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Looking Forward: 2020-Present!

In this newsletter: Last Week to Support This Giving Season, 2020-Future, Infographic, Happy Holidays, Volunteer Spotlight

(Citation: Executive director Lasara Firefox Allen featured with previous executive director Leslie Ewing, photo taken by Fire Dragon Photography at the 50th Gala Event, 2023)


Following a few years of uncertainty and instability, the Pacific Center seemed to get its groove back in 2023, celebrating its 50th anniversary, completing a move from its home of more than 45 years to new offices in downtown Berkeley, securing more than $600,000 in new funding under the leadership of Executive Director Lasara Allen, and growing its staff to 14 individuals, with a projection of more than 20 by the end of 2024 –  likely doubling the number on board when Allen took the helm in May of 2022.

 

This year has served as a kind of fulcrum on a seesaw for the Pacific Center, a pivot point from the organization’s first 50 years into its next half-century, which is coming into focus as the Center retools to meet community needs and rise above recent challenges.


 

The years immediately preceding this one featured a rough patch following the departure of long-serving Executive Director Leslie Ewing in 2019, including a revolving door in senior leadership roles, the onset of the first pandemic in a century, and an overnight evolution into the digital age, alongside continuous cash flow crunches that hastened turnover and hindered growth.

 

“My main focal point has been: How can we stabilize the organization financially, operationally, morale-wise?” said Allen. “How can we stabilize and grow the Center to meet the demand in our community?”


 



Citation: Pacific Center archive of FTM peer support virtual group held in 2020

 

The first major earthquake to rock the Pacific Center this decade was COVID. Prior to the pandemic, the organization was “old-school” when it came to technology: still using paper charts for client records, still providing all services in-person, and only recently having migrated from cash and checks to the ability to accept credit cards. All that changed literally overnight in March of 2020 under then Executive Director Michelle Gonzalez, when a home quarantine order forced all counseling services and peer support groups to shift to a 100 percent digital format, without missing a beat.


“There have been moments where it's felt like a miracle to still be here as an organization,” recalled Katie Tims, senior clinical administrative support specialist. “The work we did became harder than ever, but also more important. Some clients had to be rescheduled and some schedules moved around, but we are proud to say that we did not face any service disruption overall. That’s been really amazing.”


 

Citation: Photograph of DeAngela Cooks, Senior HIV program clinical and drag performer, Nikki Jizz


Meanwhile, the Pacific Center cycled through a series of executive directors and interim leaders prior to hiring Allen, who identifies under the trans umbrella as a genderqueer, nonbinary individual and joined the organization after two previous stints as executive director in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties.

 

“I had heard many good things about the Pacific Center over the years, and when I found the job opening and researched the organization, I found so many points of alignment that I really couldn’t pass the opportunity up,” Allen said. “Pacific Center is a legacy organization with a young and increasingly diverse organizational culture, and it has hired several new team members in the past few years—at the directors’ level and throughout the organization—with a conscious focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) representation.”


 

Allen noted that prior to their being hired, the Pacific Center completed a thorough revision of its Mission, Vision, and Values statements in order to reflect racial equity as a central value of the organization. Taunya Black, who previously served as interim executive director as well as the Center’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, spearheaded the effort.

 

Katie Tims shared how this process demonstrated a conscious choice to reshape the Pacific Center’s culture.

 

“Pacific Center wanted to repair the harm done to Black and Brown communities in the past, harm done subconsciously due to long held structures that were operated by mainly white staff where privilege was not examined or questioned,” said Tims. “We hired consultation to internally look at our prejudices, services and how we operated to get to the core of how to do better and center those marginalized, even within our minority community.”


 

Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth, staff photographed at the Stand Out 45th Anniversary, 2022

 

Allen expressed deep gratitude for Black’s leadership in laying the groundwork for a more diverse and inclusive organization.

 

“The current staff at Pacific Center is dedicated to the work, is compassionate, is committed, and represents the Pacific Center community in a real way,” stated Allen. “While there is always room for growth, Pacific Center is rising to the challenges and opportunities before it.”


But there were some early bumps in the road in Allen’s tenure.

 

“The first few months were harrowing, to be honest,” Allen said. “The organization was financially off kilter. Also, I found out that we were going to have to move within a month of my first day on the job.”

 

To clarify goals and priorities, Allen said they asked for and received benchmarks from the board of directors.

 

“Broadly speaking, they were around diversifying funding as far as grants and contracts, and redeveloping our donor engagement,” Allen said. “I've worked very hard on and been highly successful at diversifying funding (increasing the budget by $600,000 to nearly $2 million this year). The donor management component is an ongoing process. It's a long haul sort of thing. It's relationship building, and that takes time.”

 

Other priorities included the expansion of services, improving staff morale and slowing turnover rates, all of which Allen described as “ongoing works in progress.”


 


Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth 50th Gala Golden Dream Anniversary event. Left bottom: Sister Tilda from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence the MC for the event. Right Bottom: volunteer serving attendees at event photographed by Fire Dragon Photography. 2023

 

Beyond fundraising efforts, Allen faced two heavy lifts: planning a 50th anniversary gala fundraiser and executing the office move, both within a few months of each other this year.

 

“With the 50th anniversary gala, we really did our best to create a community event that gave people an opportunity to come together and see each other again,” Allen said. “The theme was Golden Dreams because it was our golden anniversary, so there was the dream of equality and the dream of community care, and all those dreams of equity and inclusion. And the vibe that I really wanted to curate was sort of a reunion experience. And we saw that at the event. It was sweet and magical.”


 

Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth new location space on 2130 Center Street, photographed by Mel Hofmann


For the move, the first step was gauging the community’s needs.

 

“We did a survey about what elements people felt were most important in the new space,” Allen said. “And access to BART was one of the highest rated desires of our community.”

 

The location at 2130 Center Street in Berkeley fit the bill perfectly, standing out for its size and accessibility to public transportation. In October, the Center held a Grand Reopening at the new space.


 



Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth new location space on 2130 Center Street, youth group room photographed by Mel Hofmann


Since then, the organization has begun holding youth groups and community drop-in hours on site as it awaits recertification for MediCal billing in the building, which will allow the resumption of in-person mental health counseling for those who want it.

 

“People really like the space,” Allen said. “We're definitely planning on expanding our in-person service hours, having more regular community events and socials, and also more drop-in hours, which is a request that community members have made.”


 

Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth new location space on 2130 Center Street, bulletin board listing peer support programs photographed by Mel Hofmann


 

The Center is also hoping to welcome more peer groups into the space in a hybrid fashion.

 

“One of our in-process projects is working to hybridize our three meeting rooms so we can create hybrid peer groups, where people can be on site or at home and still be in the same peer group,” Allen said. “We may have that project partially funded, but we're still looking for funding for screens and a hybrid meeting set up for each of the three rooms.”


 

Citation: Pacific Center 2022-2023 clinicians celebrating at their farewell gathering, along with the clinic team: Amory Knut (far left, in beige jacket), Katie Tims (lilac jacket), and DeAngela Cooks (far right in yellow hoodie)

 

What does the future hold for the Pacific Center?

 

“It’s a constant process of recalibration, because we are responding to community needs,” Allen said, “so I can have all the ideas that I want, but if it's not what the community needs, then it's not what we're gonna do.”

 

That said, Allen has big plans if the Center is able to secure and sustain additional funding:


  • “We will continue growing our mental health support services. Our community has an unmet need, and I don't think it's mathematically possible for the organization to get large enough to take care of all of the mental health need in the East Bay in our community.”

 

  • “We are also working on growing our youth funding. We applied for a relatively substantial contract that we hope we'll be hearing back from pretty soon.

 

  • “Community programs will also continue growing. We are expanding our Older and Out programming.”

 

  • “There are certain positions that I want to see funded that are not yet funded. I'd love to see a director of diversity, equity and inclusion on staff again.”

 

  • “We are looking at expanding into some housing navigation services for housing insecure and unhoused community members. There are not a lot of specialized LGBTQIA+ housing programs in the East Bay, so we want to step up to that plate knowing that it's needed in the Pacific Center community.”

 

It’s an ambitious path, but an organization doesn’t survive for 50 years by thinking small!


 


Citation: Pacific Center for Human Growth's previous location on 2712 Telegraph Avenue, 2023

 

Anne Mitchell, the coordinator of the Older and Out program who previously served as community programs director as well as acting clinical director, said she’s excited with the progress she is seeing.

 

“I think that we're serving older adults in a more directed way and that is really wonderful,” said Mitchell, who first visited the Center as a high school student in 1978, just five years after it launched.

 

Over the summer, Mitchell said she visited the old Pacific Center location on Telegraph Avenue for one last time.

 

“I wanted to make sure that all the spirits over there know that they need to come here,” she said. “We had so many guardian angels watching over us there. I have really fond memories of opening the door when the doorbell rings, and I open the door and greet somebody and they say, ‘I was just walking by, and I always wondered about this place’ or ‘I just moved here,’ or, ‘I have this thing is going on in my life. Is there anybody I could talk to?’ I like that. I think that's what I cherish. We're just getting to this new location, planting a little seed, then a seedling; we’re just getting started.”


 



 


The Center will be closed for collective rest! See you on January 3rd, 2023!


 


The Center will be closed for collective rest! See you on January 3rd, 2023!


 

Volunteer Spotlight: Rob Ablon


We want to deeply thank our volunteer, Rob Ablon, for his support in the past year!

Rob has supported the Center directly through his ceaseless work as part of both the Communications and Development teams. He has rolled up his sleeves and pitched in with fundraising strategies, newsletters, and event planning. Rob also wrote and edited much of this past year's newsletter! He did a huge amount of research to bring you our historical retrospective. We appreciate Rob’s insights and support!


Thank you, Rob! We couldn’t have done it without you!


 

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