Karen Korotzer '89
Arc CEO Korotzer ’89 returns to her Mohawk Valley roots
For Karen Korotzer ’89, the Mohawk Valley has always been a sort of beacon calling her home.
“I’ve been bouncing back and forth,” says Korotzer, CEO of The Arc, Oneida-Lewis Chapter. “I have always been drawn to the Central New York area.”
Korotzer is originally from Madison County, where her family owned Eisaman Farms before moving to Schenectady, where she graduated from high school. She chose to return to the Mohawk Valley the first time to attend MVCC.
“I chose MVCC for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I truly loved this area and wanted to return to my roots,” she says. The reputation of the College’s human services and psychology programs also contributed to her decision, and she says her experience prepared her well for her future.
“I have many fond memories of my time at MVCC, especially my internships,” Korotzer says. Her first internship was at the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, working alongside a psychologist and director of nursing. “It was my first job in the field, and the experience really helped to shape my direction.”
She attributes much of her understanding and self-awareness in the field to the experienced and knowledgeable instructors she remembers from MVCC.
“Mohawk Valley’s instructors were very experienced in the field, so they brought that reality to our education,” Korotzer says. “Hearing real stories and how that connected to the material we were learning in class really helped us understand the issues. MVCC gave me the confidence to go on to a four-year college, with that real-world knowledge, which other students at the four-year didn’t have.”
Korotzer recently was reminded of the strengths of MVCC’s program when she found a class notebook while going through some old books and papers.
“The instructor would really get us thinking, ‘how can we do things better?’” she says. “We were trained early on in self-awareness at Mohawk Valley, and this really helped the early shaping of my thought process.”
Another influence that led Korotzer to work in direct care was the story of her great uncle, who was born with cerebral palsy. She says her great grandmother took care of him alone at home, with no support, until she became too ill to do so.
“No one else in the family was able to care for him the way she could,” Korotzer says. “So the decision was made to send him to a state school, and we know now how deplorable those conditions were.”
She says he was only able to leave the school to visit family once in the 18 years he spent there before he died.
“He is my compass,” Korotzer says. “We are compelled by the Arc Foundation to provide supports for people with children with disabilities at home. We’ve come a long way, and will just keep having better ways to support people moving ahead.”
After her graduation from MVCC, Korotzer earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, then her Master of Social Work and Master of Business Administration from the University at Albany.
Before being named CEO at The Arc, Korotzer worked with the College of St. Rose in Albany as a consultant for the Institute of Community Research and Training, and she was an online instructor with the University of Phoenix. She also had worked as a licensed clinical social worker at the psychiatric inpatient units at Ellis Hospital and at Ridge Health Services of Schenectady Arc.
Korotzer says she felt very good about coming back to the Mohawk Valley to live and work almost four years ago. “I knew that there already were very good support systems in place for people with disabilities and their families,” she says.
One of those support systems is The Arc, which has been a leader in services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1954. Today, The Arc is one of 55 chapters of the statewide NYSARC, Inc.
“The agency started as a group of parents who wanted to provide more support for their children,” Korotzer says. “And that is what we still strive for today: to support people in unique and innovative ways, so that they can live rich, full lives.”
Since Korotzer has been CEO, The Arc has been working to establish a culture of person-centered planning. In early 2014, the agency was awarded accreditation by the Council on Quality and Leadership, which helped to set the culture change.
“Every person we support is interviewed about their goals, their hopes and dreams,” she says. “This makes them directly involved in the planning and the decisions that are made.”
In some ways, Korotzer’s career seems to have come full circle with her education. MVCC Board of Trustees Chairman David Mathis was chairman of the board when she was an MVCC student, and The Arc and MVCC have partnered for CollegeWorks, a program to improve post-high school employment outcomes for people with developmental disabilities. The two-year program provides the experience of attending college while helping students develop marketable work skills, learn self-awareness and advocacy, and improve communication and relationship-building skills. Students explore all career options in year one, but in their second year focus on one career path, such as hospitality, retail/office clerical, and janitorial.
“Seeing the people we support, and those moments of pride, that is everything,” Korotzer says. “Seeing them smile at their achievements, whether they are small, medium, or large, is always going to be the best part of this job.”