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Escambia Children's Trust close to hiring director

Escambia Children's Trust

The Escambia Children’s Trust spent most of 2021 filling out its 10-member board, organizing, and setting policy and bylaws.

As 2022 gets underway, the county has begun collection of tax revenues that will fund programs and services aimed at improving the lives of children and families. Also, an executive director to handle day-to-day-operations soon will be in place.

“We have made a lot of progress and we’re super excited, because on Tuesday, we’re having final interviews for our top finalists,” said Pensacola attorney and University of West Florida Board of Trustees member Stephanie White, who chairs the Escambia Children’s Trust.

She says they’re moving ahead with face-to-face interviews with the top five candidates for the job of executive director, beginning at 10.

“They’ll each have an hour to present. They have a Power Point presentation that will last up to 10 minutes about their vision for the trust. Then we will have a set of about 7 questions that they’ll all be asked the same questions.”

At their January regular board meeting on Wednesday, members of the Escambia Children’s Trust (Board) will discuss their options.

“If there’s one candidate that just shines and all ten of us agree on one candidate, then we’re done,” declared White.

“However, if there’s a couple of them that we like, what we’ll probably do is go around the room and say, “These are my top three.” If we have two or three that are the top three that have the same amount of votes, then we’ll figure that we’ll either have to have them back for another interview session and we’ll narrow it down that way.’

After a nationwide search and more than 60 applications, the candidate pool has been narrowed to the top five; two from the local area, two from elsewhere in Florida, including a Pensacola native, and one is from out of state. White says they all work for non-profits and are all well-qualified, but each brings something a little bit different to the table.

“The one in Virginia has more of a business background,” said White, in reference to candidate Toby Fritz. From Charlottesville, Virginia, Fritz currently serves as vice president and chief operations officer for Folium Inc., a nonprofit based in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

“The one in Tampa works for Legal Aid in Tampa and oversees their organization,” White said of candidate Tammy Greer. Originally from Pensacola, Greer is now executive director and CEO of Gulfcoast Legal Services based in St. Petersburg.

“The one in Miami actually works for a non-profit who that actually does work with the Children’s Trust in Miami Dade,” White noted about candidate Dasiely Cruz. She currently works as director of the Early Learning Career Center at The Children's Forum Inc., where she has worked since 2002.

The two local candidates include Al Henderson, who serves as executive director of the Escambia Pensacola Human Relations committee and Leslie Mickles, vice president of financial advancement at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast.

“So, they all have backgrounds working with children and working with grant applications, which is going to be a big part of their job.”

UWF Board of Trustees member Stephanie White
Bernard Leonard Wilchusky Jr./Bernard Wilchusky/University of
UWF Board of Trustees member Stephanie White

Interview sessions on Tuesday will delve further into their qualifications for the post, with questions about their experience with community relations, strategic planning, and their ability to manage people and money.

When it comes to the hiring of an executive director, White says it’s important that the Children’s Trust board members get it right.

“They’re going to be in charge of hiring. They’re going to be in charge of firing, staff development and evaluating how the staff works,” she proclaimed. “So, to me, this executive director is going to be able to manage people and manage people well. And, the executive director, they’re going to be in charge of that $10 million budget, so it’s a huge, huge undertaking.”

In 2020, voters in Escambia County approved creation of an independent special district allowing for a half-mill property tax to pay for programs and services to benefit children and their families. Less than a week into the New Year, about $6 million, 60% of what’s projected, had been collected.

White says the Children’s Trust board has a few bills to pay, but generally will hold on to the money until they’re ready to begin handing it out for services.

“You know our goal is to have our executive director in place, so he or she will be able to get the staff that he or she needs to help,” White said. “Then eventually we’re going to have to educate the public about how to apply for these funds and about what the application process looks like.”

The expected timetable is to hold the educational forums in the spring and begin issuing (program and service) contracts by summer.

Although their work during the past year has mostly been about the nuts and bolts of starting up, the chair of the Escambia Children’s Trust says she’s happy about how far they’ve come.

“We have been working hard. We have been working diligently in order to be able to hand out the money, because that’s the most important thing is to be able to see the progress, to see the change that’s going to happen in Escambia County.”

Again, the board will convene at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow for executive director interviews to begin at 10 a.m. at the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building.

Members will meet back there on Wednesday to narrow their list or to possibly vote to hire their top choice.