Catherine Lester Named Seattle Human Services Department Director

In February, Mayor Ed Murray nominated Catherine Lester as director of the Seattle Human Services Department. The Seattle City Council confirmed her appointment in April.

The Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) hosts Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Other divisions include Community Support and Assistance, Leadership and Administration, Community Engagement and Capacity Building, and Youth and Family Empowerment. HSD provides $99 million in funding through 522 contracts to nearly 200 agencies that support Seattle's most vulnerable residents each year. The department works closely with public and nonprofit funders and service providers throughout the region to understand current and emerging human service needs, and to create and invest in a comprehensive and integrated regional human services system.

In Catherine's own words

"HSD's work is very personal for me. In my own family exist many of the same challenges that our clients face—trouble with alcohol and drugs, chronic unemployment, the scars of sexual abuse, battles with mental illness, and domestic violence. But also present in my own family is tremendous resiliency and determination, as well as deep love and faith.

"My parents are both educators, and they taught my sisters and me about the importance of service to others, living a life of integrity, and standing on our faith. The great Mary McLeod Bethune once said that 'Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.' It is the very personal nature of my own life experiences that has made me want to use my life, in my own small way, to give back and try and make a difference.

Seattle City Clerk Monica Martinez Simmons (right) administered Catherine Lester's oath of office on April 13, 2015.

"The Department's staff and service providers make significant contributions and give back to our community every day. Their dedication and commitment inspires me every day.

"There are many opportunities ahead of us. I am thrilled to continue working to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people in our community—families and individuals with low incomes, children, domestic violence and sexual assault victims, homeless people, seniors, and persons with disabilities.

"As director, there are five priorities that I will focus on over the next several years. They are to: 1) achieve a results culture; 2) ensure strong public stewardship, 3) create a positive employee experience, 4) be innovative in human services, and 5) prepare for the future. Each of these priorities is supported by the department's values around race and social justice."

A long career in human services

Catherine Lester's career in human services includes four years as deputy director of the Seattle Human Services Department, during which she managed the day-to-day operations of the department. During that time, she also served as interim department director for one year. Her strengths include workforce planning, program design, policy development, investment planning, data analysis, message and tactic development, budget management, and relationship cultivation.

Previously, Catherine directed Cuyahoga Tapestry System of Care, serving children with serious emotional and mental health issues in Ohio; directed the Vision Charlotte Initiative, a public/private partnership designed to integrate human services with physical development in Charlotte, North Carolina's revitalization neighborhoods; and provided leadership to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families in the Mecklenburg in NC County Department of Social Services child welfare system.

When Mayor Murray announced his appointment in February, outgoing acting HSD director John Okamoto—recently appointed to an open seat on the Seattle City Council—said, "Catherine is the perfect choice to lead [HSD]. She has been the architect and driver of the department's efforts to be results- and data-driven, getting the most out of our public investments focused on disparities. Catherine understands and knows our robust network of service providers. She is nationally recognized for her work, and she has the confidence of the employees of the department. I am very pleased to hand over leadership to her."

And as Mayor Murray stated the time, "Catherine is a committed leader and innovative thinker, and we are lucky to have her."

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