Versatility key to alum’s career journey

Kathie Collins reading to a kidCollins reads to a child at the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery. She often helps out as a classroom assistant.

Kathie Molder Collins ’87 says she wears eight hats in her role as executive director of the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery (TVCRN), but in reality, it’s probably many more.

The center in the far reaches of Oregon currently serves more than 50 children ages 18 months to 5 years, so Collins is always on the run. She ticks off the tasks she completes as needed in addition to her regular duties: classroom assistant, cook, bus driver, human resources specialist, handyman, janitor, interviewer and fundraiser. In fact, the day of her February phone interview, she’d addressed a broken doorknob that had temporarily trapped a teacher and students in their classroom and also kept a wary eye on a police standoff happening at the end of the block. The previous week, she’d had to reach out to the  community for help getting access to the center’s snow blower, which was, ironically, stuck in a shed completely blocked by mounds of snow.

“There’s never a dull moment here,” Collins said with a chuckle. “There’s always something to be done, and more often than not, I’m the one who fills the gaps.”

That’s not say there isn’t a staff at the relief nursery, which has existed since 2009 but moved into a brand new building last October. There are classroom assistants, interventionists, other staff members and many trained volunteers who work to support the nursery’s mission. Collins says she’s happy to lend a hand on the small tasks so the rest of the staff can focus all their time on working effectively with the children.

“Research shows that children who face adverse conditions in their younger years are more likely to have problems in adulthood,” Collins said. “That’s why we want to get them in this window (18 months to 5 years). It’s the least expensive and most effective time to have intervention. It’s also the most fun.”

Social services wasn’t Collins’ area of study when she attended Western Oregon State College in the 1980s. She was an interdisciplinary studies major with a focus on public relations and political science, and her first job after college was at the Argus Observer newspaper in Ontario, her hometown. After about five years, she took a position as the public information officer with the local school district. Seven years and a master’s degree later, she opened a public relations consulting business. The relief nursery was one of her clients. In 2010, the nursery’s board hired her as its first executive director.

Kathie Collins ’87 and Paul Bentz ’08

Kathie Collins ’87 and Paul Bentz ’08 stand near a climbing wall at the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery. The duo worked closely on many aspects of the new building’s creation.

Paul Bentz ’08 was—and still is—on that board. He’s another Ontario native who got his degree from WOU but ultimately returned home to work. He said hiring Collins to head the TVCRN was an easy decision then, and the nursery is reaping the benefits every day years later.

“There was no question Kathie was perfect for the job of executive director,” Bentz said of the hiring  decision seven years ago. “And now, she still amazes me. We just finished a big capital campaign, and she just is so good at it. She’s methodical about who to approach. People just want to work with her, and she’s so excited to be helping kids.”

Relationship-builder is one of Collins’ biggest hats at the relief nursery. That capital campaign raised $1.3 million.

“It’s a lesson I learned in public relations, actually,” Collins said. “The world is about relationships. These relationships helped us build and sustain this nursery. And they’ve helped me all along the way.”

The path Collins took to reach her current position may have been winding, but she never felt unequipped to tackle whatever came next. Her time at WOU helped create a toolbox of skills.

“I’ve always said that your career path is a journey,” she said. “So I’m glad I majored in interdisciplinary studies because it gave me a broader education. You never know who you’re going to work for. I also took speech and debate while I was at WOSC. That gave me public speaking skills I have used thousands of times. My early career as an editor makes it easier for me to write grant applications.”

Unprompted, Bentz said the same thing about the knowledge he gained at WOU. He earned a degree in business but had a minor in public policy and administration.

“I use my minor every single day,” Bentz said. “I understand how the (government) process works because my professors took me all the way through it in detail.”

Bentz oversaw building operations for the recently completed TVCRN building. He investigated zoning, permits and many other aspects of the construction process that required interaction with local government agencies.

“Because of those classes, I was able to align what I did with what I thought (city government offices) were going to want and need,” he said. “It made it a lot easier because I understood where they were coming from and what their goals were.”

Collins and Bentz graduated from the university about 20 years apart, but they both returned to their hometown prepared to give back to the community. The next project in the works for TVCRN is installing an outdoor playground behind the building. In the meantime, Collins remains committed to the center’s core mission: helping kids, helping families and helping the community.

“Everyone deserves a shot at having a great human experience,” she said.

Learn more about WOU’s interdisciplinary studies program at:
wou.edu/ids.

Find details about the public policy and administration program at:
wou.edu/publicpolicy.