Retirement Bug Hits Youth Advocacy

In 2011, the field of youth services lost three gargantuan national leaders, all of whom passed too early. There was Peter Benson, a pioneer in positive youth development; David Richart, who helped build the mousetrap for grassroots advocacy; and Peter Goldberg, who built the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities into a trade powerhouse.

Two years later, the field lost YSI‘s personal favorite youth advocate of all time, Richard Murphy, a principal architect of community schools.

2015 looks to be another year of major transition at the top, though the root cause this time around is not tragedy. Several veteran youth advocates and champions are heading out the door to retirement.

A list of the big names who have recently retired or who have announced plans to do so:

John O’Toole, Executive Director, National Center for Youth Law

O’Toole is stepping down after 35 years with NCYL. The organization has straddled the line between assisting governments and taking them to court. One of its initial projects was assisting the Department of Justice to implement the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

It has also led or assisted in class-action lawsuits and other broad legal challenges against scores of juvenile justice departments, child welfare agencies and school systems. 

Patricia Puritz, Executive Director, National Juvenile Defender Center

Puritz has been a leader with NJDC since 1995, back when it was a division of the American Bar Association. Puritz founded it as a standalone organization in 2005, and starting in July, it will have to survive without her.

Tapped to replace Puritz is Kim Dvorchak, who leaves a long career in state advocacy to go national. In 2008, Dvorchak founded the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, which quickly emerged as a training hub for juvenile defense lawyers in the state. She previously worked as a staff attorney in the juvenile offender unit of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division in New York City, and began her career as a public defender in Colorado Springs.

Bob Schwartz, Executive Director, Juvenile Law Center

Schwartz co-founded JLC with Marsha Levick (who is still on staff) in 1975. The two of them built a public interest law firm that has relentlessly held Pennsylvania’s many juvenile justice systems in check and offered important amicus arguments in cases of national significance.

JLC gained significant publicity in 2009 for its involvement in the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Penn., in which judges accepted kickbacks from developers interested in creating and filling a privately run juvenile detention center.

Schwartz plans to leave in October; no word yet on his successor.

Irv Katz, CEO, National Human Services Assembly

NHSA is a D.C.-based organization that represents the interests of 85 national nonprofits in the health and human services sector, and operates a large group discount program called Purchasing Point for them. 

Katz leaves NHSA after 14 years at the helm. Following a 23-year career with the United Way, he took over in 2001 for Gordon Raley, who is still active in the field as CEO of the Family Service Foundation.

Gloria Johnson-Cusack has succeeded Katz at NHSA.

Howard Davidson, Director, American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law

Davidson attended Boston College in the late 1960s, where he said he was inspired by a slate of child and juvenile law professors. His legal career began in the U.S. Army, where he served as a judge advocate general for four years, and founded the Center on Children and the Law in 1978. 

Davidson will step down this summer, but plans to stay active in the field. Based on this presentation he gave at a Bar Association conference, we’re guessing he has a particular interest in the rights of unaccompanied minors.

Not all of the old guard has moved on to the social security rolls just yet. Some of the longtime leaders still leading national entities:

Dorothy Stoneman, Founder and CEO, YouthBuild USA

Karen Pittman, Co-Founder and CEO, Forum for Youth Investment

Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and CEO, Children’s Defense Fund

Bob Woodson, Founder and President, Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Mark Soler, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Children’s Law and Policy

Ned Loughran, Founder and Executive Director, Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.