Long time CEO of the Osceola Council on Aging – the county’s largest social services organization – announced last week plans to retire after more than 40 years with the nonprofit.
Beverly Hougland has grown the Council on Aging from a small senior center inside an outdated vehicle inspection building to an influential group with more than 30 successful programs and a powerful presence in the community.
Hougland’s passion and dedication to helping others allowed her to form tight local partnerships and promote the council’s mission of assisting residents of all ages.
“I always say I’m the luckiest person in the world because I get to see the best of the world,” Hougland said. “We try to make it a better place by helping one person at a time.”
The council is known for its senior citizen-focused programs like Meals on Wheels and adult daycare, but the nonprofit offers help to people of all generations through things like utility assistance and a medical clinic for uninsured low-income residents.
“We focus on the whole person, the entire family,” the CEO said. “We don’t believe in just fixing the immediate problem and moving on.”
Hougland is the type to brag about her employees more than herself, noting the hard work and commitment put forth by the council’s 220 workers and more than 2,000 volunteers.
“You can teach anyone to do a job, but you can’t teach someone to have a heart,” she said. “Employees here really care. We expect that of them. That’s what sets us apart.”
The Council on Aging began in 1971 and Hougland signed on soon after as the nonprofit’s nutritional director.
“Two days in, I knew this was where I was supposed to be,” she said.
Hougland fell in love with the work and the clientele. It wasn’t long before she found herself in the council’s top leadership role.
She hasn’t looked back since.
Hougland said it was difficult to pinpoint her proudest achievement during her decades-long career but considers the council’s new facility between Kissimmee and St. Cloud a crowning joy.
Before 2008, the nonprofit resided in a small, outdated former vehicle inspection building located where Valencia College’s Osceola campus is today.
Hougland said the council always appreciated the facility but conditions were so cramped, employees had to utilize closets as offices. As the need in Osceola grew, Hougland realized the council had to expand to keep up.
“I wanted the seniors to have something beautiful,” she said. “I wanted them to have a place they could come and feel proud.”
The council fundraised money through private donations and lobbied Tallahassee, the city of Kissimmee and Osceola County to help raise money for the group’s current location off U.S. Highway 192.
“She has always led by example and worked hard every day. She’s been an incredible role model,” said Wendy Ford, a 20-year Council on Aging employee who was tapped as Hougland’s replacement next month.
Hougland began developing a succession plan with other members of the council leadership team about three years ago. She started training Ford, the council’s former director of housing and finance, to take over the reigns when the day came.
Ford is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s College of Business and holds Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certifications along with honors and recognition for her work with the council.
Ford admits that the idea of taking on a major leadership role and replacing her long-time mentor was initially a little intimidating.
“It’s an awesome responsibility,” Ford said. “At first, I felt insignificant compared to the title.”
She said that’s not the case anymore.
“Now that I’ve dreamed of things and talked about what I can do and establish, I’m very excited,” she said.
But before any major changes take place, Ford wants to examine what the council does now and find ways to make it even better.
“We’re taking a step back to see how we can re-evaluate our programs to better serve and accommodate this growing community,” she said. “We want to do that before we embark on any new projects.”
Hougland admits stepping away from the Council has been an emotional transition.
“It’s hard to let go of something that has been a part of you for so long,” she said.
Hougland is set to hand over the reigns to Ford in June. But that doesn’t mean the active community figure will disappear.
In fact, she wants to become the best volunteer the Council on Aging has ever seen, she said.
She has a few other plans as well.
“Oh yes, and going to the beach,” Hougland said with a laugh. “After 40 years, I’m looking forward to catching up on a good book with my toes in the sand.”