HARDING – Carol Oliver never saw clients as customers. She saw them as family.
Oliver, who was employed at Goodwill Industries in Wilkes-Barre for over 25 years, passed away unexpectedly Aug. 3 at the age of 65 due to health complications.
She was laid to rest Aug. 8 at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wyoming.
Oliver was born in Wilkes-Barre and attended the Wilkes-Barre Township School District. She graduated from the defunct Lourdesmont School in Clarks Summit and earned an associate’s degree in Human Services from Luzerne County Community College. She also attended Keystone Community College.
Oliver was the Regional Director of the Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities (MHID) Residential Program for Goodwill Industries, offering group homes to young and older adults with mental disabilities.
Luzerne-Wyoming County Mental Health and Development Services works with Goodwill Industries to provide homes for mentally disabled.
According to the Luzerne-Wyoming County MH/DS agency website, its mission is to promote opportunities for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities to be part of and participate in the same valued experiences and life events as do other citizens.
Support Coordination Services Manager Grace Bradshaw worked with Oliver for 24 years and said there was something about her that made her go above and beyond helping people.
“There are some people that have that spark of compassion to provide something better and improve the system,” said Bradshaw. “She was one of them, and we’re going to miss her.”
According to Assistant Regional Director for Goodwill Industries Sarah Dicindio, who worked as Oliver’s assistant for 10 months, Goodwill operated only one group home between Luzerne and Lackawanna counties when Oliver started working in 1991. She opened 12 more during her 25 years.
Goodwill now operates six group homes in Lackawanna County and seven in Luzerne County.
“With Carol and her team, even before I came on, they found a house that met their regulations, they bought it and then moved on in the process,” Dicindio said. “She wanted to keep growing so they couldn’t turn anyone down. She always wanted to stay small enough to know everyone. She wanted to know the staff, know them personally and be able to manage everybody.”
Jerry Langan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Goodwill Industries, said Oliver made the company better both externally and internally.
“Certainly, the company benefited because it was growth for us and we added a lot of service,” he said. “But, the company was served better by having Carol present and her leadership. When Carol was talking, she was talking about these kids and that spread. If you have a person like this on staff, it’s easy for everyone to follow them.”
Langan said Oliver considered group home clients as extended family and never as money makers for the agency.
“Carol had a special way of dealing with these clients,” he said. “No matter what the situation, the decision or what had to be done, it was always on her shirt. She wore that client on her shirt and every decision was based on their happiness.”
Helping people was the biggest part of Oliver’s characteristics as she also assisted with the American Red Cross where she was a CPR Instructor.
Dicindio said the staff at Goodwill Industries is all pulling together to fill the void left by Oliver, but said it hasn’t been easy.
“She’s not replaceable,” Dicindio said. “She was an angel on Earth and could be in 10 places at once. We’re just trying to do things the way she wanted us to do things. We’re pulling together as a team until we figure things out.”
Langan said Oliver’s position will eventually be filled, but the void she left in the hearts of her employees and the Goodwill Industries clients won’t be as easy to fill.
“It’s a terrible vacuum,” he said. “I’ve been in this field for 35 years and I don’t know if I met anybody who had the dedication, temperament and the continued love and support like she gave those kids in those homes. I’ve never seen that, and I don’t think I ever will again.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher