Healing Hearts 

New Oesterlen Services For Youth leader seeks to provide hope and support at every turn 

For Maurice Ware, the new executive director of the Springfield, Ohio-based Oesterlen Services For Youth, Inc., Oak trees hold special meaning. During confusing or challenging times in his life, the seasoned servant leader would find his way to a mighty Oak, sit beneath its vast expanse, and spend time thinking, reflecting, asking God tough questions, or evaluating his pursuits.  

Born to teenage parents with troubled lives in 1960s’ Michigan, Ware never experienced real roots in his early years. Instead, he found himself in and out of 14 different kinship homes from birth to age 15.  

“It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I found a stable home,” Ware says.  

That home was provided by Rebecca and Larry Williams, who made a promise to him. 

“They told me they would always be there for me,” he recalls, and they were.  

Today, Ware ensures that he and the entire Oesterlen team are there for the vulnerable youth living and learning at the nearly 120-year-old, multi-program social services agency. 

“As a society, we have to do better, and I want to make sure kids have a fair shot in life,” Ware says. 

Since its founding in 1903, Oesterlen has had one single objective: to serve children and their loved ones. In addition to offering residential mental health treatment, the agency also provides foster care, outpatient counseling, in-home programs, and in-school programs, among its varied services. The agency is also home to the Clark Green Madison Counties Respite and Resource Center. 

Having such breadth and depth allows Oesterlen to do what in many ways Rebecca and Larry Williams did for Ware. Together, the couple opened their hearts and home, while helping him navigate bullying and toxic biological family dynamics. They also recognized and supported Ware’s unique athletic abilities, which included playing football, basketball, and running track. 

“Throughout my life, I used athletics to find peace and tranquility,” Ware recalls, adding that it was those abilities that eventually piqued the interest of some colleges, and, in the process, made Ware think critically about his academics, too. By 18, he tried his hand at playing football at Michigan State, but the support network he expected while on campus seemed to drift away, so he said goodbye to MSU and the gridiron and signed on with the U.S. Marine Corps. A few months would pass before an injury forced Ware to leave the military, making his future uncertain. An attempt to re-engage with his biological father, who battled ongoing substance abuse, also proved challenging to the point that Ware needed an “Oak tree moment.” 

“I went behind my great-grandmother’s house to sit under this large Oak tree, where I asked myself ‘how did I fall? What had happened and how could I change it?’” he remembers. 

Divine intervention would put Ware in touch with the head football coach Tom Danna at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. Ware applied, was accepted, and played football for the school, where he also made vital connections between his life and studies. After majoring in Business Administration with a focus in Marketing and Management followed by a brief post-graduation stint in the sales industry, Ware discovered his purpose. 

“I entered the mental health field because I wanted to help people who were hurting and make a difference in their lives,” Ware said. “This work of providing hope and healing to individuals is my passion and mission.”  

His first foray into the field began in 1996 at Starr Commonwealth Residential Treatment Facility in Albion, Michigan, where he moved swiftly through the ranks, including as assistant director of two sexually reactive youth units and two delinquent youth units. The opportunity affirmed his intended pursuit and indirectly helped him in his own healing.  

“At Starr Commonwealth our goal was to help youth change self-destructive behavior while also modifying their VALUE system so the journey to healing could really begin and create a strong, prosocial moral compass,” Ware explains. “It was life-changing as I was engaged with staff and students on a humanistic level.”  

Six years later, another opportunity to help young people called to his heart, this time in Michigan’s public education sector, specifically the Battle Creek Public Schools. For the next 12 years, Ware would provide transformational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, director of alternative education, and executive director of educational support services in the school system. His many accomplishments included implementing a behavioral management program, which led to a 40 percent reduction in out-of-school suspension. He also helped improve graduation completion, spent time understanding and reimagining the curriculum, and was awed by the positive response of families to the changes taking place. 

“We developed a very supportive team, and we believed in each other,” Ware says. “I also realized that our work was more than helping students; we were saving families and transforming neighbors.” 

Such revelations helped Ware grow in his profession, and like his “Oak tree moments,” he often leveraged them as he considered his next steps, which now included wanting to return to his first passion, behavioral health. By fully understanding the field, he could invest himself even more in helping young people succeed.  

Knowing what was needed and with his M.A. in counselor education from Western Michigan University in hand, Ware headed to North Carolina, where he transitioned back to behavioral health as director of residential services at The Keys of Carolina Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility in Charlotte. During his tenure, he successfully reorganized the entire facility by implementing a strength-based, peer-centered treatment modality, resulting in an 81 percent reduction in restraints, an 80 percent reduction in aggression toward staff, and a 73 percent reduction in aggression toward peers.  

From there, Ware moved to Winston-Salem to become the first African American chief executive officer at the Methodist Children’s Home, where he managed to stabilize the program in one year. Other opportunities to change lives soon followed, including as CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont in Statesville, North Carolina, and as the CEO/Managing Director of Hermitage Hall in Nashville, Tennessee, where he successfully led the agency through a re-certification process with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. 

Shortly after these feats, however, Ware learned of a new challenge, this time involving his own health. 

“I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and found myself on a very challenging path to recovery,” Ware explains.  

Yet, even during this difficult time, he still put others first. 

“I started a consulting practice to provide organizational assessment and strategic plans for mental health, behavioral health, and non-profit organizations that serve at-risk children, adolescents, and families. I’m a FIXER, and that’s what I’m called to do.” 

As his health improved and with the support of his wife Telicia, along with his blended family of seven adult children and eight grandchildren, Ware began exploring new opportunities again, this time choosing to head back north to Columbus, Ohio, in early 2021, to serve as vice president of residential services at The Buckeye Ranch. In his new role, Ware championed diversity and inclusion, and led an interdisciplinary team of professionals to advance the agency’s trauma-informed, evidence-based behavioral care residential program.  

But then something happened. He received a phone call from a search firm to consider applying for the CEO position at Oesterlen, and he knew in his heart that he had to go.  

“I am truly ready for this opportunity. My oncologist has developed a treatment plan that has given me a stable quality of life again, so I am finally healthy enough to lead others once again,” Ware says.  

In his first 100 days, Ware has already embraced his new role with humility and intentionality, and he has EMPOWERED the Oesterlen staff to do what they are meant to do at the nationally accredited agency. Additionally, he is developing critical community and regional partnerships with schools, colleges, universities, and other agencies, while assessing all vertical and horizontal structures within the organization and planning.  

“Mr. Ware’s vision and strategic plan will position Oesterlen for growth while continuing to provide the highest level of care to our clients,” explains David Runk, president of the Oesterlen Board of Directors. “We are confident that Mr. Ware is the best person to lead Oesterlen as he represents the best in behavioral and mental health leadership. He also brings the knowledge and innovation the position requires to continue to support the individuals Oesterlen serves.”  

“This truly is a ministry,” Ware adds, and one he will never take lightly. 

“I hope people will say when the time comes that Maurice modeled for us what he expected of us,” he shares. 

As for the clients in Oesterlen’s care, Ware says, “I’ve always wanted to make sure my own kids never hurt like I did as a kid. Home should be a safe place to be raised, and we will do our best to be that home.” 

By Karen Gerboth