Family charity chief finds new challenge
The human services agency today boasts some 800 employees
INCREASING needs and less money will challenge all human service organizations in the years ahead, says the outgoing president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Service.
Geri Marullo, 54, who has led the state's largest human services agency since 1998, was selected after a long, rigorous search to be the new president and CEO of the Consuelo Foundation, effective Jan. 3.
She said CFS is strong and stable now and has "excellent employees," so she felt "it was a good time after almost eight years to turn the reigns over to someone with a lot of energy and a lot of vision to take it to the next level over the next eight to 10 years."
She said she wanted to get closer to the population served by human services, but as CFS grew larger she "became more separated from the actual work I was interested in and committed to."
She couldn't pass up an opportunity to work with the Consuelo Foundation and with poor children and families in Hawaii and the Philippines, she said, "and introduce myself to the whole world of international child welfare and child poverty.
"It was an opportunity one can only dream of," she said in an interview. "I am so fortunate to have that opportunity in my lifetime.
"I didn't want to leave this earth without being a global citizen, and I couldn't be a global citizen without working in a setting a little more global than Hawaii," added Marullo, who has made two trips to the Philippines since she was a candidate for her new position.
The Consuelo Foundation spends about $4 million a year on street children, orphans and reproductive, maternal and child health services in the Philippines and affordable housing in Hawaii, she said.
"It doesn't seem like a huge amount, but it goes very far," she said, noting that her predecessor, Patti Lyons, who retired March 1, "has a number of wonderful programs the budget is used to sustain."
Lyons will continue to serve on the Consuelo board and will mentor her, Marullo said.
The CFS board is doing an extensive search for her replacement.
"We're going to see a lot less money in human services, because of the federal deficit and continuing to pay for the war and burgeoning Medicare and Medicaid population. We're going to see a lot of competition between those dollars and prevention dollars," Marullo said. "We're going to see human services organizations in Hawaii become more competitive, more corporate and more cost-effective, for less resources."
The cost of providing services will continue to rise, as will employee benefits, health care insurance and workers compensation, she forecast. "So the next person (to head CFS) has to have nerves of steel, be able to sleep throughout the night, be really strategic about the future but also be in love with the work."
Marullo has been in love with health and human services work for more than 20 years.
Under her leadership, CFS grew from an $11 million operation with 300 employees to $34 million in programs for children, families and the elderly and 800 employees.
She was named 2004 Pacific Business News Businesswoman of the Year.
Because of its large size, CFS is "able to roll with the punches better" during funding difficulties, Marullo said.
"That was one of my goals, although at times the board of directors weren't always sure. ... We had some very serious, scary years because we were growing so quickly and didn't have infrastructure in place."
She said she's proud that "the quality of services has remained high and our reach is totally statewide -- in almost every community, providing quality service to families in need."
She's also proud of the agency's domestic violence program, working with spouses and partners. "We've seen a lot of success with those clients, and I love Healthy Start," she said.
Marullo said she'd like to see more work with troubled youth "to make sure they have a brighter future."
CFS has an alternative high school, Hale O Ulu, that has "tremendous success with those kids," she said. "I'd like to see every DOE campus have a Hale O Ulu-type alternative school for kids who just can't make it in a larger environment."
It probably wouldn't take much more money, she said, just restructuring.
Marullo was executive director of the American Nurses Association in Washington, D.C., from January 1995 to December 1997, when she returned to Hawaii to head CFS and work on a doctorate degree in public health at the University of Hawaii. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing.
She was deputy director of the state Health Department before going to the nurses association.