Friday, January 22, 2010

New Chief Executive Officer

I am very pleased to let you know that with unanimous and enthusiastic support from the Board of Directors, Mary Denton has been appointed the new Chief Executive Officer of Sunny Hills Services.

Mary came to Sunny Hills in 2000 to serve as Chief Financial Officer, and subsequently consulted with Joe Costa in the agency’s strategic and business planning. During her tenure, she has worked diligently to professionalize Sunny Hills’ operations and strengthen our administrative infrastructure. As Chief Finance and Administration Officer, a position she held since 2008, Mary has been a key member of the executive team guiding the agency through the recent challenging economic downturn. In her decade of working with Sunny Hills, Mary has acquired the experience and built the relationships that are critical to the continued success of the agency.

Following a 19-year career at Bank of America in international syndicated lending and investment management, Mary consulted with major international banks and financial institutions in strategy, policy and business implementation in international investments and financial markets. She has consulted in the nonprofit sector, and currently serves on the board of directors for the Marin Humane Society. A California native, Mary resides in Larkspur with her husband, Monte Deignan. Mary received her bachelor's degree in economics at the University of California, Riverside, Phi Beta Kappa and holds a master's in business administration in Finance and International Business from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

This is a time of great positive momentum for Sunny Hills: our staff and programs are strong, and we continue to expand our crucial services to vulnerable children, youth and their families. I am confident that Mary will provide knowledgeable, thoughtful leadership through the agency’s ongoing evolution and growth. I would like to thank you for your support of Sunny Hills, and of the vulnerable children and families we are all working together to serve. I welcome your continued feedback through this transition, and I hope you will join me in saying: congratulations Mary!

Lydia Cameron
President, Sunny Hills Services Board of Directors

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year, New Beginnings

It is with a flurry of mixed emotions that I let you all know of my departure from Sunny Hills at the end of 2009. After eight years as Chief Executive Officer at Sunny Hills Services, I have made the decision to accept a new challenge and become the CEO at Hillsides in South Pasadena. Like Sunny Hills, Hillsides is a multi-service agency for at-risk children and youth with a century-long track record of serving vulnerable children and families. I know that all I have learned during my tenure at Sunny Hills will be invaluable in my new role. Sunny Hills is an incredible agency, and I am so proud of all that we have accomplished through the last eight years.

I want to offer particular thanks to all of the community volunteers, donors, staff people, board members and families who have supported Sunny Hills during my tenure. There have been many challenges and many triumphs during these important transition years for the agency. Today, Sunny Hills serves more children than ever. Programmatically, demographically, and geographically the agency is reaching farther than it ever has in its 115-year history. This is no small feat, and I hope that you all share my sense of accomplishment when you consider the ways the agency has grown and evolved these past eight years, while remaining strong and true to its mission.

Sunny Hills will continue to count on all of us for support through its ongoing evolution. I know that my own commitment to the agency, its programs, and especially the children that it serves is not in any way lessening, but is merely changing. I hope that you will join me in supporting Sunny Hills through this transition and those that will undoubtedly arise through the coming years, as the agency continues to provide for the most vulnerable young people in our community. Thank you, as always, for your commitment to those young people.

The Board of Directors is meeting on January 11th to determine the leadership transition plan. Stay tuned for more information, here and on the agency site at Board President Lydia Cameron welcomes your questions and comments about the transition; her contact information is available on the site as well.

It has been a great honor, and a true pleasure, for me to work with such a strong community of supporters on behalf of the children we serve. I thank you, again, for your tremendous support of me and of this agency. It has been humbling, and is deeply appreciated.

With all best wishes for a happy new year…………Paz!


Friday, December 11, 2009

BAYC Graduate Honored

Earlier this month, BAYC graduate Tia Tonne was selected by the San Francisco 49ers to receive a prestigious Community Quarterback Award. This honor is given out to five people each year who have devoted their time to volunteering in the Bay Area, and includes a grant for the charity where they volunteer.

Tia’s own experience as a graduate of BAYC’s programs makes her an especially insightful and helpful volunteer for the kids and young adults we serve, and we are delighted and so proud of her for receiving this recognition of all the hard work that she is doing. Josh Leonard, Executive Director of BAYC, nominated Tia in part because she is such a positive and relatable role model for the other young people in the program. “This is someone who has been where they are, and who can really relate to them on a peer level, but also someone who has made it past what they are facing, and so they can look to her as an example of success while at the same time seeing themselves really reflected in her. It is part of what makes her work so critically important in our programs.”

Tia and the other award winners were celebrated and recognized at an event in their honor. “All these people here have given back so much to the Bay Area and it is nice to give them the recognition they deserve,” said former 49ers quarterback Steve Bono, who hosted the celebratory luncheon held at Kingfish Restaurant in San Mateo. “It is neat to meet people who are so selfless and have impacted others in such a positive way.”

For more information about the Community Quarterback Awards and this year’s beneficiaries, click here. Congratulations to Tia and the other winners!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thankful this Holiday Season

As I think about things I am thankful for this year, I am especially thankful for the community of supporters that surrounds Sunny Hills. This includes our wonderful donor community of foundations and individuals, all of the various referring agencies and other service providers who work in tandem with us, the staff who work with our kids each and every day, and of course those kids themselves; I am especially thankful for the youth that we serve, for their determination, their insightfulness, their willingness to keep trying in the face of some extraordinarily tough situations.

The staff and the young students at our Marin Academic Center (MAC) program are a wonderful example of what it is about Sunny Hills that we can all be thankful for. The students at MAC arrive on our San Anselmo campus from all over the Bay Area, having faced numerous challenges in their personal lives and along their educational paths. Most of them have specific learning challenges along with interpersonal challenges and issues. They are often confused, angry, alienated, and even terrified when it comes to school. Having bounced around from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher, they have no solid adult or peer relationships to model their behavior on. Over and over again they have been told that they are failing, that something isn’t working, that maybe they should try somewhere else or something else.

But when they arrive at MAC, they are embraced whole-heartedly by every staff person they meet. And the other students around them, because of the constant reinforcement of their "community of caring," are able to provide positive peer support and interaction. For many of our MAC students, it is the first time that they have been able to call someone a friend. The small school environment, the 1:2 ratio of staff to students, and the constant positive reinforcement help children begin to learn and grow academically, in ways many of them never realized that they could.

What is it that makes MAC such a powerful example of success, community, and caring? MAC is a California certified nonpublic school serving children ages 5 to 15 whose educational and behavioral challenges are too acute to be handled in traditional public school environments. In practice, this means that MAC provides high-quality, individualized education that addresses each student’s particular needs. By building on each child’s personal interests and their fundamental desire to learn and grow, MAC sees extraordinary results where others have seen only escalating problems. Almost all MAC students are able to reach the goals of grade-level academic and social achievement, appropriate school behavior, and ultimately reintegration and mainstreaming back to their local schools or other less-restrictive educational settings.

This fall, we welcomed MAC to its permanent home on the Sunny Hills San Anselmo campus. We are happy to report that the staff, teachers, and kids are all doing well and loving their new environment! In addition to the updated buildings, swimming pool, and playground, plans are underway for a new edible organic garden in the spring, and kids and staff take advantage of the fields and open space that are now surrounding them. It is a wonderful, inspiring site for all of us.

A gentle reminder that this is also the time of year when we encourage people to pledge to the Sunny Hills annual appeal. Your pledge helps guarantee that programs like MAC continue to help vulnerable children learn, succeed, and grow academically and personally through caring and careful attention. Another way to support our programs and services is through purchase of a Bounty of Marin gift basket, which makes a lovely thank you gift or treat for someone special.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and hope that like us here at Sunny Hills, you find much to be thankful for in your lives this year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A time to be thankful

As we enter Thanksgiving week, we at Sunny Hills Services have a lot to be thankful for. Each of our programs and services continues to help the most vulnerable children and families in California, and we continue to receive tremendous support from all of the communities we are part of. In a particular way, I am thankful this year for Bay Area Youth Centers, or BAYC. BAYC became part of the Sunny Hills Services family of programs when the two agencies merged in 2008, and our programs there continue to expand and grow.

For over thirty years, BAYC has helped thousands of emotionally traumatized young people heal and grow. BAYC was started by people who believe that all young people deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. That core belief continues to define each of their programs, and is in line with Sunny Hills’ historic mission to help youth in the transitional age range as hey prepare to transition into independence. The programs at BAYC help ensure that young adolescents who are ‘aging out’ of foster care continue to have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and people to turn to when they are in crisis. Their services keep these young people from homelessness, something we especially appreciate at this time of year. For more information on how BAYC is helping, visit them online.

This is also the time of year when we especially encourage people to pledge to the Sunny Hills annual appeal. Your pledge helps guarantee that programs like BAYC continue to grow, and are able to help children and young adults throughout the holiday season and all year long. I know that they will be especially thankful for your support this week! Another way to support our programs and services is through purchase of a Bounty of Marin gift basket, which makes a great gift or hostess item as you start making the holiday rounds at Thanksgiving.

We are always deeply appreciative of your support. As we approach the week where it is traditional to express that appreciation, I offer an especially strong thank you to each of you, for being part of our family of supporters.

Note: BAYC’s Executive Director Josh Leonard was part of an expert panel at this week’s conference on Transitional Age Youth in California. He discussed “Sex, Drugs, & Rock’n’Roll: Addressing Third Rail Issues in Housing” – issues about how programs for transitional age youth must deal with behaviours including sexuality and substance use, which are often developmentally appropriate but still difficult to address.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Pledge of Support

The Sunny Hills Services Annual Appeal was sent out this week, and we are very excited to announce that our Board of Directors has pledged $50,000 in support to initiate this year’s fund! This extremely generous commitment by the board is a great kick-off to our campaign, and we hope it will inspire each member of the Sunny Hills community to make their own pledge of support for the vulnerable children we serve every day.

As we come to the end of the calendar year, we face a time when our need for private financial support at the agency is especially great. Long-standing programs like the
Marin Academic Center need your help, as do new projects such as the parenting teen program and LGBTQ initiatives at BAYC. Our brand new programs, like Project PRIDE in Sonoma County, cannot get off the ground without private dollars to help them through their initial start up. And every day, we need your support to provide the treatment, the education, the emergency assistance, the advice, the medical care, the support, the person to talk to – whatever help it is that the young people in our programs need. That is our ongoing pledge of support to the vulnerable children and families that we serve, and we are able to keep that pledge with your help.

Our goal for the Annual Appeal this year is to raise $150,000 in gifts and pledges. This is an ambitious goal, especially in the face of the current economic situation, but we are expecting to reach it through small efforts from a large group of supporters. If each member of our donor community is able to make a pledge and commit to giving just $50.00 this year, we would have our most successful appeal on record! I hope you will consider making a gift or donation today. You can visit us
online, or contact the Development Office at (415) 457-3200 x165 for more information. Every gift, pledge, and commitment helps.

Look for more program details here over the next few weeks, as we highlight some of the existing, expanding, and extraordinary programs and services that are made possible in part through funds from the annual appeal. And as always, thank you for being part of our Sunny Hills community; none of what we do would be possible without the tremendous pledge of commitment and ongoing support that we have from each of you.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Running in the Shadows

I wanted to draw your attention to a recent two-part article that appeared in the New York Times. Running in the Shadows addresses the growing number of young runaways in the United States, exploring how they survive and efforts by the authorities to help them. Part one, Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways, follows Betty, a 14-year old who had run away from home a week earlier after a violent argument with her mother. "Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13. Foreclosures, layoffs, rising food and fuel prices and inadequate supplies of low-cost housing have stretched families to the extreme, and those pressures have trickled down to teenagers and preteens." Once on the streets, these young people face harsh circumstances--from sleeping on sidewalks to hiding out in local parks. The second of the two articles, Running in the Shadows: For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival, sheds light on the risky behaviors runaways engage in simply as a means to survive. Studies have found nearly a third of the children who flee home engage in sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.

As more and more families fall into crisis as a result of the weakened economy, it points to the need for programs like the ones offered by Sunny Hills which help resource families and communities. Our work is to reach out to young people and their families before they reach breaking point. The streets are no place for young people.