“A lot of thoughts about retiring! No formal date, yet but I am preparing for the eventuality of this,” says executive director of Oswego County Opportunities
By Stefan Yablonski
Diane Cooper-Currier’s life has been all about helping others.
“As any kid, I had a list of job ideas — a music therapist, lawyer, CSI, probation officer, criminal researcher, statistician, analysist,” she said.
So, why did she finally decide on a career at Oswego County Opportunities?
“Is there any other?” the head of OCO quickly replied. “Initially, I thought I wanted to be in the legal field of some sort — a criminal investigator, lawyer, cop. Through college internships, I found that what I liked was building relationships with people who were struggling and helping them see their value and a different way of responding to their personal challenges.”
Every summer when she was growing up, her family hosted inner city youth.
“Our rural life was a big difference for some. I often found myself being a ‘coach’ — helping them adjust to the difference that maybe acting a particular way in their own home or neighborhood was OK, but that wasn’t how it was in our home and neighborhood,” she continued.
During college, she worked as a construction laborer at Eastman Kodak. It was a summer job. ”I worked with the electricians, millwrights and the masons. I was in the best shape of my life then,” she laughed.
“It was not a common position for a young woman at that time. I learned a lot about how to swing a hammer and hold my own in a male-dominated field!” she added.
After graduating from the University of Maryland, she went to work for a therapeutic wilderness school in Strasburg, Virginia.
“I worked with young women who were placed there as an alternative to juvenile lock-up. We lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a self-contained camp, providing experiential based learning by building living structures, planning meals and planning wilderness trips for the participants throughout the East Coast,” she said. “This was my first job in human services and it was a learning experience — I probably learned more about myself and how best to intervene and work with youth who had experienced significant trauma in their life.”
She left Virginia and moved to the Adirondacks and became a youth conservation corps leader for a summer before taking a job with St. Lawrence County as a house parent in a group home for young women placed there through family court.
“It was another intense, learning experience and opportunity to impact the lives of young people,” she said.
“From there, I moved to Oswego County [in 1984] and took my first job with OCO as a house supervisor for a group foster care home for adolescent females. From this initial position with OCO, my job expanded to developing the first runaway and homeless youth program in Oswego County, becoming the director of youth services, to OCO’s training and performance coordinator, deputy executive director, to my current position as executive director,” she said.
How did she attain her current position?
“Through hard work, dedication to serving others, expanding my learning and education; staying abreast of new effective ways of working with others and learning about myself, taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves along the way and being open to change and new opportunities,” she explained.
“Suffice it to say, I have been in the human services field for a long time! I have been executive director [at OCO] since 2008,” she added.
Her duties are many.
“You name it!” she said. “Developing strategy and vision, problem solving, resource development and acquisition to help staff serve our customers.”
She describes her leadership style as “relational.”
“I draw on the strength of relationships to motivate, manage challenges and support change. I love the quote “Decide with the head, deliver with the heart.” I got in to human services to make a difference and I rely on building relationships to do this — whether it is with a young person in crisis, an employee or a community partner,” she explained. “My Achilles heel is when I have to work with someone who doesn’t care about relationship and is all business and proceeds with decisions that do not take into consideration the ‘people part’ of decisions. I’ve immersed myself in opportunities to develop my business acumen — how to think more strategically pertaining to business development and finances. I like to think that I have effectively blended the focus on people and the bottom line — keeping in mind all the time to decide with my head (facts, figures, outcomes) and delivering difficult messages with heart.”
Outside of work, Cooper-Currier likes to garden, cook, travel, go for walks, dabble in arts and crafts, and play with her two energetic springer spaniels — Tybee and Lucia. She’s more of a dog person, “but I’d really like a cat,” she said.
“Some recent books I read lately are “The Pirate’s Wife: The Remarkable Story of Sarah Kidd” and “The Madam’s Business; The Remarkable Life and Tragic Death of Melvina Guimaraes” by Ann Allen — a great local read about an Oswego business woman in the mid-19th century,” she added. “I used to be a pretty decent French horn player and a so-so piano and guitar player. I hope that once I retire I can pick these back up.”
She has done a lot of traveling.
“Yes, to a lot of different places,” she said. “I like experiencing the hidden places when traveling — the local places to eat, the hidden beaches and experiencing the unique aspects of a locale.”
Does she have a favorite meal?
“Better to ask me what isn’t my favorite meal — liver and onions, cow’s tongue and lima beans!” she laughed. “Other than those things, I love it all.”
And, who would she like to have dinner with?
“My mother and father,” she said. “I’d ask them all the questions I never got to before they passed.”
She said her pet peeve is judgmental people — “particularly those who are blind to their personal judgments and biases.”
Any thoughts of slowing down or retiring?
“A lot of thoughts about retiring! No formal date, yet but I am preparing for the eventuality of this,” she said. “I hope to stay engaged in my community in some way —by volunteering becoming involved once again in a service group; take up some creative outlets like art, music, acting and enjoying my time with my husband, family and travel.”
The best part of her job is “Knowing that we have 500 plus employees who are dedicated to our mission, serving others to help them thrive and knowing the positive impact OCO has on the community,” she said.
What’s her least favorite part?
“I’m not sure there is one.”
Name: Diane Cooper-Currier
Position: Executive Director of OCO
Birth Date: Really???
Birth Place: Rochester
Education: BA – University of Maryland, MSW – Syracuse University
Affiliations: Board of Directors: New York State Community Action Association; Inclusive Alliance, LLC; OMNES, LLC; Central New York Care Partners, LLC; Oswego County Work Force Board; Oswego University School of Business Advisory Board
Personal: Married to Dale Currier for 23 years; step-children and two grandchildren and two springer spaniels
Hobbies: Gardening, travel, cooking, spending time with friends and family and mild exercise