New Catholic Charities Executive Director Named (Andy Telli, Tennessee Register)

Posted 12/01/2016

Bishop David Choby of Nashville has announced that Pamela Russo, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania, has been named the new executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

"I think everyone who had the opportunity to meet her and interview her were all in agreement that she was the right person for the job," Bishop Choby said. "She has all of the right qualifications."

Bishop Choby and the search committee appointed to review candidates for the job were looking for a person with "first of all, knowledge and experience firmly rooted in the Catholic faith," the bishop said. "Experience certainly is very important and she has a world of experience," he said pointing to her more than 12 years at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Allentown and five more with Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bishop Choby noted that Russo has earned two master's degrees in an effort to be even more effective in her job. "I was very much impressed with her efforts to prepare herself for her future work, the initiative she took to do that," he said.

"She struck me as a person who will work well with people, a warm and friendly and engaging personality," Bishop Choby said.

Russo will succeed Bill Sinclair, who is retiring as executive director, a post he has held for the last 30 years.

"Bill's just done such a fantastic job," said Russo. "When I heard of all the good things he had done ... I thought nobody will be able to fill his shoes. I just want to go down there and continue the good work he started."

Nashville is a vibrant diocese with much potential for growth, Russo said. She was drawn to the position by the opportunity "to work with that wonderful staff, all the talent that's down there," Russo added. "Everyone is so committed to the mission of Catholic Charities. The vibe I felt there made we want to go there and contribute what I can to further that mission."

Russo's hiring concludes a national search for a new executive director, which attracted more than 300 applicants, said Dwayne Dillard, president of the Catholic Charities Board of Trustees and chair of the search committee.

Three finalists came to Nashville to meet with Bishop Choby, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, and the agency's administrative team.

The committee was looking for a candidate with significant experience leading an organization in providing social services, Dillard said. Russo more than fit the bill, he said.

"She has a significant number of years working with Catholic Charities," Dillard said of Russo. "She is very engaged in working with her team, her bishop and the diocese. We believe that she will be a great fit with our staff and fit very well within our culture. She's very energetic and is excited about coming to Nashville."

"I am absolutely thrilled with the bishop's choice," Sinclair said of Russo's hiring. "She's very experienced, very well qualified, a very dedicated person who will live the role of executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee."

Sinclair will retire on Jan. 31, 2017, after 42 years working for Catholic Charities of Tennessee. "I love the organization," Sinclair said. "She's going to inherit a terrific organization that is large and diverse. She's coming into tremendous support from the diocese and an excellent board of trustees that's only getting better, and a great staff."

Catholic Charities of Tennessee was established by the Diocese of Nashville in 1962. Over the last half century it has grown to serve the residents of 38 counties in Middle Tennessee providing services that include: refugee and immigrant services, adoptions and parental support, counseling, senior services, education and job training, and basic needs, such as food, housing and clothing assistance. Last year, the agency had 70,000 service connections, which are available to people of all religious, ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds.

The agency began with a $100 donation and a $1,000 loan from the diocese. This year, it has a budget of about $24 million. The executive director oversees the operations of Catholic Charities as well as the management of the St. Mary Villa Child Development Center.

"You're dealing with a complex organization that is very demanding," Sinclair said. But Catholic Charities is blessed with financial stability and "a great reputation," he added.

Russo hopes to be on the job by the end of January, she said. "I've got a lot to learn when I get down there," she said. Her first task will be to meet with all the staff and hear from them about the agency.

"I'm a good listener. I'm a good supporter," Russo said. "My role is to be that support for staff. Through good times and bad times, you always have somebody in your corner."

Since August 2012, Russo has been executive director of Catholic Charities and Secretary for Catholic Human Services for the Diocese of Allentown, which is located about 60 miles north of Philadelphia and has about 263,000 Catholics.

Services offered by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Allentown include: adoption, support for pregnant women, immigrants, senior services, adult day care, counseling and community support.

As executive director, Russo oversees daily operations of the agency in five Pennsylvania counties and a budget of more than $2.5 million. In her role as secretary for Catholic Human Services, she has oversight for all Catholic health and Human services within the Diocese of Allentown, managing a $26 million budget.

Russo started with Catholic Charities in Allentown in 2004 as a special projects coordinator and later served as a county supervisor for the agency in Schuylkill and Carbon counties in Pennsylvania, as a senior administrator, and as assistant director.

Before working in Allentown, Russo worked for Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, including a stint managing a shelter for homeless women with mental health and substance abuse problems and their children.

She is a licensed social worker and holds master's degrees in social work from Temple University and in administration of human services from Chestnut Hill College.

Russo's first job out of college was working for the Red Cross in its emergency services department. "I've just always loved social services," she said. "As a social worker, I love helping people, the satisfaction of helping somebody move to self-sufficiency. There's so many positive outcomes that happen in the field of social work."

As a life-long Catholic, working for Catholic Charities helps her live her faith, Russo said. "I have just a passion for Catholic Charities" and to have the opportunity to use her faith in her work "is such a gift."

Catholic Charities of Tennessee is larger than the agency in Allentown, Russo noted, but it also offers "a lot of opportunities," she said. "We ‘ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I think people need Catholic Charities now more than ever."


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