I have had a lifelong connection with St. Francis Center, and getting the opportunity to lead the organization now as executive director is truly a high point for me. The most influential moments in my life have been the direct result of my experiences with St. Francis Center and our stakeholders over the years.
My relationship with St. Francis Center began when I was just a toddler and my mom would take to me visit the Franciscans at St. Joseph’s to donate clothing and canned goods. On one such trip when my mom stopped in and visited her friend Fr. Enrique, a homeless man came into the center asking for food. I remember being scared by his haggard appearance and how abruptly he approached us. But that didn’t scare Fr. Enrique, who welcomed the man in and fed him. He also sat with the man and spoke with him for a while asking him a little more about himself, really listening and offering further help to get the man on his feet. It was Fr. Enrique’s compassion and willingness to treat this man with dignity and respect without hesitation that left its mark on me.
As I grew older, I started volunteering on my own at the center and continued to come back throughout high school and college. After graduating from Chapman University with a degree in Journalism, I worked for a news wire service and an advertising agency. But I just felt like something was missing and I needed to do something more through my career to give back. Coincidentally a position for development associate became available at St. Francis Center. I was pretty apprehensive about applying because I had absolutely no experience in fundraising and development and had only volunteered at nonprofits before. But after reviewing the job description, I interviewed for the position highlighting my writing skills and passion for the mission and was offered the position. I started working at St. Francis Center eager to help raise more support for the center and work closely with the guests we serve.
Looking back now, nine years after accepting that development associate role, it is incredible to see how far we have come as an organization. Last year was a record-breaking year for SFC regarding the amount of food we recovered and the number of guests we served. We rescued 1.3 million pounds of food, which allowed us to provide 100,000 homeless meals (more than double what we were serving six years ago) and over 30,000 grocery visits on site and now at five satellite pantry sites to families and students struggling with food insecurity – that’s more than ever in our 48-year history.
Here on Hope Street, we believe in just what the name promises: there is always hope. This concept, which is the foundation of our culture at St. Francis Center, is also what inspires me every day. When I need some encouragement I remind myself often of one of my favorite quotes by our namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
Now that I have been in my new role as executive director, I have been working to do just that. I have been working closely with our strategic planning committee to finalize a strategic plan focusing on expanding satellite pantry sites to provide hunger relief for surrounding food-insecure communities, expanding our case management services, spreading awareness about our mission to further engage our dedicated supporters and volunteers, developing new partnerships, and most importantly – serving hope to our guests in need and helping them get on a lasting path to stability.
Peace & Blessings,