After 28 years at Youth Service, Inc., Karen Kilby will be moving on to the next chapter in her life. Before her last day at the agency, we had a conversation to reflect on her time at YSI, her favorite memories and what she will miss most. 

Q: When did you start at YSI? 

I started working at YSI in June 1992, as the director of a summer program for girls called Girl Renovators in Training (GRIT). In September 1992, I started working as a social worker for Services to Children in Their Own Homes (SCOH).

Q: What roles have you had at YSI? 

I have always been a social worker/case manager in prevention programs during my time at YSI. I started in the Services to Children in their Own Homes (SCOH) program; next, the In-Home Protective Services (IHPS) program; followed by a brief stint in the Truancy Prevention program; and lastly, Family Empowerment Services (FES).

Q: What did you do professionally prior to YSI? 

Before working at YSI, I was a Union Carpenter. I joined the Union Carpenters’ Apprentice Program to learn how to build houses, but I usually worked on federally funded jobs and built roads and commercial buildings, not houses. I participated in TOP/WIN — Tradeswomen of Philadelphia / Women In Non-traditional jobs. Through my contacts at TOP/WIN, I received an opportunity to be a volunteer instructor in a church-sponsored summer program for girls called Girl Renovators in Training (GRIT).

Q: What brought you to YSI?  

Shortly after I married, my husband and I moved to Tulsa, OK to attend Bible School. Two years after we graduated, we moved back to Philadelphia, and I needed a job. I answered an ad in a local paper to be the director of a summer program for girls — GRIT. The program where I had formerly worked as an instructor was now being sponsored by YSI under the umbrella of Summer Youth Employment Programs. Bernice Andrews, then Director of Family Based Services, saw something in me that led her to believe I would work well with families, even though I had no formal training in social work. When the next position in Services to Children in their Own Homes (SCOH) opened up, I applied and was hired. That was twenty-eight years ago.

Q: Please share a motivational quote that is dear to you.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7. This scripture motivates me to intentionally pause and remind myself that God is a loving father who wants me to share my worries with him. So many times, I have been distressed about the well-being of my clients or overwhelmed by all the demands of my work. When I talk to God, tell him my concerns, and remind myself of all that he has already done for me, I gain the perspective and peace that I need.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of YSI? 

As I think about my years at YSI, my fondest memories are about the work we did that was above and beyond program standards and requirements. I remember when my supervisor and I rented a U-Haul truck and moved a mother and her three young children into a newly renovated home on New Year’s Day as the snow gently fell. I remember taking children to the Center City Strawbridge & Clothier department store to shop with a volunteer for Christmas presents for their family members so that the focus of Christmas was on giving, not just receiving. I remember bringing children to Crittenton where we made and decorated gingerbread houses. I remember when a visiting zoo came to Crittenton; one of the chickens got loose and a long-legged colleague was seen chasing the chicken down Burbridge Street. I remember taking a family to view the Christmas lights at a site in the Northeast and seeing the look of wonder and joy on their faces. I remember watching a colleague serve up freshly cooked scrambled eggs, sausage and grits to our client mothers at a Mother’s Day breakfast at Crittenton. Each activity had its own underlying purpose; but the clear message was that we value families, and we are here to support and empower.

Q: What will you miss most about YSI?  

Without a doubt, I will miss my colleagues. All have chosen to bring their gifts, talents and energy to the work of servicing and empowering families. At times the work we do is challenging, sometimes sad, sometimes overwhelming. My colleagues, case managers, supervisors, directors, and support staff, have always teamed together to provide support, including the all-important, nonjudgmental, listening ear. I will also miss interacting with the children, and seeing their optimism and resilience.

Q: What are your plans for your next chapter?

I do not plan to retire; I plan to reboot! There are so many things I have wanted to do for years, and now I will have time to do them. I have books within me are only partially written that I need to complete. I plan to start a podcast. For many years, I have supported missionaries on the foreign mission field, and I plan to visit some of them. I read music and play piano, but I would like to learn to play by ear. I plan to spend more time with my extended family, with old friends and with new ones. I plan to lose a few more pounds, engage a personal trainer, and build muscle, so that I have the strength and energy to accomplish all that my heart and mind can imagine.