Danville-based San Ramon Valley Discovery Counseling Center has appointed Sumita Bhandari as its new executive director following the retirement of Kathy Chiverton, who held the position for nearly 11 years.
“I think what I’ll probably miss the most is connecting with people and building relationships,” Chiverton said. “The way my mind works is I meet someone, and I want them to meet someone else that I know, or take advantage of a program that I know, and I like to develop programs and seeing things happen and having that satisfaction…and bringing people together to make it happen.”
“It’s probably what I’ll miss the most, and probably terrify my husband, that I’m thinking of plans for him,” Chiverton added.
Although Chiverton announced her retirement several months ago, she remained permanent executive director at the Discovery Counseling Center, where she was first hired in 2011, throughout the board’s months-long search for her replacement. culminating in the continuation of the integration process with Bhandari, who was announced as the new head of the center on 28 April.
“We just thought that with our connections in the community with business, with politics, we would have candidates,” Discovery Counseling Board Chairman Michael Copeland said.
Copeland said that while he and other board members had some trepidation about filling Chiverton’s role upon learning of his retirement, they were confident the right candidate would rise to the top quickly. However, after about 15 initial responses, seven phone interviews and three personal interviews during the initial recruiting process, Copeland said the board still came empty-handed.
“At the end of the year, we just hadn’t found the right candidate,” Copeland said.
The board then sought advice from Chiverton, Copeland said, who then pushed Bhandari, whom she had known for many years, to apply.
“She just kind of ticked all the boxes,” Copeland said. “She interviewed very well, and every time you sit down with her, you know a little bit more about her.”
Copeland also pointed to Bhandari’s respect for the work of Discovery Counseling, and the mutual respect between her and Chiverton, as deciding factors in the council’s decision.
While Copeland said Bhandari’s existing relationship with Chiverton factored into the council’s decision, Chiverton stressed that the decision was up to the council, not her.
“I was not involved in the selection process, but I had known Sumita for a long time, and urged her to apply. And without any prompting from me, the jury embraced her and saw exactly in her what I had seen, so it was definitely meant to be,” Chiverton said.
Bhandari said getting to know Chiverton and his work at Discovery Counseling has shed new light on the organization, earning him long-standing respect and admiration.
“I think even as a community member who has lived here for a long time, I didn’t realize what a gem this organization was until I met Kathy through other activities,” said Bhandari.
“I would just encourage people to get to know Discover and what we do, and just learn a little bit more about the organization,” she added. “Because when you do, you realize especially in the context of this mental health crisis that we’re going through… knowing that you have a resource like this in the community, that’s a precious thing.”
Discovery Counseling was founded over 50 years ago and has been serving the San Ramon Valley and surrounding community since then, with the goal of making mental health services accessible and affordable for all members of the community. Chiverton said that during his more than 10-year tenure, the pandemic years had brought to light issues and demonstrated the need for services such as those offered at Discovery Counseling.
“Things have fundamentally changed over the past couple of years, and COVID has really brought a new level of concern to, I think, a lot of families and a lot of students, and we’re hearing that across the board,” said Chiverton. “Increased truancy and truancy, anxiety is through the roof; we see students and families struggling to communicate with each other; we see marriages that are under pressure due to the covid.”
Chiverton said that while the content of the issues that Discovery Counseling aims to help the community has remained essentially the same during the pandemic, their intensity has increased significantly in recent years.
“All of the things that we’ve seen in the last eight or nine years just escalated because of COVID, and I don’t see that easing in the future,” Chiverton said.
Bhandari also highlighted the needs that had been heightened by the onset of the pandemic and its continuing impacts.
“Three-quarters of our clients need subsidized services, so I think the biggest issue we’re seeing is that as COVID recedes, we’re still seeing the mental health crisis get worse every day,” Bhandari said. “People find themselves in a heightened state of anxiety about what to worry about, and there’s this uncertainty that’s been provided by the pandemic that doesn’t really go away for people.”
Bhandari said that amid all this pressure on mental health services and the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic, she was confident of taking the reins as the leader of Discovery Counseling because of her relationship with Chiverton. and his support.
“One of the reasons I was comfortable taking on this role was that I was going to be working with Kathy in this transition,” Bhandari said. “There’s no better person to transition into this job with, because I don’t know anyone else who is as charming and gracious as my friend here.”
Chiverton also noted that the mental health needs of residents of the San Ramon Valley have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but pointed to increased pressures on community members who are struggling financially in an area known for its wealth.
“I think it puts a huge pressure on some families who are hidden in this community, you don’t know who they are by looking at them, but there are a significant number of people who are not in a comfortable situation financially, and it adds to mental health issues, especially in a community where people seem to get by,” Chiverton said.
Chiverton called this population Discovery Counseling’s “niche” and highlighted the center’s mission to make mental health services affordable and accessible to everyone through a sliding scale payment policy.
Although economic pressures for San Ramon Valley residents may lead to additional mental health issues, Chiverton pointed to an advantage for Discovery Counseling in terms of funding, in the form of Thrift Station, the volunteer-run store near Hartz. and San Ramon Valley Boulevard in Danville which provides a significant amount of funding for the center.
“(They) generate enough revenue to be a third of our annual income,” Chiverton said. “Community mental health organizations have retreated all over Contra Costa County, and we’re one of the few to stay simply because we have this strong source of support. We couldn’t be here or do what we let’s do without them.”
Now, towards the end of the month-long transition period alongside Chiverton, Bhandari, a former attorney at the Danville-based law firm Gagen-McCoy, said she already felt confident in the role.
“It’s something that felt natural to me, so there’s not much that makes me nervous, and I think that’s partly because I know that if something were to happen, I would feel extremely comfortable reaching out not just for Kathy’s opinion, but all of the community members involved in Discover,” Bhandari said.
Chiverton said that despite her retirement, she would continue her long practice of community involvement and volunteering at the grassroots level, with Bhandari noting that she was excited to continue the work that Chiverton had started, with the support of her predecessor.
“Kathy has always been and always will be on a mission that she wholeheartedly identified with and motivated her to do what she has done all these years and that includes making this transition as smooth as possible,” said said Bhandari. “We have a relationship where we’re very direct and honest with each other, and that makes this transition so much easier for all of us.”