October 24, 2011 | last updated May 16, 2012 4:33 pm

Committed To Her Mission

Karen Ludington

President & CEO,Children's Friend, Worcester

From Nomination Form: "Without Karen's efforts and commitment, children in need throughout Worcester County would remain in a state of crisis. She helps because she cares."

Q: Who is your most influential role model, and why?

A: Because I have multiple roles in my day-to-day life, I have multiple role models, each of whom is very important to me, and each of whom deserves credit when I am lucky enough to accomplish something. My love of children comes from my parents, who could never resist helping any child they came across, whether by slamming on the brakes to stop at a lemonade stand, volunteering for Children's Friend, or shopping so that local families could have happy Christmas mornings. On the night before she died, my mother was excited and happy because I told her Children's Friend had just been awarded a sizable grant. It's a moment I will always treasure.

My appreciation of good business practices comes from my husband, Tom Lynch, a born entrepreneur and a successful business executive. Throughout his career, Tom has shown you can do good while doing well.

Q: Why are you good at what you do?

A: First I have to insert a disclaimer: I'm not always good at what I do!

First, it's because I care so much about the mission of Children's Friend and the wonderful people with whom I work. Who wouldn't love our mission: to improve the lives of children and those who love them? But it takes special people who are willing to sacrifice to carry out that mission. Any one of the women and men with whom I work could be making more money doing something else, but they are dedicated and committed.

Second, because I respect the people with whom I work so much, I encourage them to do what they do so well. I trust their judgments and support them in the decisions they make. Third, I'm a strong believer in teamwork. Together, we're a 100 times more effective than we could be separately.

Q: How does your organization give back to the community and what role have you played in those efforts?

A: Since 1849, Children's Friend has been serving children and families in central Massachusetts. Today we have four core programs. Our largest, The Ellsworth Child and Family Counseling Center, is an outpatient mental health clinic. Its highly trained clinicians provide individual, group, and family therapy, psychopharmacology services, and psychological assessment. In a normal week they treat over 250 individuals.

Our Adoption and Family Services Program trains prospective adoptive parents, provides a variety of services to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and is dedicated to finding permanent homes for children who cannot live in the homes in which they were born. It is difficult and stressful work, but tremendously rewarding every time a child finds a permanent home.

Our School Age Mothers Program, SAM, is a 43-year collaboration with the Worcester Public Schools. SAM works with pregnant and parenting teen girls by providing services that enable them to stay in school, graduate, obtain essential medical care, have healthy babies, and learn to be good parents.

Our fourth, and smallest, program is The Carriage House, our grief support center, which provides free peer grief support groups to children and teens who have gone through the deaths of their parents, brothers, or sisters. There are concurrent peer grief support groups for the kids' parents and caregivers. The groups are led by trained volunteer facilitators from all walks of life.

Q: When the stress level gets too high, what's your secret remedy?

A: As you might expect, my secret remedy often involves kids. When I'm feeling stressed at work I go to the SAM Program's Early Learning Center and play with little ones. When I can get away, I spend time with my grandchildren, who are at the center of our family life. They brighten my life and put things into perspective for me.

When that doesn't work I complain to my family, all of whom are good listeners.

Another important part of my de-stressing program is to escape to the home that Tom and I have in the Berkshires. We have fun there with friends and family, and it's a peaceful place.

Q: How have you tried to balance your career and your personal life? Give an example or two.

A: It helps to work in an atmosphere that is completely supportive of family life. Kids are our first priority, so if I need to be somewhere else to do something that's important for my family, people at Children's Friend understand. I've lost count of the number of times I've brought our grandchildren to work with me. I'm also proud that my family supports Children's Friend.

Q: What's your primary motivator, or if there is one thing that makes you tick or ignites a passion within you, what is it?

A: I love children. I can't bear to see them hurt or hurting, and there are so many who are — children who are abused or neglected, children who are hungry or homeless, children who need families, children struggling with mental health problems, and children whose lives have been torn apart by deaths in their families. If I can help in any way to strengthen Children's Friend, so that kids and families can continue to see their lives improved by our agency's services, and if I can advocate on the state level for improved services for children and families, that's enough for me.


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