It’s not every day that someone lands their “soul-filling” dream job. Especially not in the middle of a global pandemic.
But this was the exciting case for Julie Dees, who was officially named CEO of Family Service Association of Bucks County on Jan. 1. In the role, Dees will advance the strategic direction of the Langhorne-based nonprofit, which provides mental health, case management, housing, substance use disorder and other services to local children and adults.
“I’m just really proud and honored that the board has entrusted me with such an important job. I hope I make them proud and the legacy of Family Service,” said Dees. “The legacy of CEO Audrey [Tucker] is so beloved in our community, and I would like to think that the work we continue to do would make her and her family proud.”
Tucker was the longtime CEO of Family Service until her unexpected passing in 2018. Following a shift in leadership, Dees was named chief operating officer in April 2020 and acting chief executive officer in August. She candidly reflected on joining the Family Service team in the midst of COVID-19.
“It’s always hard to start a new job, right? But then throw in there a pandemic and, boy, it was really interesting,” she said. “It was a very challenging time, but it was also a very wonderful opportunity for me to see what Family Service is made of. I was so impressed with the staff that are here and their dedication to keep the mission going forward. No matter what 2020 threw at us, we were ready to tackle it.”
Currently, Family Service offers more than 30 programs. According to Dees, each is unique but has the same mission – to listen and truly understand the needs of the community.
“We really work on identifying various struggles that people have. That could be food insecurity, homelessness, substance use, mental health concerns, reentry into the community once they’ve been released from a correctional setting, working with families that have lost custody of their kids to improve parenting skills,” said Dees. “In the off chance that we don’t offer some sort of program or service to help, we will make sure that we connect that person to someone or an agency that can help.”
Dees brings over 20 years of clinical and leadership experience to Family Service, making her an ideal candidate to fill the big shoes of Tucker. Prior to joining the organization, Dees served as the director of behavioral health at Penn Presbyterian Center, where she founded and led the Penn Center for Opioid Recovery and Engagement team. She also dedicated 10 years to Bensalem’s Warwick Family Services.
“I was able to really do a lot of work in the community with mental health, working with families that were struggling to keep their kids home. So, I do feel that I have a long history of doing similar types of work,” Dees said. “But this is unique in that the number of programs we have at Family Service is something I have not experienced. It’s exciting to see the reach that we have in the community.”
With her tenure as CEO underway, Dees has a lot of goals in mind for her inaugural year.
“We need to be responsive to the ever-changing needs of the community. With the pandemic and with the social unrest of the political climate, we’re starting to see needs arise that maybe have been hidden before,” she said. “We are in the unique position to be responsive to that and really be a leader in speaking out when we see or encounter stigma or prejudice or discrimination, and just start to bring some equality to everybody in our community.”
Family Service is slated to partner with the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission to revamp the ways care is delivered to opioid users, and ultimately reduce stigma surrounding drug addiction. Dees also wants to utilize her background as a “harm reductionist.”
“I believe that we should do whatever it takes to keep people safe,” she said. “I’d love to bring more harm reduction philosophy to Bucks County and just change the whole culture here and shift our thoughts when it comes to how we do our work.”
As a native of Bucks County, previously residing in Doylestown, Dees is humbled by the opportunity to do what she loves most in a place where she has deep roots.
“What struck me is just how right it feels. What I mean by that is, moving into this position, it just feels natural, like it’s where I’m supposed to be. It’s a role that I can fully embrace as who I am and my authentic self, and being able to just live out my values everyday when I come to work,” she said. “Most people in their lives have had jobs that are just jobs. You go to work, you do what you’re supposed to do. But it doesn’t fill your soul. This is soul-filling work and I love that.”
The United States Air Force veteran has two grown children and lives with her wife and two black labs in Bala Cynwyd. She received her master’s degree in psychological counseling from La Salle University, master’s of business administration from West Texas A&M University and her bachelor’s degree in psychology from DeSales University.
Visit fsabc.org for more information on Family Service Association of Bucks County, headquartered at 4 Cornerstone Drive, Langhorne.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com