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Robert Watson Named CEO of Nonprofit Project Independence

Stepping up from his role as associate director at PI, Watson will replace current CEO Debra Marsteller, who is retiring after 40 years.

Posted Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 12:13 pm PT|
Dan Pittman

While serving as associate director at Project Independence, Robert Watson was also a member of the Regional Center of Orange County (RCOC) Board of Directors. (Project Independence )

The volunteer Board of Directors of nonprofit Project Independence (PI) has named Robert Watson, a seasoned professional with many years of experience working with adults with developmental disabilities, the Costa Mesa-based organization’s new chief executive officer, effective October 29.

Stepping up from his role as associate director at PI, he replaces current CEO Debra Marsteller, who is retiring after helming the organization for nearly 40 years.

In 2007, after 26 years leading former Vantage Foundation and building the first integrated work supports system for people with the most complex lives, Marsteller joined with Watson in conducting a successful merger with Project Independence that seamlessly blended the two programs into one, keeping the focus on those served while promoting independence and choice.

While serving as associate director at Project Independence, Watson has also been a member of the Regional Center of Orange County (RCOC) Board of Directors. He has chaired the RCOC’s Behavior Programs on the Vendor Advisory Committee (VAC). During his time on the Board, he testified before a legislative subcommittee advocating for rights of individuals.

Watson joined Vantage in 1994 as a job coach while attending graduate school at Cal State Fullerton. He quickly rose to area manager, then regional director where he was responsible for growing the partially site-based day program. He was instrumental in transitioning Vantage Foundation into a totally community-based program with an emphasis on employment for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I am humbled and honored by the Board’s decision and their vote of confidence,” said Watson. “I look forward to continuing, along with our committed and passionate employees, the mission and vision of Project Independence during this transformational time in our industry. Together, we will continue to promote civil rights for people with developmental disabilities through services which expand freedom and choice.”

“We are delighted to elevate Bob to the CEO role and know his experience and enthusiasm will guide Project Independence to new heights as we serve our community’s adults with developmental disabilities,” said Board Chair Dan Pittman.

“We also want to celebrate Debra’s longtime service as the leader of the organization. She has been a tireless advocate, trainer, mentor, and enthusiastic supporter of people with developmental disabilities for more than 40 years,” he said.

Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County as a lifeline to adults with developmental disabilities.

Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by Project Independence goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities.

 

 

 

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