TAMPA — The woman is notably Northside Mental Health Care Center’s chief ambassador.
That is associate director Elaine Churton’s assessment of Cindy Kocher, the organization’s longtime human resources/community relations director.
“She has a very special demeanor and a unique way of making everyone feel valued within our agency,” she said. “All staff, no matter the program, department or shift, know Cindy and she makes sure that everyone knows that she is available to them for problem solving and consultation.”
It’s hard to imagine Northside without Kocher’s presence, Churton said.
But her associates will soon have to adjust to her absence.
Kocher’s 30-year career with the nonprofit agency that provides inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services to Hillsborough County residents of all ages will come to an end tomorrow.
She is retiring as the overseer of a department whose responsibilities include handling employee wage and benefit programs, employee relations and the development of a staff that consists of about 200 people. She’s also been involved in the recruitment and retention of personnel.
In addition, Kocher’s duties have consisted of managing the credentialing of all licensed staff members and physicians, and ensuring the agency is in compliance with all state and federal regulations.
“I have no doubt that even after her retirement she will continue to make an impact on Northside … just as she has always done,” Churton said.
In her three decades of service to the organization, Kocher, 70, has experienced a change in the center’s venue, an increase in the number of clients served and cuts in state and federal funding.
To combat the latter issue, she was the creative force behind several initiatives to educate the community about Northside and help raise money for the organization.
When the longtime Temple Terrace resident came on board as director of community relations in 1984, the fledgling agency was located on the University of South Florida campus.
In 1987 — prior to Northside’s 1992 move to its present 12512 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. site — Kocher founded the agency’s auxiliary, which over the years has raised close to $500,000. Much of the money goes toward the agency’s PhoneFriend program, which provides after-school social contact, homework assistance and reassurance for elementary school-age children whose parents are at work.
She also developed the center’s first-ever orientation program for new hires. In addition, she designed a comprehensive hand-out packet detailing the mental health center’s many faucets and services.
“I’ve always tried to be a voice for the employees and the wonderful work we do here,” Kocher said.
Marsha Lewis-Brown, the center’s director, said Kocher’s hands and heart have touched every program and every staff member at the agency.
“The knowledge acquired via her vast years of experience in the human resources area significantly and positively impacted this organization and other community mental health agencies around the state who often sought guidance from her regarding personnel or benefits issues from her,” Lewis-Brown said.
And human resources manager Vilma Hernandez, who’s worked with Kocher for 29 years, said it has been a pleasure knowing her both as a colleague and a friend.
“I have learned so much from her,” she said. “She has been so supportive … and she has helped me to become the HR manager that I am today.”
JoAnn Woodard, who was tapped by Kocher to be the first president of the Northside Auxiliary, describes Kocher as an extraordinary motivator.
“She’s always been very committed to her job and it will be hard to replace her,” Woodard said.
Sylvia Traina, also a past president of the auxiliary, said Kocher has an incredible knack of being able to get people involved in worthwhile projects for the organization.
“She stimulates us and pushes us into doing things we didn’t think we could do,” Traina said.
Even after her retirement, Lewis-Brown is certain Kocher’s impact at Northside will be ongoing.
“Cindy will continue to be a valued, respected and appreciated resource for Northside,” she said. “She lives only a few minutes away from the facility and will be only a phone call away.”
Kocher admits her departure is bittersweet.
“I was 40 years old when I started and the people here are like family,” said Kocher, the divorced mother of two grown daughters.
She plans to stay involved with the auxiliary and perhaps do some contract work for the agency, but she wants to free up more time to visit her grandchildren who live out of state.
While she is sure she will miss seeing her Northside associates on a regular basis, there is one aspect of her longtime career she’s happy to see go by the wayside.
“I won’t miss having to get up each and every morning and come to work,” Kocher said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]