It was a hot, steamy July afternoon when hundreds gathered under a large tent on the grounds of Foothill Unity Center to honor one of the dedicated treasures and pioneers of the center’s operations, Betty McWilliams.
“Betty was our leader during some unique and challenging chapters in the life of our organization—including the relocation to our new Monrovia Center site and the increased demand for critical support services during the pandemic. We are a much better organization because of Betty’s compassion and dedication,” Dr. Gordon Amerson, a Foothill Unity Center board member and superintendent of the Duarte Unified School District, said. “Betty was one of the first community leaders I met when I came to the San Gabriel Valley area. Immediately, I was inspired by her commitment to empowering the community and serving residents.”
Foothill Unity Center, a multi-service agency, serves as the region’s primary provider of integrated services that help individuals and families move out of poverty to reach economic stability. And McWilliams led the center through many exciting and challenging growth periods including the expansion of the Food and Health Services Departments and the creation of the Workforce Development Department. She also guided the organization during its historic purchase of and relocation to its 28,000-square-foot Monrovia Center.
Tributes about McWilliams’ outstanding career at Foothill Unity Center included Foothill Unity Center board president and former Arcadia mayor Gary Kovacic who said: “Since the beginning, Foothill Unity Center’s executive directors have been strong, hardworking, and visionary women focused on the goal of helping people in need and changing lives.”
“She is an amazing leader and even better human being,” Pete Siberell, a Foothill Unity Center board member and director of community events & special projects at Santa Anita Park, said. “Santa Anita has partnered with Betty and Foothill Unity Center for nearly two decades in putting on the Back-to-School Distribution event, which provides school supplies, backpacks, clothing and haircuts to some 1,000 children of families in need, many of them kids of the track’s backsiders. Betty has been the tireless face of this essential organization. Her can-do attitude and tremendous compassion have meant so much to our community, and we will miss her greatly.”
Cruz Baca, a Foothill Unity Center board member and commissioner for Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, said: “Betty truly represents what Foothill Unity Center is all about. Always compassionate, friendly, and treating all with dignity… and let’s not forget that smile.”
Mary Ann Lutz, a Foothill Unity Center board member, former Monrovia mayor and Board vice president trustee at Citrus College, said: “Betty has led Foothill Unity Center with bravery and faith. She encouraged the board to purchase our own building, which has proven to be a tremendous asset that allows the center to serve more people, especially during the pandemic. Betty’s compassion for the people in the communities that Foothill Unity Center serves is infectious, inspiring her staff and generations of volunteers to serve with an open heart that ensures our clients are treated with a loving hand and respect.”
As community leaders like Monrovia Councilman Larry Spicer paid their homage to McWilliams, it became clear that hugs were definitely the order of the day.
Perhaps somewhat overwhelmed by the adulation, McWilliams said during the event that she would soon dedicate a new garden on the Foothill Unity Center grounds. “This will be a place of harmony and be a peaceful place in nature,” she said.
As part of the afternoon event, McWilliams accepted a $214,000 check from Santa Anita Family Services for a new mental health services program for Foothill Unity Center.
The board of directors of Foothill Unity Center, Inc. announced the appointment of Tashera Taylor as McWilliams’ successor. McWilliams will retire effective July 31, 2021, after being a part of the organization for 22 years and serving as executive director since 2012.
Taylor will become the new executive director on Aug. 1, 2021. Taylor, the current deputy director of Foothill Unity Center, has supervised its Client Services Department since 2010. She also has 20 years of experience in the social service and mental health field.
Foothill Unity Center was founded in 1980 by Josephine Anderson in a borrowed church closet in Monrovia, Calif., to provide food to a few hungry families. Over the years the center has become a major source of food, health services and crisis assistance for thousands of low-income families. In 1991, the center was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In 2008 it was federally designated the Community Action Agency for the Foothill Area of Los Angeles County. In 2018, the center secured enough donated funds to move into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, with a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, to stock large amounts of frozen, fresh, canned and dried food.