By Deb Silverthorn
According to Cathy Barker, everyone who comes to the organization has a story to tell. “And we’re honored to be part of that story,” she said.
Barker, the new CEO of Jewish Family Service, spent the last eight years as the organization’s chief operating officer, chief development officer and assistant executive director, before taking the leadership reins.
“I get things done, not by me doing all of the work myself of course, but by empowering our team, getting them excited about what we’re doing, giving them the resources needed to be successful,” she said. “Then, I can step out of the way while what we do helps those who need us.”
The daughter of Donna and Robert Brunkenhoefer, Barker, along with her siblings Blake, Craig, Donna and Brad, was raised in Corpus Christi. She met her husband, Don, while the two were students at Texas A&M. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology, then attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where she received her master’s degree.
She began her career as a licensed professional counselor in both hospital and private practice settings before embarking on 20-plus years of leadership in the nonprofit sector leading local and national social service and mental health organizations.
Barker and her husband have two sons, Dalton and Riley, both current Aggies. Outside of the office, Barker enjoys exercising, watching Aggie and Cowboys football, dinner and time with friends and family, and attending concerts of the bands of the 80s.
To Barker, raised Catholic, it is the values one learns and lives that make the human being. Serving, as JFS does, the greater community without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or the ability to pay, she believes strongly in values held close to those of the Jewish faith.
“I’m proud to have been successful at building a new source of unrestricted operating support (The Resale Shop), identifying and securing new grant revenue streams through community partnerships by bringing services to underserved areas of the community, and by engaging board members so they can see, firsthand, their efforts at work in the lives of others,” Barker said.
Barker’s years working with nonprofit organizations have helped her gain insights into the JFS’ current projects, programs and grants. Additionally, “I’m able to help engage others in our thinking at all levels,” she said. “I genuinely care about our staff and donors and know about their lives and what’s important to them.”
During her time with JFS, Barker worked with former CEO Michael Fleisher to lead strategic objectives that increased operational and program effectiveness through staff recruitment and retention. She also worked to identify and implement process improvements, resource development and fiscal management of the agency’s almost $8 million budget, its three service locations, The Resale Shop’s two locations and 94 staff members.
“Michael and I worked very together closely and we clicked and complemented each other’s strengths and goals,” Barker said, noting that together, they hired much of the staff who has remained on board, a strong team developing toward the future. “We were able to finish each other’s sentences and our beliefs, values, and concept of the culture of and for JFS were aligned.”
Assured and secure in Barker’s role is Michael Kaufman, president of JFS’ board of directors. He first joined the board just before Barker came to the organization, worked with her on many projects including The Resale Shop, and he’s seen her grow into the role.
“Cathy is an incredibly committed leader who works hard and to whom our staff responds,” he said. “She’s an essential part of JFS’ future and the agency’s seamless continuance, since Michael’s retirement, is due in great part to her focus, care and and concern.”
Through JFS’ 150 unique services and its more than 1,600 volunteers, serving more than 28,000 hours last year alone, it is all that happens each day within the agency’s walls of which Barker is proud.
“I didn’t know where the path would take me, but after my own life experiences, I wanted to be part of healing others and I’ve found that in a career of varying roads,” said Barker, who worked in a psychiatric hospital, founded Turning Point Counseling Services, was executive director of Family Services of Plano, and worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County, among other nonprofits, before arriving at JFS.
“I landed at JFS in 2010, and I’m grateful to be home where so much of what we do happens truly around the clock,” she said.