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A Discussion with Kevin Priest on Staying Motivated and Continuously Adapting

Kevin Priest was born in Portsmouth, Virginia.  Because he was born into a military family, he lived in several states growing up, including Florida for several years and then graduating from high school in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  After high school he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany.  After his time in […]

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Kevin Priest was born in Portsmouth, Virginia.  Because he was born into a military family, he lived in several states growing up, including Florida for several years and then graduating from high school in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  After high school he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany.  After his time in the U.S. Army, he went to Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, a private Presbyterian school and got his Bachelor’s degree in Human Services Administration and Sociology. 

His first professional job was as a juvenile services officer in Omaha, Nebraska and he held that position for five years. During that period of time, he also got his Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska on Omaha. Then he became a program services director for a group home for adolescent boys. He only had that job for about six months because then he joined the FBI and became a special agent for about two and a half years. After his time with the FBI, he served on the Federal Task Force back in Omaha, Nebraska, was offered a job in Nevada, and shortly thereafter he ended up moving to Florida. 

In Ocala, Florida he was the CEO of Arnette House between 2002 and 2010, an organization providing an emergency youth shelter, family counseling services, and fostercare group homes for several Florida counties.  He subsequently took a position with Capital City Youth Services (CCYS) in Tallahassee, Florida from 2010 to 2020 and also was granted a Master’s degree in Executive Management from Northwestern University in 2016.  Kevin is currently looking for his next opportunity to take a youth and family services organization to its next level in terms of funding and program management. 

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

My profession Primarily creates opportunities to work as part of a team to help other people. What attracted me to this industry and what I am most passionate about is to help youth and families to have a positive lifestyle. 

What does a typical day consist of for you?

In my previous roles, I typically spend a lot of time collaborating with other community partners.  There would be a number of meetings that I would be engaged in, outside of the organization or inside the organization, working with the executive team and being able to ensure that we were actually obtaining our goals for the organization.  I had a lot of opportunities to help grow programs.  There was a lot of building development, construction, and things of that nature that I managed for the organization.  I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of running the organization.  When I took over the leadership at CCYS it had a $1.2 million annual budget and I was able to build it up to $3.6 million during my time there.  With that, you obviously have all of the staff, programs, and things of that nature to manage, and it requires a lot of attention. 

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated by my passion to help others change their lives.  Some people come in with an attitude that they have had everything against them, and they never really had anybody help them.  It is important for me to have the vision for the organization and get our staff excited about providing services to these kids and their families and help them to grow. 

How do you motivate others?

I motivate others by being a team leader, but at the same time being part of the team.  Being hands on, being willing to do the work, not just sitting there and directing people on what to do all the time, but actually getting engaged.  With that team approach, you can build trust over time that you have each other’s backs and that you are trying to protect and encourage the entire team.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

My parents, of course, and then in high school, my high school track coach was also a role model to me.  I have had a number of supervisors that were also role models for me, including the training agent I had in the FBI, as well as colleagues I have worked with over the last 18 years in Florida. 

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

Sometimes it can be difficult, especially the busier you get.  But at the same time be sure you take some time for yourself and try to keep yourself healthy.  Go to the gym and being able to get away from your work a little bit.  Be involved with some hobbies.  Traveling was something that I enjoyed, which obviously I am not doing much of right now. 

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I am very passionate and visionary.  I am willing to be a team player.  I am not one of those kinds of leaders that just sits there and directs people.  I want to be engaged and engaging.  I want people to feel that they can approach me to talk about what their concerns are or certain things that are going on with them.  That is the kind of person I try to be. 

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Never give up.  Be able to tackle any kind of challenge that comes your way.  Just have the mindset that you are going to be successful in fixing it. 

What is your biggest accomplishment?

In my industry particularly, I think my biggest accomplishment has been going into fledgling organizations and help them grow and help them build new buildings and new programs for the communities.  At the same time, I was able to help both organizations attain national accreditation through the Council on Accreditation (COA) here in the United States which really goes a long way with private donors.  They want to make sure that their money is not going to a fledging operation that will not be wise with the funds.  Under my leadership Arnette House was accredited in 2006 and subsequent re-accreditation in 2010.  Right after that, I went ahead and began working with CCYS and I led them to their first accreditation in 2011 and subsequent the re-accredited in 2015 and 2019. 

I am a peer reviewer and team leader for COA.  I have traveled and visited other organizations.  It is generally a four or five-day peer review process to obtain accreditation for the organization.  COA basically looks at all of the operations, the management, the board of directors, the staff, everything that has to do with the programs, all leveled at best practices.  I have been a peer reviewer since 2007. 

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I think that people that come to know me, people in my life circles and know me professionally, they know that I am very consistent.  You see the same person regardless of how you know me.  I try to be real and genuine with all the people I encounter.

What trends in your industry excite you?

It is going to be interesting how the industry will have to change and adapt because of COVID.  I am interested to see what happens with the level of funding from the federal aspect because it was quite frankly drying up and becoming very difficult to keep the federal funding coming into the organizations that I was running because there was a redirection of those funds to other issues based on the current administration.  I think a big change is coming and it will be interesting to see how that impacts the industry.  There is going to have to be a level of funding to protect kids and families.  There are lower income families that need help with housing.  There are a lot of mental health issues and funding is needed for that.  I would like to think that at some point there will be more of a focus on those kinds of things. 

Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?

In my last two assignments, I have really been able to grow the organizations.  At this point, I am looking for my next opportunity to help take an organization to the next level.  My career in adolescent youth and families has been primarily with two organizations in 18 years.  I am not one to jump around.  I am just looking for the next right fit where I can help build another organization.  I can help them to build programs, for instance, street outreach programs for homeless youth.  I can help them increase their funding, including raising money to help with construction costs, but also helping the organization to become stronger financially so that if they did lose a funding source at some point, they are strong enough to be able to survive that. 

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