Reflections on My First Year at Vista Del Mar

I used to be quick to label a year with challenges as a “lonnnnng year” and I can imagine many of you nodding along with me in regards to 2020. But, recently I’ve had a shift of perspective. Maybe it’s the gift of hindsight, but I reflect back on those “long years” and instead label that time as it truly was – transformative. Which brings me to this moment, the one-year anniversary of leaving my home state of Michigan to become the President & CEO of this great, historic agency.

My bright outlook for this agency’s future is supported by the dedicated and caring staff of Vista Del Mar. From day one our staff of educators, administrators, and clinicians greeted me with an openness to our goal of maximizing Vista’s potential; and the greater impact we as a multi-faceted non-profit can have in our Los Angeles community.

From the students and residents, I have seen an unwavering determination and eagerness for a bright future, one not limited by their past, but strengthened by the foundation built while on this campus. Really, it was one of my first days on campus at the Vista Graduation ceremony in 2019 that my purpose in my role was defined. During the commencement speeches, I listened to our students share the heartbreaks they had been through, and the moments where they felt too broken to go on. Yes, I was crying, but as they then spoke about their resolve and their strength to overcome those difficulties, those tears became joyful and my purpose to make those challenges surmountable was cemented.

Then there was my interaction in the greater Los Angeles community. Through my meetings with local government leaders such as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, City Councilman Herb Wesson, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, I could share not just the needs of our organization, but advocate for greater representation of our families and children in underserved neighborhoods.

This connectivity was also witnessed in our corporate events such as Broker Challenge, which brought an entire industry of commercial real-estate professionals together on behalf of our Mental Health division – Family Service of Santa Monica. While vibrant and fun, our fundraising events are always connected to our purpose, like the passionate performance Grammy-Award Winning artist SEAL gave at our annual Rocktober event. SEAL was there that night because of the meaningful connection he formed with our residents throughout the year as a volunteer.

Although there were many magical moments throughout the year, it was when a worldwide pandemic presented itself that I witnessed the full viability of Vista. Our agency responded with force. Without losing a beat, each division pivoted to maintain the continuum of care for our families and children hit hardest by this crisis. School staff hand-delivered lesson plans so that along with online distance learning, students with learning disabilities could have maximum support. At the Vista Health Center, our nursing staff immediately implemented quarantine protocols which kept both our residents and the staff supervising them safe. We are pleased to report that Vista is one of the only placement agencies in Los Angeles that did not experience an outbreak.

It was our donors, Board Members, and supporters too who were front line heroes to this agency. Within a month, Vista donors funded an ongoing emergency food program, “Feed a Vista Family” that was lifesaving for the many vulnerable families most in need and hit hardest by the pandemic.

To sum up, I won’t say it has not been emotionally difficult to move from my home state, or that is has not been challenging to watch my young adult daughters trying to navigate their new environment (sorry Maya, there is no Zimmerman Deli). But what I will say, is that in the end, I am imbued with a deep knowing and purpose that together, we can guide Vista Del Mar into a new era. We will adapt, thrive, and progress our mission to help Vista families and children rise to the challenges ahead.