future – education, so that they can achieve their highest potential, a sense of belonging within a family and a safe home…like you once said ‘we all need home.’
“You cared for children who, like me, needed that someone on their side to provide them with the help and the support system that any child growing up needs. This is why, I thank YOU! Thank you, for always focusing on how to help the kids and though most of them may not have had the pleasure of meeting you, I have, and I can honestly say that you DO genuinely and sincerely care for the wellbeing of all the children in Graham Windham…and on behalf of them, I thank YOU, again!”
Laurie Sands, Program Director for Brooklyn/Manhattan Preventive Services, has known Poul for over 30 years. They worked together at Edwin Gould Services for Children and the NYC Administration for Children’s Services in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and Poul continued to be a mentor to Laurie in the intervening years before she joined Graham Windham in 2011. She said:
“Poul, for over 25 years, you have occupied many roles in my life including Boss, Mentor, and Friend, but more importantly you have always given a Voice to the children in need in New York City. For myself, and for all of the children’s lives you have touched, we thank you.”
Kym Watson, Vice President for Family Permanency Planning Services, met Poul over 20 years ago at SCO Family of Services, when he was an Associate Executive Director and Kym was a Program Manager in their Community Residence Programs. She said of him:
“It is difficult to fully define the impact that Poul has had on me. I say that because what I’ve learned from him about ‘definitive leadership’ has transcended what I do in the work place. Those principles he taught me have found their way into every aspect of my life, even in ways I didn’t anticipate or know was at work within me.”
Passing On the Torch
Jess Dannhauser, who took over the role of President and CEO of Graham Windham, on January 1, 2013 (after serving in other leadership roles, including President, at Graham Windham), said to Poul:
“You are a unique blend of seemingly opposing characteristics: passionately opinionated and unflinchingly self-reflective; tough-minded and incredibly compassionate; deeply knowledgeable and ready to learn. You are a leader and a teammate. It is not that you fall somewhere in the middle of all these characteristics. You are not the gray in the middle of black and white. No, somehow, you embody all of them fully. You are some wildly exuberant and beautiful color… let’s call it Poul with an O. You have helped to infuse this color in those around you and into the soul of Graham Windham. We will honor it and will always return to the touchstones you have provided to us.”