Barbara Carlitz: Kudos to a serial board chair


Barbara Carlitz recently offered a visitor a cup of coffee and a chocolate-chip cookie perched atop a napkin imprinted with "Stop me before I volunteer again" -- hardly a slogan that Carlitz has taken to heart.

Since the 1970s, she has served on seven boards, chairing six of them, all while running her own architectural-design business and raising a family solo.

Her volunteering dates back to the late '70s when she was dealing with aging parents struggling to live on their own -- 1,500 miles away. She consulted with Rose Kleiner, who ran Older Adults Care Management and who phone-interviewed social workers in Houston, Texas, to get Carlitz started.

That early consultation introduced her to far more than resources for dealing with her aging parents: Soon she was invited by the founders of the Association for Senior Day Health (now the Rose Kleiner Center) to join the board.

"They approached me ... and a few people they happened to know who were a good 25 years younger, were energetic, had young kids who could be left for periods of time," Carlitz recalled.

Carlitz said she was attracted to serving on boards for "the socialization," since she was working from home and raising a young child at the time. Just a few years earlier, Carlitz, who had a master's degree in English and had been a teacher before her daughter was born, took drafting and architectural-drawing courses at Foothill College. She then started her own architectural-design firm.

Carlitz served on that first board for 10 years and chaired it in 1985. That ultimately segued into serving on the boards and chairing the Senior Day Health Program for six years and Avenidas for four years, joining the Woman's Club of Palo Alto board, and then to serving on and chairing the boards of Palo Alto Community Child Care, Palo Alto Community Fund and Environmental Volunteers.

"My parents were very involved in the community where I grew up; they set a good example. (It) didn't seem crazy to do all these things," Carlitz said.

"I craved some group process, which made committees and boards appealing to me. And I think I bring some organizational skills and also bring consensus-building skills to boards," she said.

The oldest of three siblings, she says it's that "older-child syndrome" that pushes her to "organize everything around you."

"I think I'm fair, I'm open. I don't hide my opinions but I realize mine is not the only opinion. I encourage discussion on boards."

Five years ago she was recruited by a friend to the Environmental Volunteers board; she's currently serving her second three-year term, and she chaired the board last year.

"The environment has attracted my attention as an area of great need, globally down to my household, and this organization does what the best of Palo Alto nonprofits does: It serves both sides of 101 quite effectively. We're now out in the Baylands, in the East Palo Alto neighborhood, our closest neighbors. Kids can walk to the EcoCenter. It's well-positioned to help," she said.

Carlitz expressed some concerns over the future of volunteering:

"Back in the '70s ... at the time that I began my community service, most of the other women were not working; we had young kids, our husbands had responsible jobs, we felt that we were very comfortably off. It was not a big hardship for us to serve the way we did on boards and committees. Now, with most younger women at work with younger children, it's a different scene," she said.

"If you're working full-time and have a young family, you don't have a lot of time left over."

Looking back, Carlitz cites among her accomplishments finding younger board members, especially for the Palo Alto Community Fund board.

"We recruited three or four, and they have brought others. That's one of the success stories," she said, calling it a "truly working board" with a part-time executive director.

"So all the work gets done by the board. That works in its favor. If people are going to give up some of their few hours away from work and family, they want to feel they're doing something, not listening to committee reports. If you have an assignment and are working actively to get that done, it doesn't feel like time wasted."

Carlitz has by no means abandoned family to serve her community. Besides volunteering and actively running her own firm, she finds time to spend with her daughter, two stepsons and five grandchildren, who range in age from 6 to 16.

At 75, she's as proud of them as she is of "having stepped up to some things that seemed big tasks."

"My greatest accomplishment perhaps is having been a single woman running her own business and still taking an active part in the community," she said. "That is an accomplishment."

Click on the links below to read about the other Lifetimes of Achievement awards honorees.

Ann DeBusk: A leader of leaders

Allan and Mary Seid: A family affair

Gib Myers: Nurturing startups, philanthropists -- and bison on the range

Bob Harrington: Neighborhood champion praised for commitment to bettering the community

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