Katie Cooper Harbison ’96 has been named president and CEO of Chattanooga’s Chambliss Center for Children, previously serving as the organization’s vice president and then president.
Because her predecessor and board created a succession plan five years ago that identified her as the next CEO, Harbison said her first day officially heading up the organization was not a major adjustment. “It didn’t feel very different, which is actually a good thing. I put out fires every day already, so I feel completely prepared,” says Harbison.
The Chambliss Center for Children cares for over 650 children every day throughout the city. As a licensed Child Placing Agency, they serve children who have been removed from their families and placed in the custody of the State of Tennessee due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The agency also has a Transitional Living Program, which provides stable housing and case management for youth who have aged out of traditional foster care at age 18, operates four off-site Early Childhood Education programs throughout the Chattanooga community, and provides 24-7/year-round childhood education and childcare to low-income, at-risk children.
In her work, Harbison says one of the most exciting changes she has seen is the increased awareness of early childhood education. “For so long people thought of preschool as daycare or babysitting or just a place to be while parents are at work. Kindergarten readiness is now seen as a way to help the economy of a community.”
Challenges persist in residential care due to state regulations, and Harbison says one of the biggest changes she has seen in her work is the move away from congregate care, which has put pressure on the foster care system. To help relieve that pressure locally, Chambliss will be opening the Isaiah 1:17 House in 2022 to provide a comfortable and safe space for children who are waiting to be placed into foster care. “They will have a warm bed, they can play Legos, eat pizza and feel like they are worth something in that very critical time of their lives.”
“To be a local non-profit that has been in the community for 150 years that is still meeting the needs of at-risk children is amazing, and I am honored and humbled to be able to lead such an incredible organization. It is difficult work, but from my point of view, supporting children is one of the most critical and necessary things to be done for our community.”