Big Shoes to Fill

Peter Morse-Ackley and Russ Hollier
(Left) Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Peter Morse-Ackley is retiring after 14 years with FCS. (Right) Program Director and Licensed Social Worker Russ Hollier is retiring after 21 years with the agency.


After MANY dedicated years to the agency, we hate to see two members of the FCS family leave…even if it is for retirement! Russ Hollier joined Family Counseling Services 21 years ago. Peter Morse-Ackley is close behind him, joining the agency 14 years ago. Including their previous positions, these two veteran clinicians have a combined 75 years of clinical experience in the profession, leaving some big shoes to fill!

What will they miss?

“Most of all I will miss clients and their bravery to confront the issues in their lives…this has been my greatest privilege to be in their presence as they make changes,” said Hollier.

“Seeing people be happier, reaching their goals, having hope again…them knowing that someone believed them and cared for them,” shared Morse-Ackley.

What have they found most rewarding?

“Helping some people make significant changes in their lives,” said Morse-Ackley. “People sharing for the first time that they “heard voices” and “saw things”, and people stopping drinking or drugs after multiple previous attempts…and people that we were able to help overcome their PTSD.” He also talked about the rewards of helping people get into college and BOCES training programs for the first time…skilled jobs instead of unskilled work.

Toby the therapy dog
Toby is a therapy dog who works with Russ.

For many years, Hollier has had a “partner” who hangs out in his office. “My favorite memories are having had the opportunity to work with a therapy dog, Toby, and a couple of his predecessors and bearing witness to the subtle power of animal assisted therapy for clients and the support of many staff that have made their way to my office to sit with, pet, talk to or cry with a canine presence,” said Hollier. “My greatest satisfaction has come from the supervision of other therapists that have grown and moved on professionally to advanced positions,” he added.

Their dedication is apparent as both talked about the opportunity to serve people in the Cortland community and provide the best service community members could get anywhere. But they also appreciated the opportunities for growth and professional development. “I saw the CD (chemical dependency) program growing and changing for the better, and I was learning a lot and becoming a better counselor, and the people we served were appreciative,” said Morse-Ackley.

So what changed in the past 20 years?

“Advances in therapeutic interventions, the integration of physical medicine, and the revolution of health care finance and regulations have made significant impacts,” said Hollier. “As a social worker you have to believe in change, as a therapist, supervisor and administrator I have had the opportunity to be an agent of change for individuals, the agency and the community.”

Morse-Ackley talked about the changes in clinical perspective over time. “Now we have a better focus on the whole person, not just the alcohol and drugs,” he said. “We also have better focus on co-occurring disabilities, and awareness that some people need opiates for pain management or benzo’s for anxiety even though they have an addiction history.”

What’s next for these gentleman?

Peter with Celtic mug
Peter has his Celtic mug and is ready to head to Ireland!

For Morse-Ackley, the grass may indeed be greener….he’s retiring in Ireland! He and his wife are looking forward to some fun and travel without having the stress and responsibility of work. An avid gardener, Morse-Ackley is eager to tackle the neglected gardens around their Irish cottage. They also plan to fulfill promises on their “bucket list” like retracing her dad’s footsteps at Utah Beach on D-Day.

Hollier will devote full time attention to his business, Russ Hollier Dog Training. In addition to conventional dog training services, he will be working with people who want to train a psychiatric service dog or emotional support dog. Hollier is also an approved trainer for Pets for Vets (US military service veterans) whose mission is to select, train and match dogs from animal welfare shelters and place them with US military veterans for the emotional, social and psychological benefits of having a skilled companion animal.

We thank them for their years of dedication and service and wish them the very best with their new adventures!