Greg Peters ’74 has devoted his career to serving as a champion for at-risk children and their families. A licensed clinical social worker, he retired last spring after 40 years at United Methodist Family Services of Virginia (UMFS), a national leader in providing services to children and parents to help them overcome challenges and reach their potential. As UMFS CEO and President for the last 20 years, Peters has been the guiding force in the Richmond, Va.,-based nonprofit’s goal of identifying gaps in social services and working at the local, state and national level to develop and implement partnerships to better meet community needs.
Originally planning for a life in the ministry (and even becoming a licensed minister while in college), Peters’ career trajectory was changed after Bridgewater College Professor of Sociology Bill Barnett recognized his passion for social advocacy and encouraged him to explore community outreach. A double major in philosophy and religion and sociology, Peters completed an internship with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Harrisonburg, Va., and after graduation was hired as a Juvenile Probation Officer with the 26th District Court. That job exposed him to the difficulties young people and their families were experiencing and the necessity of larger systemic changes, and he went on to work as a child care worker for a children’s group home, as a social worker for a center specializing in elderly day care and as a clinical social worker with Family and Children’s Services in Richmond. He obtained his master’s degree in clinical social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he met his wife, Gail.
When he began working at UMFS in 1980, the organization had three full-time social workers; today it has 60, along with 340 staff members and 1,000 regular volunteers. Peters credits his great team as being integral to his success, citing the importance of “people you connect with, from a team of dedicated staff and board members to numerous volunteers.”
“As I look back on my life and journey, I realize that God called me to work with struggling families and children, not from the pulpit, but from a faith-based organization that shared my values,” says Peters, who received the 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award from Bridgewater.
One of the UMFS programs created under Peters’ leadership, Project LIFE, exemplifies his ability to make critical connections between service providers and those in need. Project LIFE is a collaboration funded by the Virginia Department of Social Services to support teens aging out of foster care. The program provides training to social workers, religious leaders and other community stakeholders on how to help teens prepare for adulthood. One of the former Project LIFE students is now a current UMFS staff member and graduated with her master of social work this spring. Peters attended her graduation ceremony to celebrate her accomplishment.
This year, UMFS is opening a new residential Child and Family Healing Center, which will house adolescents with dual diagnoses and support their education and care. The center will be named in Peters’ honor.
“Greg helped transform a children’s home into an innovative community-solutions provider that has created cutting-edge programs replicated today all over Virginia,” says current UMFS President and CEO Dr. Nancy Toscano, LCSW. “He always had an incredible capacity to identify the essence of what was needed and then create workable solutions that were effective and scalable. The Child and Family Healing Center is a perfect example of one of those solutions. There is no one more fitting for this honor.”
— By Kylie Lehman Mohler ‘03