New head of the Family: Buttacavoli joins nonprofit as Executive Director

Former Isanti County Public Health Director Tony Buttacavoli, pictured here during the grand opening of the Milk Depot in 2018, just started his new position as Executive Director of Family Pathways.

A new year brought new beginnings for former Isanti Public Health Director Tony Buttacavoli, as he started his new position Jan. 4 as Executive Director of Family Pathways, succeeding interim Executive Director Rich Smith.

“Last January I had made the decision to be open to new opportunities,” said Buttacavoli, who has worked for Isanti County Public Health 13 years, being director the last six. “I think it’s a good idea to evaluate what you are doing professionally every three-to-five years. When I saw the open position for Family Pathways I knew it was an opportunity I had to pursue.”

Buttacavoli lives in Cambridge with his wife Laurie; daughters Emilia, 14, and Olivia, 11; and his stepchildren Austin Chilson, 20, and Allison Chilson, 17. 

Throughout his tenure with Isanti County, Buttacavoli worked closely with Family Pathways, and said he looks forward to his leadership role at the nonprofit organization. “It gives me the ability to serve others at an authentic, whole level,” he added. 

Family Pathways is an innovative, collaborative, and genuine organization that helps area residents in need, and being the next executive director of the organization is a personal and professional progression for him, Buttacavoli explained.

“It’s an exciting transition for me, and I’m happy that I will still be serving and helping my community, and getting to work with some of the same great partners and staff that I did in my other role,” Buttacavoli said.

Before his public health career, Buttacavoli worked and volunteered as an EMT, public safety officer, and athletic trainer. During his tenure in public health, he worked with Morrison, Mille Lacs, Ramsey, and Isanti counties in various roles and responsibilities. Some of the many initiatives he worked on were addressing alcohol, tobacco, and drug use; traffic safety; environmental health; dementia; emergency preparedness; and many other programs, he said. 

Same story, different book

Some of the biggest challenges working as a leader in public health surrounded funding, whether it be insufficient or categorical funding, according to Buttacavoli. He explained that programs and services often depend on grants or foundation funds received, and may not necessarily reflect the local needs. Flexible funding allows local health departments to respond to local needs and wants, and not just satisfy mandates or required programs, he added, noting mandated and required programs are also important. 

Another challenge faced by public health is being able to tell the full public health story, since it is hard to measure prevention. It is difficult to quantify the effectiveness of programs, how many people benefited from the program, or how much money was saved by a program, he said.

When asked about his biggest accomplishments as Isanti County Public Health Director, Buttacavoli joked that it was “like picking your favorite child.” “Truely, I’m proud of all of our programs and staff, and each are needed and appreciated for what they do and who they help,” he said. However, he did list “five great accomplishments” of Isanti County Public Health during his time as director:

•Implementing an accredited Family Home Visiting program; 

•Being one of the first counties in Minnesota to pass a comprehensive Tobacco 21 ordinance;

•Being the first public health department in Minnesota certified as a human milk depot donation drop off; 

•Being recognized as a county-wide HeartSafe Community; and,

•Partnering with Children Dental Services to offer dental hygiene and restorative care for youth and pregnant woman on medical assistance. 

New challenges

Buttacavoli looks forward to the challenges of leading the expansive organization of Family Pathways. The organization operates in eight counties in Minnesota and one county in Wisconsin providing access to healthy food for low income families and individuals; support, advocacy, and prevention services for victim/survivors of domestic and sexual violence; supervised visitation for children and parents separated due to abuse or neglect; support services for older adults and caregivers; and, youth programming. It also operates several thrift stores throughout its service area.

“I imagine it being a challenge to keep robust relationships with all staff, partners, and communities,” he said, noting that COVID-19 makes it even more challenging to do in-person. “However, COVID-19 has also taught us to communicate and interact in new and flexible ways. I think my work history with Isanti County and other counties will help with this challenge, as I do have existing relationships in much of the service area to start from.”

Buttacavoli is looking forward to leading Family Pathways vision of “Every Voice. Every Possibility. Every Day.” His strong passion to serve and help others stems from his professional and educational background, as well as lived personal experiences, he said.

“I’m excited to work with a Board of Directors that I see as a ‘Dream Team’ of dedicated individuals, a leadership team I see as mission-focused subject matter experts, with volunteers and donors that are compassionate and devoted, and with thankful and appreciative clients,” Buttacavoli said.

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