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New Leader of Helpline House Believes in the Power of Community

Carden School students surprise Maria with a handmade Valentine

Agency is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary

Maria Metzler has made a living out of helping people. So, it’s only natural that the latest chapter in her 17-year Social Services career is as Executive Director of Helpline House.

Metzler, who started her new job Jan. 2, has always been driven by social justice, improving the lives of others and connecting with people and community.

She and her husband – who met while working in a homeless shelter -- moved to Bainbridge Island four years ago and have 5-year-old twins.

Metzler, 37, replaced Matt Eldridge, who had served as the organization’s interim executive director since last July and led a three-month, nationwide search for a new leader. Former executive director Joanne Tews retired in August 2017 after 18 years at Helpline.

“The search process was highly competitive,” Eldridge said. “Among dozens of qualified applicants from around the country and in this region, Maria stood out. She not only has strong leadership experience, but also a unique, demonstrated ability to work effectively with a range of stakeholders to develop and execute a strategic vision.”

Metzler’s new role at Helpline House comes as the agency celebrates its 50th anniversary. “There is a significant opportunity to re-examine the changing needs of our community and see how Helpline can make even more of a difference for families and individuals in need,’’ said Paulette Peterson, Helpline’s outgoing board president. “Maria is exceptionally well-suited to help lead us into this next chapter.’’

Metzler’s previous job was senior manager at Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, which works to end the homelessness of vulnerable people, particularly those living with serious mental illnesses or substance use disorders. At the center, Metzler oversaw a budget of nearly $10 million and 107 program staff.

She didn’t follow a typical career path after graduating from the University of Portland. She spent the next four years volunteering for various organizations: Building houses in Eastern Kentucky Appalachia, working with special needs kids near her grandmother’s hometown in Italy, doing social work in Belize and working in emergency homeless shelters in Seattle.

“All of these experiences helped me to achieve the great career I have today,’’ she says.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from Seattle University, where she spent more than two years as the resident minister.

In her spare time, she roots for her favorite Soccer team, the Sounders. She used to play adult co-rec for many years before she had her kids. She also likes to hike, camp and read.

Helpline recently implemented several initiatives to bolster its impact in the community, from increased collaboration with peer organizations to enhanced communications with clients, donors and a base of more than 125 volunteers. It has also expanded its work with partner groups, resulting in efforts such as the Gobblefest Bainbridge 2017 benefit concert last year that featured four rock bands and a crowd that filled Rolling Bay Hall to capacity.

“Now more than ever, Helpline is ready to refine its direction and provide essential support to local residents,” said Leigh Barreca, former vice president of the Helpline board and vice chairwoman of the search committee. “Helpline is here to help and we couldn’t be happier to have Maria’s leadership at this critical time.”

Metzler explained her goals and thoughts about community in a recent conversation:

Why did you want to work for Helpline House?

I’m a member of the Bainbridge Island community; I live here, my kids go to school here, and since we moved here, I wanted to align myself with Helpline because I know it to be a community organization that is making our community healthier. Helpline is a place where folks come to both give and receive and many do both. I believe in the power of community and Helpline embodies that. It's a place where folks can get needs met that are acute or on-going. It's a place where people can get accurate information about what other resources are out there and what to even think about and ask about in certain life situations. It's a place where folks can contribute financially and in person and know their resources are going to strengthen their community and help their neighbors.

What are your main goals for Helpline?

Lots! First, to inform the future of Helpline, I'll be designing and implementing a needs assessment. I'll be reaching out to our clients, former clients, donors, volunteers, schools, churches, businesses, other non-profits, etc. I want to know what is being done well in the community that Helpline doesn't have to replicate, I want to know what needs are there that we can take a fresh look at how to meet, I want to know how we can tweak the incredible work we're already doing to better meet the community's needs, I want to know the changing needs of Islanders and what creative ways Helpline can help build this community to be stronger.

How is your new job at Helpline different from the crisis management work you were doing before?

Well I was doing work with a more concentrated population, homeless folks in Seattle, but even further, the subpopulation of folks experiencing homelessness that are chronically homeless, are experiencing severe and persistent mental illness, and that are often also diagnosed with chemical dependency. It was much more crisis work on a daily basis. This feels different in what I mentioned above, that this is truly a community organization. It takes a small army of volunteers to keep the food bank running. It takes donations of time, finances, bequests, food, other in-kind items, talents, to provide the services for one another and Helpline is the hub for this amazing work to take place.

How do you envision Helpline House 10 years from now?

My dream for Helpline is to continually be on the pulse of what the community's needs are and to be creative and nimble enough to evolve to meet those needs.

What message do you want to give to the community?

That Helpline is a place for everyone. I've heard there is a stigma around receiving Helpline's services and I hope that community can come together to overcome that. Life events happen to all of us -- I bet there's not one person who doesn't know someone who has been affected by a major medical illness, divorce, loss of a job, life transition. Helpline has resources for all of those things (and more) that can only help make the community stronger, help people transition well through major life events, and can give folks resources to continue and thus not need our services.

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