From Trauma to Triumph – 2003/2004

From Trauma to Triumph – 2003/2004

  • Posted by Famcare
  • On May 2, 2017

I’ve always been a risk taker, aggressively venturing forward knowing there is always a potential for unforeseen circumstances to arise. But I never saw this one coming!

As I mentioned in Year 15, 2002/2003, we were approached by an Assemblies of God church in Bakersfield who was very interested in supporting foster children and youth as an outreach of their church. After researching their options, they asked the Family Care Network to set up an office in Bakersfield with the expectation that they would partner with us in recruiting foster families, not only from their congregation, but with other churches in their area.

We did extensive due diligence in researching the need and viability of doing this, meeting with Social Services, Probation and County Mental Health. Everything looked good to go; we had the encouragement from the County and a number of interested families. Needless to say, we made a substantial investment in this move, hiring staff, securing office space, purchasing office equipment, training staff et cetera. We applied for a sub-office licensed through State Licensing which went through very quickly, and we were even able to secure a contract from Mental Health to provide mental health services through TBS. It did not take long before we had 30-40 children/youth in our care.

Unknown to me, no sooner had we began operations, but our Regional Director and this church organization created a shadow nonprofit. Basically, they used the Family Care Network to set up shop and then took staff, foster families and everything we had done to feed their startup organization, leaving us with a huge bill and substantial fiscal obligations. They even ripped off policies and procedures and copyrighted proprietary materials. They refused to make us whole until we threatened litigation.

It is curious how things happen, even providential. Before this situation blew up, I had been contacted by a former employee and longtime friend, Vince Giordano, who had previously run our operations in Eastern Kern, Inyo and Mono counties. After a 10 plus year absence, Vince was interested in returning to California to be closer to family. After the ruse had been revealed and we were all reeling in shock and disbelief, I called Vince and said, “How would you like to move to Bakersfield?” I told him the story and he agreed to pack-up his family and make the trip from Oklahoma. And this story gets even more interesting.

After the dust settled and I was thinking more clearly, I seriously questioned the wisdom of starting all over again in Bakersfield–it would be a huge undertaking with no guarantees. Additionally, my heart had always been to focus on the Central Coast, concentrating on quality and outcomes, and not size.  So, as Vince and his wife were driving their moving truck to California, I called and said “How would you like to go to Santa Maria instead?” Santa Barbara County was making so many referrals and we just did not have the families to support their need. Plus, we could easily support an expansion of services into Santa Barbara County.

Well, Vince agreed to this new idea. We were able to get him out of the rental he had lined up in Bakersfield and find him a house in Santa Maria. Whew!

This decision was definitely providential. It didn’t take Vince long to get up to speed again on foster care services. We secured office space in Santa Maria and I was successful in getting a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation to fund our expansion operation in Northern Santa Barbara County. And one of our bilingual, bicultural foster parents wanted to become a full-time foster parent recruiter. We were off and running.

Vince and Aurelia (Ray) were an amazing team. In two years or less, they recruited and certified over 80 foster parents and at one point we had well over 100 children in our Santa Barbara-based foster care program. Needless to say, we ended up having to move twice to accommodate our growth.

Another amazing step forward which was shrouded as a little “miraculous,” was the purchase of our first transitional housing apartment complex. Given the very difficult housing market here on the Central Coast, we had determined that our best solution for caring for transitional youth was to purchase our own properties. I sent our CFO, Bobbie Boyer, out on the hunt for funding opportunities, and she discovered the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program Capital Development (EHAPCD) program. This program funded projects up to $1,000,000, acting like a grant which required the housing facilities be used for emergency or transitional housing for at least 10 years.

We jumped right on this opportunity, but it really took a circuitous route before we actually owned our first housing units. Initially, a landlord from whom we had been renting had indicated he would like to sell his units to us. Great! We applied for HUD HOME funding through the County and for EHAPCD funding. We chose two funding sources so we could serve both minors and young adults. Unfortunately, this landlord had a change of heart so we had to search for another property which would meet our needs and budget. The good news was we were able to find a second apartment complex right away and put that into escrow.

Working with government bureaucracies definitely has its challenges. We were approved by the County Board for the HUD funds and submitted our application to the state for the EHAPCD funding. Little did we know, EHAPCD is a long and painfully slow process. Because of this challenge, the seller would not extend escrow and pulled out of the deal. Here we were, with funding approved from one source, EHAPCD funding was approved but was taking forever to complete and now we had no property to buy. Miraculously, we found yet a third housing unit in Arroyo Grande where the seller was in no rush.

Now there was another wrinkle to address – the third unit cost considerably more and we had not applied for enough funds to cover it. Once again, turning to our community connections, I contacted Jerry Rioux, director of the newly formed San Luis Obispo Housing Trust Fund for help. Jerry is one of the most knowledgeable individuals about housing in our county, and he came to the rescue.

Jerry was able to secure Community Development funds for us from the City of Arroyo Grande, and funded the balance through a very equitable, low interest loan through the Housing Trust Fund. Of course, it took Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee to build a fire under the state Department of Housing and Community Development to get our EHAPCD application completed – but we did it! Since that time, we have purchased eight additional properties.

Even though we began this process in late 2003, it wasn’t until March, 2005 until we actually owned our first housing unit!

Our year 17, 2003/2004, was one characterized by Trauma and Triumph. By the end of the year, we were well on our way to building a great base of foster families in Santa Barbara County, we served 1216 children youth and families with an 85% success rate and we averaged well over 100 employees.