Liesl Wendt, who led the Department of County Human Services for three years and steered its work providing people across Multnomah County with equitable opportunities to thrive, will step down as the department’s director Aug. 31.

Peggy Brey, who most recently served as the department’s deputy director, will take the reins as interim director on Sept. 1.

Wendt, who spent many years launching and then directing 211info in Oregon, will become the United Way Worldwide Director of 211 Network Operations and Performance.

“We’re excited that Liesl is going to take so much of the work she’s launched in Multnomah County to a national level,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “But I will personally miss the vision and drive she brought as director.”

During her three years as director, Wendt aligned the DCHS strategic vision under the “North Star,” or guiding principle, that “every person, at every stage of life, will have equitable opportunities to thrive” in Multnomah County. Under Wendt’s leadership, DCHS focused its efforts on improving quality of life and increasing economic opportunity and educational success for individuals and families.

“People ask me what DCHS does, and it can be difficult to summarize because human services isn’t just one thing,” Wendt said. “It’s a wide variety of upstream and safety net services that increase well-being across the lifespan for people with a wide range of abilities and backgrounds. Having a unified strategic vision was a challenging and critical move for the department.”

Under the Board of County Commissioners’ leadership, DCHS has focused on equity over the past few years. For instance, the SUN Service System and Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division have shifted funding approaches to provide more resources to the county’s culturally specific and culturally responsive nonprofit service providers.

During Wendt’s tenure the department also underwent significant structural changes, transitioning homeless services to the Joint Office of Homeless Services and realigning youth and prosperity initiatives under the now year-old Youth and Family Services division.

Wendt also worked to build stronger relationships with the nonprofit community and reshaped the director’s office to focus on quality improvement, data, technology and communications.

The department's goals, as outlined in its budget for the 2018 fiscal year, will remain largely unchanged after Wendt’s departure, Brey said.

“We will continue to focus on culturally responsive services, participant-oriented work, and collaborating among divisions, County departments and community partners,” Brey said.

Brey has more than 30 years of experience in high-level government management and in providing support to older adults. Over the last year, she has managed operations, facilities and quality improvement for DCHS.

“I always found being with people, listening to their stories and imagining their lives as a wonderful gift,” Brey said.

Growing up listening to the stories her mother and aunts would tell about growing up in Texas during the Great Depression influenced her decision to work in human services, Brey said.

“They taught me that respect and just being there for each other enriches everyone.”

Since joining Multnomah County in 2011, Brey also has served as the director of DCHS’ Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division.

“Peggy brings a unique combination of experience in human services, quality improvement and policy that will serve the department well,” Chair Kafoury said. “I look forward to working with her on my priorities and the department’s budget.”

Before joining the County, Brey served as the deputy director of Michigan's Aging and Adult Services Agency and vice president of Michigan’s Quality Improvement Organization. In the former role, she worked intimately with that state’s Medicaid office on long-term care transformation issues, home and community-based care, and nursing facility transitions and diversions. In the quality improvement position, she worked to improve performance at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Through those roles and her work at the County, Brey said she has come to value relationships, honest communication, social justice and equity, kindness, grace for each other and compassion.

When she’s not working Brey said she enjoys spending time with her husband, son and her son’s girlfriend; binge-watching “Game of Thrones,” playing with her cat, Oscar; going to the beach and exploring Portland.

“We laugh, listen to music, play games and generally just have a great time being with each other,” Brey said.