Coronado’s Kathleen Baldwin Heads Travelers Aid International - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Coronado’s Kathleen Baldwin Heads Travelers Aid International

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2020 4:58 pm | Updated: 5:28 pm, Thu Jan 2, 2020.

Ideas for columns come from a variety of sources and since we live in a Coronado-centric Universe, there is a seemingly never-ending group of residents who are doing or have done interesting things. Ginger Cox, a former colleague at the Coronado Eagle & Journal and someone I have known for many years, lobbed me an Email a few weeks ago about her younger sister Kathleen Baldwin, who had just taken over as the President and CEO of Travelers Aid International.

The extent of my knowledge about Travelers Aid was twofold prior to our recent interview. Their slogan is ‘A Helping Hand Along the Way.’ And they run the kiosks you often see at airports that you sincerely hope you never need to visit. As we’ll discover shortly, there is much more to Travelers Aid International.

Kathleen Baldwin was born in Detroit, Michigan, and nine months later she, Ginger and their parents began family migration due to her father’s military career as an Air Force pilot. “I went to three third grades and three high schools,” Baldwin said. “We had an unconventional upbringing due to the military, which we both thought was great. My Dad was Colonel Robert P. Baldwin. He started working for the Walt Disney Company as an artist and he worked on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The grandkids got very lucky because they got a Disney character painted on their wall. He quit Disney and joined the Army Air Corps. He was a left brain, right brain man who was an engineer and an artist. My Dad was an Ace in the Korean War and a Wing Commander. In my opinion, he was the world’s greatest fighter pilot, but I may be biased.”

After attending high school in Naples, Italy, San Antonio, Texas and the San Fernando Valley, Kathleen threw all her college hopes in one basket and applied only to UC Santa Barbara, where she was accepted. She said of her academic pursuits, “I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist and thank goodness they took me. UC Santa Barbara was cheap back in the day. I started out majoring as a concert pianist and then I discovered boys. Music became my minor and I had a double major in Italian and Political Science. Once I performed a Chopin concert, with the Steinway grand piano and the whole thing and I was horrified at how nervous I was. I was technically good, but I wasn’t creative.”

Fast forwarding a bit, Kathleen has been married to her husband Michel D’Arlon, who she originally met at the Department of Defense High School in Naples, for 16 years. Kathleen has a daughter Sydney and a stepson Taylor, who works in stone, concrete and marble finishing.

After her undergrad years at UCSB, and earning her MBA at Pepperdine University, Baldwin moved to Yuma, Arizona where her parents had retired. A job at the Yuma City Library was going nowhere and an opportunity presented itself to Baldwin to become the executive director of the Rainbow Center for Exceptional Children. Baldwin said, “I was running out of money and looked at my bank account. I knew nothing about children with disabilities, but I learned in a hurry. That was my first position in a non-profit organization and I’m still doing that 40 years later.”

Baldwin held that position for nine years and then took a similar position with Rainbow Island, Inc. in San Diego, which was a private for-profit organization with a network of seven schools, which provided education for pre-school through middle-school aged children. Kathleen explained the westward migration from Yuma to San Diego. “After college Ginger and I gravitated to Yuma because of our parents. Then Ginger moved here, and we all gravitated to Coronado.”

After nine more years with Rainbow Island, Kathleen served for a year as the Grants Chair for the Campfire Boys and Girls Foundation. Then she started an 18-year run as President of the Travelers Aid Society of San Diego.

When asked what drew her to that position, Baldwin responded, “Initially it was a couple of things. It was a bigger non-profit that would pay me more money (Baldwin is charmingly direct) and there was the fact that Travelers Aid is a highbred organization that provides social services, but also includes visitor’s services. My first job out of college was as a travel agent. And I thought Travelers Aid would be a blend that would be interesting. At Travelers Aid San Diego, our biggest program was transportation for low income seniors to help them age in place. We help get them to the doctor, the grocery store, to church and to social outings. We have seniors who may not have a support system and they have to choose between buying their medication or taking a bus or buying food. It’s a wonderful program which started in 2009 and it has grown year over year. My husband is a volunteer driver. If seniors maintain a social connectivity with people, they stay healthier, are less depressed and stay physically able longer.”

An example of how Travelers Aid can assist a community member came to Baldwin shortly before she left Travelers Aid San Diego. “In order to receive social services in San Diego, a person has to be certified as homeless and Travelers Aid San Diego does the certification. One day a rather large fellow came in and said he had been a bus driver for MTS, was starting to have excruciating headaches and he had a brain tumor. He had surgery and they couldn’t get all of the tumor. He was now debilitated. He lost his apartment and then he lived in his car. He lost his car and became homeless. He had a pension coming, but he was three years too young to access the pension. Through no fault of his own, he needed help. He was articulate and bright, he just needed a little bit of help and we gave it to him. The certification allowed him to get services through a shelter. In the bus driver’s case, I did a very small thing, but it was going to turn into a big thing for him and that felt important. Travelers Aid also helps victims of domestic violence flee from their situation.”

In February 2019, Baldwin became President and CEO of Travelers Aid International, which is a network of affiliates, which also provides direct services. “I had a new experience when the board chairman recruited me. He called me daily until I applied for the position. We have 41 affiliates in Travelers Aid International, which provide a wide gamut of services. We have visitor services, people who volunteer at the airport, to housing agencies for homeless families to everything in between. We’re in Australia, Canada, offshore in Hawaii, on several islands in Hawaii, in Puerto Rico and in many states in between. Travelers Aid International also provides direct services, we’re a hybrid of agencies and we are also an umbrella organization. We provide direct services on the Eastern Seaboard at JFK Airport in New York, Newark Airport, Dulles and Reagan Airports in Washington, and at Bradley Airport in Connecticut. And we provide direct services at Union Station in Washington. I am tasked with growing the network and maintaining our current programs. And we have affiliate programs in San Francisco, at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and in Oklahoma City.” To provide some context as to the scope of their services, program-wide Travelers Aid International has an estimated 2,048 volunteers.

Baldwin and her husband still reside in Coronado, but the home office of Travelers Aid International is in Washington, D.C., meaning Kathleen spends roughly half her time locally and half on the East Coast. Baldwin said of her position, “This is another non-profit, it’s just bigger. I’ve run large agencies before. The Rainbow Center had over 100 employees and it was a big program. It’s actually harder to run a small non-profit than it is a big one, because you have less help. Our website needs work and we have a new social media guy, who is also studying airport management in Phoenix, updating the site. I have a staff at Reagan International Airport and at the Dulles International Airport office, but in our main office on Capitol Hill in Washington, there are only three of us. Our membership director lives in Maine. When I was recruited for this position, I was told I could do it remotely. But one of the things I have discovered is you can’t manage a staff that way. You have to look employees in the eye. I am back and forth every month. In 1990 I took a fear of flying class with US Air. I have flown every month since August of 2018. I’m trying to have either me or staff members visit all of our locations within the year. Another surprise has been that with a home office, it’s hard to get out of the office. I start my day at 6 a.m. All of our staff, except our webmaster in Phoenix, work on the East Coast and I’m still at my desk at 5 p.m. local time. When we were negotiating my contract, they said it would be 40 hours a week and now I’m working 60. I don’t mind that either, you do what you have to do. My first week, I met with the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, Amtrak, and the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority. I realized I was on a bigger stage. The job is the same, just bigger and broader. I like a challenge and I feel the job found me.”

Baldwin discussed the challenges she faces. “We did a strategic plan and a survey of volunteers and staff in our affiliate programs to figure out what was needed. One was to improve morale, to focus on rebuilding trust with the staff. We need to pay attention to the needs of the staff as they are our biggest resource, along with the volunteers. You have to treat your people right because those are the folks who are providing the services. Travelers Aid does have an impact on the individual communities and the people we serve. And we need to upgrade our internal systems, and communications. Now there is no interconnectivity and all of us are on different systems. It takes a while to learn the job, so I’m still figuring out the moving parts and there are lots of them. I’m used to operating a three-ring circus and this is a five-ring circus. My biggest fear is something will fall through the cracks, with all of the different time zones we are in. My Google calendar app can’t figure out where I am.”

In their spare time, Ginger and Kathleen, and often other family members travel abroad, with Italy a frequent destination. Their trips always include a stop in Naples. Kathleen estimates that since their high school reunion in Naples in 2001, they have been to Italy a dozen times and she discussed her three favorite cities in the country. “Naples is vibrant, it’s like Italy on steroids. It’s loud, raucous, dirty, beautiful and dynamic. It’s alive and the food is the best. There is absolutely no doubt that the food is best in Southern Italy. Sienna is a lot like Florence, but less touristy. And third Lake Como, which is stunningly beautiful and tranquil. It’s just a 45 minute drive from Lake Como to Switzerland. Naples is all movement, noise and color. Naples is also near Capua (a 35-minute drive) where Spartacus trained, and that building is better preserved than the Coliseum in Rome. We try to go somewhere different each time we go to Italy and we’re not bored yet. It feels like home. We’re comfortable in the culture and with the language.”

Kathleen Baldwin said of the job with Travelers Aid International she has held for 11 months, “It’s a wonderful adventure. I’m having an impact and fun all at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

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