Abrupt Departure of Leadership at High-Profile San Diego Nonprofit

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August 30, 2011; Source: Voice of San Diego | The neighborhood served by the high-profile Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation was surprised this week by the sudden departure of its two leaders, Jennifer Vanica and Ron Cummings. According to the local news website Voice of San Diego, the married couple have acted as CEO and COO respectively for the past 16 years. It is not clear if they resigned or were asked to leave. NPQ is interested in the story behind the story on this mysterious turn of events.

The project has been relatively controversial from the start. The organization was founded and funded by Joseph Jacobs, a Los Angeles entrepreneur, and it has become a major developer and landowner. But there have always been questions, some raised by Jacobs himself, about whether the program’s leadership was unrepresentative of the low-income southeastern San Diego neighborhoods the program is aimed to improve.

Board Chair Valerie Jacobs said only that this turn of events means that the organization is on track to meet its long-term founding goal of transitioning leadership to better reflect the community in which it operates. According to Voice of San Diego, the nonprofit says that approximately 90 percent of the residents in communities served by the Jacobs Center are “ethnic minorities,” while and both Vanica and Cummings are white, as is most of the senior team and the board, who are all members of the Jacobs family.

Roque Barros, who has been associated with the Center’s efforts to build relationships with the community, has been named interim president. “I’m from the community, I’ve been here a very long time,” Barros told the Voice of San Diego. “It is part of what we’ve been talking about transitioning our leadership. For us this is really an exciting moment, resident ownership of leadership change.”—Ruth McCambridge