Children’s champion steps down |

Children’s champion steps down

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS Kate Forinash PU 11-2-07

EAGLE COUNTY ” Often the results of her work are unseen, but Kathleen Forinash’s efforts have brought help to many needy families across the county, her colleagues say.

Forinash, director of Health and Human Services for Eagle County, will retire in December after working with the county for 16 years. Her husband, county planner Joe Forinash, also will be retiring.

Forinash has been responsible organizing and raising funds for the county’s early-childhood programs, establishing many services for seniors and starting an extensive volunteer-placement program, Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

“I’ve worked with her for years, and she has always been very humble and very hardworking” in what is a complex and difficult field, Menconi said. “She makes everything she does look so easy, and that translates to people getting


Forinash’s philosophy has been partnership with the community and intervention services, especially for young children, she said. The Early Head Start program, for example, offers parent education and health and counseling services for families with children ages 0 to 3.

Ensuring children get a good start on life is a way to be proactive, she said.

“We want to do more than wait till people are in crisis to intervene,” she said.

Forinash received the Early Childhood Champion Award from Smart Start Colorado for her early-childhood-services work, and she helped establish and fund the Miller Ranch Child Care Center and the Vail Child Care Center.

While many may look at social services as a reactive, punitive agency, Forinash’s approach has been to strengthen children and families, Marian McDonough, manager for child-welfare services, said.

Not only has Forinash been instrumental in the county’s early childhood programs but she is gifted at bringing in support from all over the community and getting people to share her vision, Early Childhood Manager Jennie Wahrer said.

“She’s given so much to the community. She is the early-childhood champion,” Wahrer said.

Forinash’s early-childhood-services program got more than 80 agencies involved, established an Early Childhood Council and raised more than $1 million.

“She is a genius at getting funds to people in need of help,” County Manager Bruce Baumgartner said. “The county estimates she has directed just under $50 million toward those in need. And she does it with a great deal of quiet hard work, compassion and wit.”

One lesson she has learned over her years of social service work has been the value of partnering with other people, whether for funds or for ideas, Forinash said.

“When you sit down with a group of people, you come up with ideas you never knew you had before you sat down ” ideas and strategies you couldn’t come up with individually,” she said.

For example, the proposal for Early Head Start was written while “meeting with folks around a kitchen table,” Forinash said.

But that gift of partnership is precisely what has made Forinash and the programs she works on successful, said Tsu Wolin-Brown, community case worker for the Vail Valley Salvation Army.

“She’s my hero,” said Wolin-Brown, who has worked with Forinash on several programs. “She is a visionary, and she’s good at getting people to join into her vision.”

She always has been very passionate and dedicated to her work, and it shows, she said. Wolin-Brown recalled the time the Vail-Eagle Rotary Club was holding one of its first free health-screening clinics for children in Dotsero. Many local children were at home and their parents out at work, she said.

“Here’s Kate out there on a Saturday morning. She’s out knocking on doors trying to get the kids to come out to the screening,” she said.

She and her husband will be staying in Eagle County, but Forinash said she is not yet sure what the couple will do after retiring.

“I’m ready for the next phase of our lives. It’s going to be a great adventure,” she said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or

Education: University of Nebraska, master’s in social work.

Family: Married to Joseph Forinash, county planner.

Years in Eagle County: 16 ” Forinash first joined the county in 1991 as director of social services. In 1994, she became the director of the newly formed Health and Human Services Department.

Programs she has helped start here: Early Head Start, Head Start, Miller Ranch and Vail child-care centers, senior services and the county volunteer program.

Why she went into social services: As a high school student, Forinash attended a White House conference on children and families. As she listened to President Dwight Eisenhower and leaders in the social services field, she was inspired.

“It was an exciting time to know you could impact the lives of people around you in a positive way,” she said.

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