Celebrating Quiet Competence

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By Joy Portella


Five years ago, I had a meeting that would change the course of Minerva Strategies.


I sat across from Molly Carney, who had recently become the executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services (ETS). I could tell she was a stone-cold pro and scary smart. A former senior-level researcher at the University of Washington, Molly had the double whammy of a PhD in clinical psychology and an MBA. She spoke with quiet competence – no superfluous words.


I went into the meeting skeptical. A friend told me that ETS needed communication help but they weren’t Minerva’s type of client. They provide medication-assisted treatment for people in western Washington who suffer from opioid use disorders, and their program REACH offers support and case management for people living outside in Seattle.


Minerva – the company was about one year old at the time – was built to partner with nonprofits, philanthropies, and social enterprises that tackle global health and development challenges. We worked on challenges that were a world away, in places where poverty and injustice was more extreme and endemic than in the U.S.


Why would we work in our backyard when the real pressing problems are elsewhere? That was my ignorant thinking.


But I was intrigued by Molly. She was earnest, brilliant, and passionate but surprisingly low-key. There was not an ounce of self-aggrandizement about her. She patiently walked me through an explanation of ETS’ complicated work, bemoaning the public misconceptions about medication-assisted treatment and the intense stigma that kept so many people from seeking help. She spoke with tremendous compassion about the courage of ETS patients and the traumas many of them had overcome.


Molly described the hostility that ETS had encountered in community after community as they struggled to address a growing crisis. It’s easy today to forget what the conversation about opioids was like five or ten years ago – before the epidemic screamed from news headlines, before Philip Seymour Hoffman and Prince died, before the public discourse changed and opioid addiction was recognized for what it is: a public health crisis and a brain disease, not a failure of moral character.


Back then, people were still dismissed as “junkies” and treatment was considered enabling.


Collaborating with ETS, I thought, would be meaningful and fascinating. Minerva took the work, and we started an amazing partnership – it’s still going strong after five years – to bring ETS’ work out of the shadows. Together, we’ve built a web and social media presence, secured interviews and opinion pieces, crafted public presentations, staffed community meetings and events, and supported burgeoning fundraising initiatives. Minerva has helped ETS expand its services with minimal community resistance, and growing acceptance and enthusiasm.


We’ve also changed our company philosophy. Part of tackling problems globally is tackling them locally. Since starting our relationship with ETS and Molly, Minerva has gone on to fight hunger with our clients Ballard Food Bank and Northwest Harvest, create opportunities for youth and veterans with the Schultz Family Foundation, and combat mental health stigma with The Stability Network. The United States, Washington State, Seattle – it winds up we’re all part of the world. And no matter where people live, there is inequity, trauma, and injustice.


I want to thank Molly for changing us and for being the cornerstone of our productive and enriching partnership. I’ve never met an executive director of a substantial nonprofit – ETS serves 7,000 people, many of whom use their services every day – who has been so supportive, patient, and responsive. I’ve never seen Molly drop a ball or lose her cool. With her extensive responsibilities overseeing staff, ensuring program quality, expanding clinics, and building a board, I simply have no idea how she did it.


Molly left the ETS team earlier this year. You can read more about her farewell and accolades on the ETS blog. We’re looking forward to working with the Interim Executive Director Chris Johnson, but we’ll miss her quiet competence, steady hand, and intense warmth.


Molly offered an open invite for the Minerva team to visit her on Whidbey Island if we want to do yoga and chill out. I hope she knows we’re coming.

About The Author

Joy Portella

Joy Portella

Founder and President

Joy leads the Minerva Strategies team, providing senior-level direction to every client. Her skills have been honed through more than two decades of experience helping organizations more effectively communicate with media, donors, policymakers and other key audiences.

Prior to establishing Minerva, Joy spent five years as director of communications at the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. She guided Mercy Corps’ messaging, media relations, and crisis communications, and traveled extensively to document work in global hotspots including the Horn of Africa, the Gaza Strip, and North Korea. Previously, Joy worked for a decade at leading communication firms – Burson-Marsteller, Ruder Finn and SS+K – in New York and Washington DC.