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After more than 30 years, Amy Eisele retires, leaving SCAN with a new name, new director

After more than 30 years, Amy Eisele retires, leaving SCAN with a new name, new director

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New and change have been two keywords marking events at Pharos Parenting (formerly SCAN of Iredell County) over the past nine months.

It is during that time frame that the center has moved to its location at 1602 Davie Ave., Statesville, changed its name to Pharos Parenting and seen a change in leadership with Amy Eisele retiring and Tonya Fowler taking the role as the new executive director.

Eisele said that she has been with Pharos in 1987 helping out at that time but didn’t officially begin working until around 1993 serving first as a parent aide, and moving to the interim director position as she continued serving as a part time parent aide taking over as executive director in 2003.

Effective July 6, Eisele took on a new role as the former director and a new retiree with no set plans in place except to perhaps catch up on “a few years’ worth of reading, work around the house and eventually do some volunteer work.” She chuckled as she said she hadn’t decided yet on what she planned to do to which Fowler replied, “that’s the great thing about retirement, you don’t have to do anything.”

When asked why she decided to retire now, Eisele said, “It’s time. SCAN is in a new spot now. We’ve got our new building. We’ve got our new name. And now we have a new director who is better able to meet the needs of SCAN at this time, which is super.”

New director

Fowler comes to this new position with a wide range of experience having an education background during which time she served a preschool director and taught in the school system in South Carolina.

Most recently she worked for three years as marketing and event coordinator for the Downtown Statesville Development Corporation and then a brief stint as marketing manager at Key to Escape in downtown Statesville.

“Then this opportunity presented itself to come on with SCAN in December 2019 as the development director. I jumped on that opportunity because I really realized in that six months I was with Key to Escape that I loved the non-profit world and I missed that and that’s all I’ve ever been in until I did that one small stint with them,” said Fowler. “I’ve always done sort of non-profit work and served on boards for non-profits as well so that’s where my passion is and I really quickly realized how much I enjoyed that and missed it. So, when the opportunity with SCAN came up in November, (I started in December), it was a no-brainer for me to transition over here.”

It didn’t take long for Fowler to feel right at home with the staff as she noted that “coming in has been fantastic, and I fell in love with everyone from the start and that’s why I’m excited to be here. They are all wonderful.”

Eisele likewise sang the praises of the staff as she shared that “this staff works well together, they bounce off each other. It’s an unusual place to work.”

Staff members include Laurie Trosuk, clinical director; Sharon Molleur, family connections program director; Robin Nicholson, parent education coordinator; Susan White and Pam Cloar, parent aides; and Ginger Missert, office administrator.

Saying farewell

The staff hosted a retirement reception for Eisele providing an opportunity for community members to drop by and wish her well and it was at the time, Eisele said, “I’m going to really miss these people and admire all the things they do and for letting me be a part of it.”

Being missed will work both ways as Trosuk said, “Amy ended every staff meeting with, ‘go and do good things.’ She spent a lifetime doing that and will be missed. For so many people, myself included, Amy was there when we needed someone. Her door was always open, and she always made time for anyone needing to talk. People often stopped by to see Amy and would tell me how much they love her. I hope Amy knows that this community is grateful for having known her and for all her service.”

Pharos Parenting board member Paul Summerville echoed that sentiment as he noted that “Amy’s dedication to the prevention of child abuse has left its mark in Iredell County. And Iredell County is a better community because of her dedication.”

Molleur and Cloar likewise remembered Amy’s words of ‘go and do good things.’ Cloar added, “Amy routinely challenged her staff with those words. Amy has lived her own life by those words and thus created an example for her staff and the community to follow.”

As Fowler prepared to step into the role of director, Eisele shared something that caught her attention about her.

“The neat thing about Tonya,” Eisele, said, “is when she came in, she didn’t just jump in and start writing stuff and doing whatever. She came and checked with everybody here” to see what each person did and asked them questions and “really looking at what they did and not just assuming she knew everything, which is what I thought was quite impressive.”

Fowler responded by noting the teamwork of the staff.

“We are stronger together. I am one person and one brain, and I think as a team we so much better. So I rely on all of them to give me ideas, to check what I’m saying to make suggestions because I think when I hear everybody else’s, it’s like ‘oh, that’s way better than what I thought.’ I think you are better off doing that, and as a leader, you have to listen to everybody else. You can’t make decisions solely on your own. I feel like the whole staff is a team,” Fowler said.

Changes in many forms

Change has come in many forms at the center including moving into the new building in October 2019 and the new name of Pharos Parenting, which Fowler and Eisele explained is Greek meaning lighthouse or beacon. This is what they want to be in the community, a guiding a light for parents, they noted.

And, while the center’s mission will remain the same of helping and loving their families, the name change will reflect a slight difference in their focus.

“SCAN/Pharos has experienced a lot of change in the past year,” said Susan Ervin, who has served on the Pharos Parenting board several years and as board chairperson for a year. “Child abuse is a tough topic. With our rebranding, the goal is to move away from the negativity of child abuse and also, the idea of it being remedied after the fact. Our mission has always been prevention, but we really want to refocus on that,” she shared. “Many of the families we serve are involved in the system due to neglect, not abuse so removing stigma is important. If we can engage families earlier and keep them longer, we believe we can prevent abuse and break the cycle of generational abuse and neglect. Rebranding and new marketing strategies will be geared towards removing the stigma from parents seeking help and information from our organization.”

A name changes has been talked about for years, Eisele said. The new name was selected after much research.

“We wanted to be more open and welcoming to the entire community, shared Fowler when speaking about the new name selection.

More changes

There have been additional changes at the center and the number of families impacted. Parent aides at that time, who were volunteers, had caseloads of about 12-18 families and then they had parenting classes along with a parent support group at that time.

Eisele said that when she became director there was a program for teenagers/at risk kids that were at risk of being involved with the court system. With the changes in the juvenile court system, they did not keep this program; however, they added a supervised visitation program she said, “for dealing with domestic violence and child abuse issues. And the our parenting classes were expanded along with adding a coaching program for families who had children in foster care and were working toward learning the skills to get their children back home. We were teaching them how to do that because a lot of times our parents don’t know what to do so they do what they’ve had modeled and so the more formal education plus the actually coaching as you’re learning these things makes a real difference.”

These numbers look differently today. At the end of the fiscal year, June 30, the center had served 25 families for parent aide.

“We don’t have as many parent aides,” today. Eisele said when she started they had volunteer parent aides who were trained. Today the staff is specialized with one having a psychology degree, another experience as a social worker, one with an education background and more.

“The world has changed so,” Eisele said, “We can’t just go in and do education kind of stuff because the (family’s) needs are so great that we have to help them. The first thing you have to do is actually survive and our families when we get them usually are busy trying to survive. So that is where we have to begin now. Our volunteers didn’t have to do that way back when, but they do now. So now to carry a caseload of 12-18 people our staff could not give them what they need. They would be stretched way too thin,” she said.

“Our staff has to help families meet basic needs before they can start educating them on parenting skills because they’re not worried about how to effectively discipline their child if they are worried about how they are eating today,” noted Fowler. “So, our parent aides help them first of all with their basic needs of survival whether it’s connecting with community resources or helping them find jobs, whatever the case may be. And so that’s a long term process. Once they’ve met those needs, then our parent aide starts to work with them on skills and that can take 10, 12, 18 months sometimes, weekly visits.”

Fowler said, one of the phrases they use is ‘we meet our clients where they are because they are not all in the same place. They are a wide variety and all of our clients don’t need the same thing, so we meet them where they are and it might take 18 months and it might take three months.

So the center has impacted 25 families for the parent aide program, 17 in the supervised visit program, 83 in the formal education parenting classes, six in individual classes, 127 in the women’s jail and 20 families with the coaching program.

Any more changes?

Are there changes in store for the future? There is one program, which actually has been in the works for a while that Fowler wants to see grow. Called Best Beginnings and which offers prenatal or newborn parenting classes to parents who are expecting of just had a baby “has a lot of potential and I really want to grow that,” Fowler said.

Newborn and infant care will be taught and what to expect in development.

“Our hopes with that,” said Fowler is that “our classes are not just for people who have already offended or had a problem with abuse or neglect. It’s for anybody who wants to be a better parent and let’s face it, everyone can be a better parent. So we really want people to know our parenting classes are open to anyone. By starting with them in the prenatal class and the early class, they will remember when they get to those terrible 2s or those defiant 7s or the teenage years that we are here and that they can call us again and they can come back and get more skills, and learn how to deal with that age

“It’s not just for people who have offended. We are still going to keep that as our mission,” Fowler said. “That’s ultimately our goal but it’s going to be more of the preventative side rather than the intervention side. And if we can start them in the best beginnings, these newborn classes know that we are here for support, we are here to help, and without judgment because we’ve all been there. People will remember us and come back to us if we can catch them from the beginning.”

Eisele’s legacy

When it comes to the legacy that Eisele wants to leave behind it is for them all to remember that the families “are people. Just remember that they are people, she stressed, and they count. They are not a number. I guess I say that all the time,” she said. “They are people.”

Then Fowler looked at Eiesle and said, with a smile, “Period. Amen. She says that all the time too,” Fowler explained.

Then she looked solemnly at Eisele and said, “I promise to carry that on because I know that if your biggest fear. And it’s definitely not all about the numbers even though we do have to watch the numbers. But there’s a fine line and I promise that I will remember the families individually, what we are doing, why we are here. That’s the biggest thing,” she said.

And in addition, Fowler noted that she wants “to see the number of families we touch increase, those that we impact. That’s what I hope to do.” That impact will touch future generations, and they will be better for it, she continued.

Eisele concluded by saying that “working with our families is such a gift because our families give back to us. They are people, and there is positive in everybody if you just allow them the chance to show it.”

This is not just a job, but it’s a calling, one that not just anyone can do, she noted. Friendships are developed between them and the families. Sometimes the parent aides are the only friends they the families have, and they need that interaction.

Eisele may be leaving the position, but she will carry many memories with her and continue to love the families she served these many years. With a big smile, she said there were many stories to share of her time there.

When asked about special memories, she noted, “it’s the people that come back,” she said. There’s one lady who spoke to my son and she said, you know, I worked with your mom through SCAN, and they were so nice and I really appreciate it and they helped me so much. I wished I had taken advantage when they were trying to work with me.

Eisele also shared a story about a lady who saw her in the grocery store and told her how well things were going and thanked her for working with her family. Her family has grown and she now has grandchildren.

“She chased me down,” Eisele said to which Fowler added that “the lady was so excited to tell how great the kids were doing now.”

And then there were the stories of multiple ladies who had been a part of the support group back in the 1970’s and they remained in touch with Amy and the center until they died two just as recently as five years ago.

“SCAN has been impactful” Fowler.

Amy Eisele has spent more than 30 years serving families in our community and made SCAN, now Pharos, an integral part of this community,” said Ervin. There’s no other organization in the county providing the services that we do. As the Guardian ad Litem attorney for the county, I see firsthand how SCAN/Pharos changes lives and helps give parents the skills to unite their families and avoid repeat state intervention. SCAN/Pharos creates healthy, thriving families.

“There’s really no way to adequately thank her for her service. Amy and the BOD decided to hire a development director approximately six months ago. Tonya Fowler came on board and amazed all of us,” Ervin noted. “When the BOD decided to appoint an interim director, Tonya was the first candidate identified because of how hard she worked in the development director position. She has real vision on how to move Pharos forward even with the challenges presented by COVID-19. Tonya brings a very positive energy to the table which matches the overall refocus of our mission. Finally, she cares about people and has a strong desire to help families in this community which is perhaps the most important quality of anyone who works with our organization.”

As one chapter concludes for Eisele as she begins retirement and in time picking up the torch of volunteering, and as Fowler embarks on her journey as director with Pharos Parenting, those challenging words of ‘go and do good things’ will be ones that both will strive to do and continue in the days ahead.

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