Duane Casares considers himself to be one of the lucky ones.

Duane Casares considers himself to be one of the lucky ones.

When he came to Columbus from Toledo in 1977 to attend Ohio State University, the first person in his family to go to college, Casares wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do. He considered majoring in journalism and then contemplated switching to education. In the end, Casares majored in criminology and criminal justice.

“I was looking to work in the field with juvenile delinquency,” he said. “That’s just what piqued my interest.”

After graduating, Casares worked for seven years at what was then the Buckeye Boys Ranch, now just the Buckeye Ranch, in Grove City, before returning to OSU for a master’s degree in social work.

In 1990, he joined the staff at Directions for Youth, now Directions for Youth and Families. He’s been there ever since and recently was named chief executive officer.

“This was a fit for me, almost from a spiritual standpoint. It’s my calling,” Casares said. “I feel pretty blessed about the fact some people search their life for what they’re supposed to do and I found out pretty soon.”

Directions for Youth and Families was formed in 1999 with the merger of Crittenton Family Services and Directions for Youth “creating one organization that provides prevention, education and intervention services to families and youth in central Ohio,” according to the organization’s website.

“Directions for Youth and Families’ mission is to empower families and their children to make sound choices and achieve promising futures,” the site states.

The organization’s main office is on Indianola Avenue, and it operates offices on East Broad Street and on Sandusky Street in Dela-ware, as well as the Short Stop Youth Center on North High Street in the Short North and the Ohio Avenue Center on South Ohio Avenue.

“The kids we serve aren’t going to be the ones who traditionally would go to an office-based mental health setting on a weekly basis, so we take it to them,” Casares said.

The young clients come from all over Franklin and Delaware counties, he added. Directions for Youth and Families has counselors and social workers in Columbus City Schools, South-Western City Schools and Delaware City Schools.

Casares, who is a lay leader at Maple Grove United Methodist Church, began as a case manager but spent 16 years as clinical director until being named CEO earlier this year upon the departure of Steve Botaw, who left to take a position with the Learning for Life Columbus charter school.

“We worked great together,” Casares said. “I think both of us anticipated riding into the sunset together, him as CEO and me as clinical director.”

When he joined the organization, Casares was the first master’s level clinician, and Directions for Youth had 32 employees.

Today, Directions for Youth and Families has 120 full-time employees and 47 master’s level clinicians, the CEO said.

“We have certainly become much stronger therapeutically and clinically,” Casares said. “You have to adjust to meet the needs of the community. As the needs of the community become greater, you have to equip your employees to meet those needs.”

The clients are the most important people in the entire operation, according to Casares.

“We are servants of these people,” he said. “We are not there to enable them. We’re not there to tell people what to do with their lives, and that doesn’t generate lasting change, anyway.”

Directions for Youth and Families serves about 6,500 individuals a year, according to Casares.

“People need to make decisions and choices about their own lives,” he said. “We assist them in making responsible choices. Some of the hardest lessons we’ve learned in life are when we fall flat on our faces. We have to allow that for them, as well.”

The programs at Directions for Youth and Families always have waiting lists, the CEO said, and finding adequate funding is often difficult to keep the waiting lists to a minimum.

“The challenge is greater,” Casares said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate that we haven’t been drastically impacted by it, but there’s always a greater need out there than we can provide.”

Casares is married to his high school sweetheart, Barb Reed. They have a son, Aaron, who is a freshman at Purdue University.

“But he knows that his blood is scarlet and gray,” Casares said.