January 20, 2020; Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)
Closing not only with dignity but with some assets remaining is not always the way nonprofits go under, but Sonoma County Children’s Village has managed to do so after a 20-year run.
Sonoma provided a group home alternative to foster care, one where siblings could stay together and receive a raft of specialized benefits.
The group opened a cluster of homes and apartments in 2006 off Kawana Terrace near Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Preserve, in which staff members and surrogate “grandparents” resided on the premises, and community volunteers helped with tutoring, maintenance and other help.
But the idea, considered innovative in its early years, quickly became an anachronism as the state opted away from group settings. By 2015, the organization had lost its operating contracts and was reorganizing itself to merely provide benefits—without the residence—to foster children in the area.
Year by year, the organization was running a deficit, so the board decided recently it was time to let go. The fact that they did so with $2.5 million in assets in hand will be a boon to TLC Child and Family Services, a larger, more stable nonprofit that needs the money to reconfigure its own work.
The board president of Children’s Village, Jackie Crook, says there’s a values match. “We feel very grateful and excited to be passing on our legacy and resources to TLC. As an all-volunteer-run organization, we had come to another crossroad. We decided that, rather than spending our precious funds on building out our own organizational capacity, we would dissolve and gift our resources to the right nonprofit that has all the necessary structures in place.”
Along with the money, a stone carved with the name Georgia Moses, the 12-year-old girl whose life and death inspired the Village’s development, was transferred to TLC. Moses, it was discovered after her murder, had been the rock of her family in the face of her mother’s mental health issues.
Lia Rowley, longtime children’s advocate and the founding director of Children’s Village, died last fall, so it seemed a moment to act in the best interests of the children rather than in a possibly ill-fated competition to stay alive as an organization.
TLC’s CEO, Susan Fette, explains that the money will help position that organization to get ahead of federal policies designed to help troubled families stay together.
“The whole landscape of foster care is really changing, and what’s great about this particular gift is we can stay current,” Fette says. “I’m overwhelmed in such a great way to be holding TLC history and Children’s Village history at the same time.”—Ruth McCambridge