Thea Wilson is part of the management team, under president and CEO Jacklyn Chisholm, that has rebuilt the reputation of the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland after a stormy four years that saw the social service agency cited for deficiencies in its Head Start program and its former president and CEO, Jacqueline K. Middleton, resign amid a bribery scandal in 2015.
CEOGC is a nonprofit that offers job readiness and job placement programs, personal and professional development programs and educational programs to residents of Greater Cleveland. As vice president for children and families, Wilson manages the programs at the nonprofit’s 14 Early Head Start and Head Start centers.
A teacher specializing in early childhood development for nearly 40 years, Wilson taught at several Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools, served as the executive director of the district’s Office of Early Childhood and chair of early childhood at The Music Settlement before joining CEOGC.
Why did you leave The Music Settlement for the turmoil of CEOGC?
For me, it was a challenge. Actually, George Forbes (a former Cleveland City Council president who served as CEOGC board chairman until 2015), who I knew, asked me to come in and stabilize the situation. Um, leave singing and dancing? I really had to weigh this. It was not an easy decision, but it was definitely a good decision. When it comes down to it, this was the only place I could be.
When did you realize you wanted to teach?
After the Hough riots (in 1966) I was not quite a teenager and I volunteered for a six-week summer program through my church to go to Hough and play with children. (Wilson grew up in Cleveland Heights). One day, my mother packed an orange in my lunch and this one little boy looked at it and asked, ‘What is that?’ I was shocked but a social worker told me that he didn’t know. I explained it to him and offered a piece to him. That little boy followed me for the remainder of the summer. That’s when started me to think I could be a phenomenal teacher.
Do you have a chance to be with kids now that you’re an administrator?
I get ‘children fever’ and have to be around children. So Dr. Chisholm and I have what we call our ‘Red Shoe Tour.’ We put on red high-top Converse sneakers and go out to a Head Start center and read the kids ‘Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes.’
What others are saying: How would you describe Thea?
“She’s brilliant and has been committed to Cleveland’s children for her entire career. She’s an unsung hero because she cares about others before herself.” — Jacklyn Chisholm, president and CEO, Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland