Santa Monica Lookout
New Leadership Pushes Reform at Embattled Santa Monica Youth Nonprofit
By Jason Islas
October 9, 2013 -- For Francisco Juarez, a lifelong Santa Monica resident, community activist and the Pico Youth and Family Center's newest board chair, keeping the embattled nonprofit operating is not only possible, it's essential.
Juarez became the newest chair of the organization's 12-member board in July, shortly after the City Council voted to slash the troubled nonprofit's budget by about $90,000 over questions about its finances.
Still, Juarez believes that reforming the nonprofit, which recently received a $1.6 million endowment from the estate of the late Santa Monica philanthropist Peggy Bergmann, is essential to assure that it can carry out its mission of helping disadvantaged youth find alternatives to violence.
“My purpose as chairperson is to inculcate new thinking about how things should be run there,” said Juarez, a Vietnam veteran with decades of public service experience.
“We've got a team mentality now,” he said.
Last year, the 13-year-old organization -- located just down the street from Santa Monica High School -- faced the very real possibility of losing its $300,000 annual grant from the City because officials said that there were problems with the way the nonprofit was run.
But that's a thing of the past, said Juarez, who just wrapped up a year working as an advocate for the veteran support nonprofit, AMVETS.
“I had to know about rules and regulations and good governance,” he said. And that's valuable experience Juarez brings to the table, he said, since running the administrative side of a nonprofit isn't easy.
Juarez said that the PYFC has managed to straighten out its paperwork problems and is ready to start moving forward with its mission, namely to “address the deeper-rooted problems behind youth violence.”
Youth violence is a topic Juarez knows all too well. He lost two nephews when they were unintentionally gunned down on Lincoln Boulevard in 1998 by gang members. Juarez lost a third nephew in 2009, another victim of gang violence.
The PYFC's outreach, Juarez said, has been a huge help to the community plagued by gang violence. The progress made by the Center can't be lost because of “shoddy paper work," he said.
“If it works correctly,” he said, referring to the Center, “it will prevent other families from feeling the pain and other people from dying.”
While many things have changed around the Center, including the development of better accounting practices, other things will stay the same.
The Center's executive director and founder Oscar de la Torre will stay on, Juarez said. A current School Boardmember, de la Torre told the Council he would step down as director in order to help the agency keep its funding.
De la Torre, who filed a complaint against the City Manager alleging abuse of power in January after the City considered defunding the PYFC, has a long and contentious history with City Hall. (“Youth Center Leader and Santa Monica Staff Have Long History of Tense Relations,” January 7)
“We have no intention of asking him to leave,” said Juarez. “You dance with the one who brought you here.”
Juarez added that de la Torre's relationships with the kids who visit the Center and their families are an invaluable resource to PYFC's mission.
“We need to keep him here,” he said.
So far, Juarez has described his relationship with City Hall as productive.
“We agreed to disagree on some points but agreed to move forward,” he said. "It's also our intention to do away with all the bad press."
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