Catherine Swanson was appointed the new executive director of Bethany House earlier this month. She brings 20 years of experience in human services to the position.
On Sept. 8, Bethany House, which offers emergency shelter and transitional services to women and children in an effort to end the cycle of homelessness, announced that it had hired Swanson to take over several duties. Swanson’s expertise is in emergency housing and social work, and at Bethany House she will implement the policies of the board of directors, and advise the board on strategic direction, organizational development and fundraising in addition to overseeing day-to-day operations.
Swanson was most recently the deputy director of emergency housing at the Nassau County Office of Housing Department of Social Services. She earned an undergraduate degree at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work, and a master’s in clinical social work at Adelphi University’s Graduate School of Social Work.
“I felt like when I saw this opportunity to join the Bethany House, it was my time to leave government and start working for a nonprofit, where I could help the homeless population from a different vantage point,” Swanson said. “And I’m excited (about) how I’ll be able to make an impact working with a segment of the population instead of the entire homeless population.”
She added that although she just started working at Bethany House a few weeks ago, she already had lots of ideas about how to help serve the homeless population. She explained that the facility will continue to expand on its existing programs, which are all geared toward helping women and children transition from a “life of uncertainty and homelessness to a brighter, more stable future,” as Swanson described it.
One program in particular that she wants to expand is called Safe Ground, a three-step approach in which those in need are provided with food and housing, and then make the transition to a traditional housing program.
“Once they start building on their education and having a more stable income, they move into our third step, which is an apartment program,” Swanson explained. “From there they become independent, because we want to break the cycle of homelessness.”
The program is funded not by state or county money, but by grants. Swanson said she was looking for more funding opportunities so she can expand the program’s outreach.
She also hopes to expand programs that help people with their education, finances and mental health struggles, she said.
In 2003, Swanson started working for the county in a family-unification program. After Nassau received a homeless-intervention program grant in 2003, she began working with homeless clients, and learned about Bethany House.
“I remember going into the Bethany House, and it was such a beautiful setting for people who were going through a crisis to come in to,” Swanson recalled. “It’s an agency that really treats its guests with respect and dignity, and the environment we provide is a very beautiful, warm environment where people can heal from whatever their struggles were.”
When she was deputy director of emergency housing at the Nassau County Office of Housing Department of Social Services, she would enroll her clients at Bethany House. Swanson said her transition to executive director of the facility was an easy one, because she knew a lot of the staff and guests. She added that she was honored to oversee the agency and to use her experience make the house “stronger.”
“Over the past few years, Bethany House leadership has reached out to Katie to assist in resolving issues and provide input on other matters,” Maryanne Pedersen, chair of the board of directors, said in a press release about Swanson’s appointment. “During such moments, Katie’s exemplary leadership has been on display, earning the respect of our guests and staff alike. Katie’s emphasis on treating people experiencing homelessness with respect — making it a point to ‘hear’ them, make eye contact, and to work collaboratively to come to a resolution — is what appealed to us most. We feel extremely fortunate to have Katie Swanson as our new executive director.”