Marie Walsh recently reflected on her 30-plus years with the Catholic Charities of Cortland County.
“Boy, it’s been a long time,” she said on Tuesday as she sat back in amazement.
Walsh, who has been with Catholic Charities since 1986 and the agency’s executive director since 2006, is retiring at the end of June.
Walsh realized before the coronavirus pandemic that it was time to step down. But due to the magnitude of the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, Catholic Charities asked Walsh to stay on for at least another year.
The year 2021 would be the one where Walsh officially announced she’d stepped down.
“I didn’t want to go out feeling like I lost my edge, or I wasn’t as sharp as I used to be,” she said.
Walsh’s first position with Catholic Charities in the mid-1980s was the program manager for a project called Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Services. She said Cortland County was one of the eight counties in New York state to receive funding for the service.
Following a brief maternity leave, Walsh returned to the agency in 1989 and began working in specialized services for people with “serious and persistent mental health illnesses,” she said.
Walsh stayed in case programs for behavioral health for a majority of her career with the agency before switching to the role of executive director.
During her time with Catholic Charities, Walsh has seen the staff grow from a half dozen to more than 50.
“We have great people who work here,” she said. “We have fun amidst the difficult things we deal with every day. We smile, laugh and keep moving forward.”
Walsh remembers when the agency was just a food pantry and had a teen pregnancy program. She added how she’d have to “take the time to count all of the programs and funding streams we’ve had over the years.”
“I’ve seen a lot of programs come in, but not too many go,” Walsh said.
Carol Clarke, president of the board for Catholics Charities, said Walsh has been instrumental in bringing in waves of programs.
“She has moved the agency forward in her tenure as executive director,” said Clarke, who has been the board president for the past four years and on the board overall for six.
She added, “She’s always creating programs that are beneficial to the county.”
Walsh gives credit to the agency for bringing in a majority of the programs. She does, however, feel rewarded for the programs that she wrote a grant for.
“It’s the nuts and bolts that make it happen,” Walsh said.
During her tenure, Walsh said adopting services for children “was a big piece of evolution for the agency.” She brought on the case program known as intensive case management services for the “seriously emotionally disturbed children.”
“We had a teen adolescence program, but never had specialized services for kids,” Walsh said. “That opened a whole new door for us.”
Walsh was also proud of the development of housing programs in the county, mostly for specialized populations with mental illness, people who are in recovery from substance-abuse disorders, the homelessness, and for people and families who face poverty.
The fondest moments Walsh has experienced is with the people that the agency has served.
“I enjoyed helping people feel better or helping them find their way,” she said. “It’s been an honor and pleasure to work with them all these years.”
Walsh added, “I’ll miss all of the people. I’m not one to be idle in life.”
“Marie is a wonderful person to work with and for,” Clarke said. “She’ll be greatly missed.”