BENNINGTON — Ralph Provenza, the executive director at United Counseling Service (UCS), has announced his retirement for October 2016. His 13 year role will conclude 28 years of service at the organization and 40 years in the field of human social services.
Provenza's accomplishments include growing UCS's budget from $2 million in 1988 to the current $18 million as well as expanding the staff base from 120 to 300 people. Also, the State Psychiatric hospital was downsized during his involvement and the Brandon Training School closed, according to a release from UCS.
"The organization is in fine shape to meet the important needs of the community," he said. "The change and innovation never stops. It [UCS] needs the leadership to take us further."
A search committee has been formed to seek applicants through April with anticipated interviews and potential candidates scheduled for May.
Provenza decided that it's time to do less things with his life and take time to reevaluate what he wants to do, which may potentially include consulting others by taking advantage of the expertise he's built.
He hopes that the next executive director is "a leader with the vision and judgment that the organization needs to fulfill the community's needs." Looking forwards, he hopes the organization will integrate more with health care to meet the needs of people served because the industry is constantly changing.
"We need to keep going," he said. "We can't be stagnant."
Provenza is originally from New York City and received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the City College of New York and went on to get his master's degree in social work at the State University of New York at Albany where he began to work with children and families. Later, he moved to Boston to start a family and embark on the social human services path in managerial positions.
"I really felt energized to work on the larger side of things," he said. "There's a real connection that direct service folks have."
He feels that the work UCS does makes a difference in people's lives, but also acknowledges that its primary challenge remains funding, recruitment and retention. Those that are hired typically learn on the job tasks, Provenza said. Some leave within the first two months, but if they can make it past that, they'll stay for 15 years or more. The major aspect of the challenge is compensating staff for the work and consistency output, which exists across the state and country in the field. Currently 10 percent of the institution's positions are vacant.
When Provenza started at the organization, it barely worked with children and families and only did counseling and testing, but now, the addiction program has advanced tremendously along with the youth and family services program, he said. Prior to making the Bennington location his homestead, Provenza was hired to manage UCS's Northshire office in Manchester.
His regular duties include planning and directing agency operations such as program planning and development, staff supervision, financial planning, resource development, policy development, and contract negotiations. Provenza also serves as president of the Vermont Council for Developmental and Mental Health Services, and is a board member of the United Health Alliance, the Leadership Board of the Vermont Coalition for Practice Improvement, and former board member of the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare.
UCS is a state designated agency that was founded 57 years ago and provides assessment and short-term treatment in 10 primary care practices as well as substance abuse treatment and support to opioid addicted individuals as part of the Hub and Spoke program.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 118.