Kate Williams is energetic, bubbly and very excited about her new role.
On Jan. 1, she became the new executive director of Opening Doors International Services Inc., a nonprofit that helps North Texans with services including naturalization, family-based petitions, record checks, domestic violence petitions, outreach for human trafficking and assistance with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Williams takes over the leadership of the organization from her mother, Anne Starnes, who had served as executive director since 2004.
Williams, 26, said she is passionate about the work she has been doing at the nonprofit, previously known as Opening Doors Immigration Services.
She began working with the agency when she was 15 years old, first by volunteering and baby-sitting children of families dealing with domestic violence at their home. What she remembers most about that time, she said, is when she was baby-sitting a boy from one of those families.
“Every time there was any kind of a slightest noise, he would go, ‘Daddy found us, he knows where we are, he is going to kill us,’” she recalled.
Williams was a teenager when Opening Doors was established by a group of volunteers, including her mother and herself, who wanted to help people in need in the community.
“We went through all the process to get a grant together, get all the legal training, which took us two years,” she said. “We started out baby-sitting children of domestic violence — we would do that at their home, while their mom had their interviews here.”
Williams graduated from Denton High School in 2005, then went on to earn a degree in international politics with a minor in peace studies and Spanish at Westminster College in Pennsylvania in 2008.
She has had just about every position at Opening Doors, including board member, part-time executive assistant and program manager.
Sue Thomson, a volunteer who was part of the founding board, remembered when Williams would work at the office and volunteer during the summers when she was in college.
She said Williams’ knowledge of immigration is intensive and she is the right person for the job.
Thomson said Williams’ mother trained her well for the position and she feels comfortable with her being in charge.
While Williams was at Westminster College, she traveled to Costa Rica and Malawi. In the summer of 2008, she traveled to Peru for six months to continue her Spanish studies and to assist young girls ages 5 to 18 who had been victims of international sex trafficking.
In 2010, Williams became case manager at ODIS.
Starnes, 60, said she could not think of anyone more qualified to take over the position.
“Since she was in high school, this has been her focus. She spent all her time here, did her internship and has done everything she could do to prepare for this,” Starnes said.
She said her daughter has proven herself time and time again in dealing with government entities, handling budgets and speaking to the community to spread the word about the services ODIS offers.
“I think her age is a good thing — she has more energy and more new ideas,” Starnes said. “She has youth and the maturity to deal with the hard situations.”
Starnes said she’ll continue at ODIS serving as a part-time consultant until her daughter no longer needs her assistance.
Williams said volunteering at the nonprofit and later working for it helped her understand many things.
“When I began helping, I realized how much your immigration situation could affect the rest of your life,” she said. “I can’t help somebody put more food on their table, but if the law allows it, I can help them get a work authorization and they can put more food on their own table, so they can spend more time with their kids.”
Opening Doors dealt with 405 cases last year, and leaders expect to deal with 600 cases by the end of 2013, depending on the changes in immigration laws.
Williams wants to help immigrants live without fear so they can become active members of the community.
“It became apparent to me that these people are here anyway — whether or not they should be here or not doesn’t really matter that much to me,” she said. “But I would like for them to participate in the community, so they can take their kids to school and attend PTA conferences and go to the grocery store without them being afraid.”
KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address in email@example.com .
OPENING DOORS INTERNATIONAL SERVICES
Address: 2200 N. Bell Ave.
Walk-in hours: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday
On the Web: www.openingdoorsimmigrationservices.org