Joanne Lighter can look back with satisfaction on her four years as president of the Spring of Tampa Bay, the state's largest domestic violence shelter.
The Spring, which celebrates its 35th anniversary next year, was already a recognized leader in charity circles before Lighter arrived. Over the years, it has provided emergency shelter, counseling and support to tens of thousands of victims, with a level of care that has made the Spring a Tampa institution and a national model.
Lighter, 62, is tough, and she rubbed some people the wrong way with her direct style and in instituting the directive from her board to cut expenses in this down economy. But she made the agency more visible and leaves it in better shape. The operation is run more professionally, with new equipment and a sharper eye to channeling dollars and staff time toward delivering services. During her tenure, the Spring invested about $1 million into its facilities. It worked with area law enforcement and schools on outreach programs in an effort to punish offenders and sensitize young people to early-warning signs of domestic abuse.
Just before Thanksgiving, Lighter announced that she would retire once her board chooses a successor. The entire Tampa Bay area has a stake in the outcome of this national search. While crime dropped across the state in recent years, one crime — domestic violence — spiked. The impact on families, children and society must be measured by the generations that are scarred by this experience. Lighter kept the Spring's mission on the public's radar during a demanding time, and the organization is stronger because of her commitment. The next leader needs to ensure that this treasured institution keeps building on its service to this community.