Beth Hatch of ‘Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee’: “Try to focus on the positives and try to build a strong team”

I would tell women to know their strengths and weaknesses. Try to focus on the positives and try to build a strong team. I have never taken my team for granted. They aren’t just employees, they are my family. During the hardest times in my life, my team was with me and said, “We will […]

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I would tell women to know their strengths and weaknesses. Try to focus on the positives and try to build a strong team. I have never taken my team for granted. They aren’t just employees, they are my family. During the hardest times in my life, my team was with me and said, “We will get through this together.”

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Hatch, Executive Director of Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee.

Nearly 20 years ago, Beth Hatch’s career began as an Exceptional Student Education Teacher for Collier County Public Schools, working in the migrant farming community of Immokalee and in East Naples, Florida. She has honed her skills in early childhood development, early learning center program development and expansion, as well as the non-profit leadership skills of strategic planning, budget and finance.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My first three years in education taught me everything and made me who I am today. I was 27 when a little boy named Max came into my classroom. He was very sick, unable to speak, and weighed 12 pounds. This three year old had lived in three different homes and blanketed in abuse and neglect. An agent from the Florida Department of Children and Families asked if I would like to foster Max. I had just ended a long-term relationship and wasn’t thinking about becoming a mom, but it is the best decision I ever made. Doctors at the time didn’t think Max would live. He spent a month in the hospital. His body was shutting down. Well, we’ve beaten the odds. Max is 22.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I had the opportunity, through my son, to meet the Dalai Lama. Dick Grace, founder of the Grace Family Vineyard Foundation, created the “Unsung Heroes of Compassion,” where 50 individuals are honored every four years and get a chance to meet with the Dali Lama. It is to recognize the real goodness and sacrifice for the benefit of others and Max was chosen. I carry that memory with me every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Once while teaching early on, I was being video recorded doing a lesson. The project was making paper snowmen. We were putting the together with glue and I remember telling my young students, “Okay, let’s put the hats on.” The majority proceeded to put the hats on their own heads, with glue running down their faces. It’s a reminder that you have to be able to laugh at yourself. And be sure to break things down when you are communicating to those with special needs. Communication is key!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who fall into this category but I would have to put my son Max at the top of the list. He was born into a world with more obstacles than you could possibly imagine. Our motto is, ‘Just Keep Swimming.’ (Finding Nemo) Giving up is not an option. I remember someone telling me how anxious they were about having a colonoscopy. They just kept complaining to the point where I had to speak up and say that my son had had 30 of them at his young age. And he never complained once. His ability to stay positive is the light of our program at Pathways Education Center.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

As a teacher, you must always find the positive. Especially in current times. If a child is having a hard time, it is our job to find a solution. There is stress all around us, but if you continue to move forward, you will find the silver lining. Just know that you can’t do it all and that it’s alright to ask for help. It helps everyone to grow.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team? Pathways serves a very diverse population. Education is so important for this community to succeed. We have an extensive amount of resources and partners around the country to help provide for families. The more aware we are of their needs, the more we can help change their path for the better. I work with the hardest working families in the world. They work long hours for low pay but they focus on the positive.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

We’ve got 500 future teachers, doctors, scientists, on our waiting list. In 2019, studies showed 42% of children in Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program were not prepared to advance. The numbers are even higher in Immokalee where it’s estimated there are 1100 underserved youngsters. A little boy named Isaac lives next door to Pathways. He dreamed of being able to go to school and making friends on the other side of the fence. We could see him, wearing a Spiderman suit, pretending to shoot webs to the children on the playground. Teachers and staff would always wave to him and we were so sad that there wasn’t a space for him. It took years but in 2020 Spiderman’s dreams came true and he is now a student. His parents don’t have a care, so they walk him to school before finding transportation to their jobs. Through a customized plan, Isaac is developing the academic and social-emotional skills he needs to succeed. He’s learning English and can now ask his friends, “Do you want to play with me?” His mother says he is more conversational at the dinner table and is encouraging his family to also speak English.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Building relationship. You must know your clients, donors, board members, anyone who can help you in your mission. There is no such thing as a 9–5 job.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Myths would be people thinking all executives have a big office with banking hours. And that we have all the answers. When the pandemic happened, there wasn’t a book on this.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? It’s getting better. We are evolving. I say women have to be heard. We must have a voice to make progress.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be? Nothing prepared me for this. When you think about a career in education, whether it’s as a teacher or administrator, you need to think past lesson plans, daily classes and parent-teacher meetings. I had to do home visits when I started, and there was a little girl who had to be sent home on a regular basis because she had lice in her hair. When I visited her home, to my surprise it was immaculate. But the only water they had was outside, and they slept on a dirt floor. All the lesson plans in the world didn’t prepare me for this. So, with the help of another staff member, we made sure the child got to school early in the morning and we washed her hair before class.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean? In my opinion, the person who succeeds is someone who never gives up. There will always be obstacles. And no one is going to do the work for you. A good leader is in the trenches with the team and that’s the best way to build trust. I thank my parents for my work ethic.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would tell women to know their strengths and weaknesses. Try to focus on the positives and try to build a strong team. I have never taken my team for granted. They aren’t just employees, they are my family. During the hardest times in my life, my team was with me and said, “We will get through this together.”

How have you used your success to make the world a better place? I’d like to think I have inspired others. I know Max inspires me every day. If you give others hope, it will come back to you.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Put yourself in others shoes. I never thought I’d be at risk of losing my home, my car, my health. When Max’s medical bills piled up and some of his specialists stopped accepting Medicaid, there were many sleepless nights.
  2. It is important to always have time for yourself. I work seven days a week, 11 hours a day. I can’t remember my last vacation but I’m working on that.
  3. Your mind will never stop. When you least expect it, problems arise. There is no ‘Off’ button.
  4. You will never sleep. Parents know what I’m talking about.
  5. You will be taking a medically fragile child home and adopt him. The best surprise of all.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

There are 1100 kids in my community that are not prepared for kindergarten. They are dismissed because they are poor and lack social skills. They have no mentors. I’d like to start a movement to break down financial, physical and cultural boundaries for all children.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As I’ve mentioned, my favorite quote is from Dory in the movie Finding Nemo. “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming…Just keep swimming, swimming.”

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

If I may, I have two requests. I’d give anything to have Isaac meet his hero Spiderman and ask that he give him hope that he can do anything if he stays in school and continues to learn. For me, I would have lunch with Oprah. She is the most influential woman on the planet and the best story teller. If anyone knows adversity it’s Oprah. She showed the world how to give and helped so many people realize their dreams.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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