Staff Report

After an extensive search and comprehensive selection process that began at the start of the new year, the Board of Directors of Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP) is pleased to announce the selection of Valerie Kissell as the next and only second chief executive officer (CEO) of PHP. Kissell will succeed Dean Palius, who served as PHP’s CEO for the past 25 plus years and who will retire on Aug. 31. 

Dean Palius

The new CEO resides in Solvang and comes to PHP from Youth and Family Services at the Channel Islands YMCA where she has served as the executive director since 2016. “I am thrilled to be a part of the People Helping People team at this critical time in our community,” Kissell said. “During times when our neighbors are in survival mode perhaps experiencing crisis, trauma or poverty, they may have no idea how to access the support systems and mainstream benefits that are available to them. This is the beauty of People Helping People, a one-stop service agency providing support and assistance under one roof. I am excited to become a member of this agency and continue the mission.”

Francisca Escobar, PHP’s board president, joined the balance of the Board of Directors, staff, clients served and the community in welcoming Kissell to PHP. 

Valerie Kissell

“All of us on the board know that Valerie is following a predecessor that set a high standard of performance,” Escobar said. “That said we all have a high degree of confidence that she is up to the task having successfully navigated a recruitment and selection process that was rigorous and most competitive with over 100 initial candidates required to submit written responses to key questions, make an extemporaneous presentation and participate in three sets of interviews. The board faced a critical decision made equally more difficult and easier by having to select one of the three highly qualified final candidates as the next CEO.” 

Kissell will be responsible for providing vision, leadership, direction and accountability for all aspects of PHP’s diversified activities to ensure performance outcomes have maximum impact, meet organization objectives and fulfill the established mission. Kissell will act as chief of staff and lead the organization’s community engagement strategies.

Kissell will start at PHP on Monday, Aug. 17 and Palius will depart on Aug. 31. Plans are underway at PHP to hold COVID-safe meet and greet sessions to introduce the new CEO to community stakeholders. Session dates and times will be announced soon.

People Helping People is a 501 c-3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of men, women and children in the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos and surrounding areas by addressing emergency and basic needs and furnishing comprehensive integrated family and individual support services. To learn more about PHP, its programs, and ways that you can help, please visit the PHP web site at or call (805) 686-0295.