For 34 years, Jack Kresnak used journalistic objectivity to put a public face on the complexities of city and state services, often those serving kids. His medium was usually the Detroit Free Press, where as a staffer he wrote about services for youth; he also appeared in the pages of Youth Today.
In January, Kresnak put his objective career to rest and joined the ranks of advocates. He is the new CEO of Michigan’s Children, the state affiliate of Voices for America’s Children, whose priorities include pushing for more commitment to early childhood development and improving the state’s foster care and juvenile justice systems. He takes over for Sharon Peters, who leaves after 12 years as CEO.
It is certainly not a typical executive hire. Kresnak has been a reporter all of his professional life, far removed from the administrative and checkbook burdens that come with the office of a chief executive. He will have to handle finances and fundraising for an organization with a budget that comes in a bit under $1 million. His full-time staff of four includes directors of policy, community advocacy and communications, and a webmaster.
“I have virtually no experience in administration or fundraising,” Kresnak says. Those were “my biggest liabilities” in the eyes of the agency’s board of directors.
Hiring a veteran journalist to lead an effort that involves getting youth issues into the media spotlight is not without precedent. Steve Varnum started out covering children’s issues for the Concord Monitor, then became public policy director for the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, and after that the coordinator for the New Hampshire Child Advocacy Network. Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and a friend of Kresnak’s, was a scribe in a previous life, and might be the most successful youth advocate out there in terms of landing his words on editorial pages around the country.
“It’s nothing like the news job,” Kresnak says of his first month at Michigan’s Children. “But I have a lot of skills and knowledge of the field gained over 20 years. And I have made a bit of a name and a lot of contacts. That’s going to be helpful.”
It would be hard to identify a journalist who has had a more tangible impact on youth work than Kresnak. In 2000, Kresnak wrote a six-part series on 2-year-old Ariana Swinson, a Port Huron, Mich., girl who was beaten and drowned. The coverage prompted the passage of Ariana’s Law, which increased the Office of the Children ombudsman’s ability to investigate (and perhaps prevent) the deaths of children under the supervision of Michigan’s child protective services. His 2002 coverage of children who were missing in the child welfare system prompted swift action by the governor in locating many of the kids.
His last major work for the Free Press – a 14-part series last year on the tragic death of 7-year-old Ricky Holland, who was killed by his adoptive mother – depicted significant failures in the state’s child welfare system. That story put a public face on the problems that got Michigan hauled into court by Children’s Rights in 2006 for its foster care practices. Contact: (800) 330-8674, www.michiganschildren.org.
John Arigoni, a senior vice president for strategy management at the Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), resigned his position after two years “to spend more time with his family and pursue new opportunities to serve his local community,” says BGCA spokeswoman Jan Still-Lindeman.
Arigoni helped the national office create an outcome measurement strategy, including a new set of metrics, and was among the leaders on IMPACT 2012, BGCA’s five-year strategic plan. He previously served as CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver for 13 years. Contact: (404) 487-5700, www.bgca.org.
Leigh Hopkins, vice president of education initiatives at Public/Private Ventures, left in February for the National Center on Time and Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit that focuses on expanding the school day. The agency was launched in October with funding from The Broad Education Foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Hopkins will serve as director of the organization’s national network. Contact: (617) 378-3940, www.timeandlearning.org.
Renee Carl is the new senior program officer at the Silver Spring, Md.-based Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families, which connects funders whose interests include youth work. Carl goes to Grantmakers from the National Human Services Assembly, headed by CEO Irv Katz, where she was director of policy; that job was eliminated during the assembly’s recent restructuring. Contact: (301) 589-4293, www.gcyf.org.
Mishaela Duran has returned to the Washington-based National Network for Youth, heading public policy. Duran had left in April 2005 to become part of the supergroup of former national advocates put together at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services by Vincent Schiraldi. She served as Schiraldi’s special assistant.
Duran re-enters the fray at a hectic time for the network, which is run by Vicky Wagner. The organization is pushing for increased funding of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act when it comes up for reauthorization (due this year), and is stumping for passage of legislation to improve services for youthful offenders re-entering communities (through H.R. 5178 in the House, S. 2451 in the Senate). There is also the Place to Call Home Act (H.R. 3409), which Duran describes as “dream legislation” that could end youth homelessness. Contact: (202) 783-7949, www.nn4youth.org.
Denis Murstein, executive director of the Chicago-based Youth Network Council/Illinois Collaboration on Youth, will leave the organization in June after 25 years. Among other things, the council serves as the U.S. Administration on Children and Families’ Region V technical assistance and training provider for runaway and homeless youth grantees.
Murstein ran the council with CEO Gary Leofanti, an arrangement that allowed Leofanti to be the face of the organization (particularly in regard to policy and advocacy) while Murstein focused on operations. “Denis’ contribution to the organization and to youth services in Illinois is incalculable,” Leofanti said in a statement about Murstein’s departure.
Murstein plans to move to Denver to be with his family, and says he’s “open to staying in youth work if the right opportunity comes along.” Contact: (312) 704-1260, www.youthnetworkcouncil.org.
The D.C.-based National Children’s Alliance has chosen Teresa Huizar as its new executive director. The alliance is a membership organization of the nation’s Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) and is funded primarily by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Huizar served as executive director of the Western Regional Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides technical assistance and training to CACs in 13 Western states, and before that was the founding executive director of A Kid’s Place Children’s Advocacy Center in Greeley, Colo.
Huizar replaces Nancy Chandler, who led the alliance for 13 years before leaving in January to run the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. That organization was established in fall 2007 with the merger of the Fulton County Child Advocacy Center and the Georgia Center for Children. Contact: (800) 239-9950, www.nca-online.org; Georgia Center for Child Advocacy (404) 378-6100, www.georgiacenterforchildren.org.
Darie Davis was hired to be CEO of the Rowantree Group’s U.S. division, which produces drug prevention and anti-bullying materials often used by youth programs and schools. Davis has three decades of experience in the substance abuse prevention field, first as a manager for the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, and then overseeing prevention work for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1997 to 2004. Contact: (910) 255-0515, www.rowantreegroup.com.
Ian Carrick is the new manager of fund development at the Seattle-based Committee for Children, a nonprofit whose problem-solving and personal safety program is used in 25,000 schools in 21 countries. The organization was formed in 1976 as Judicial Advocates for Women. Carrick goes to the organization from Chicago, where he was the philanthropy officer for America’s Second Harvest, a behemoth in the field of hunger relief. Contact: (8000 634-4449, www.cfchildren.org.
Common Cents, a New York-based nonprofit that specializes in creating and managing service-learning projects for youth, elected Barnard College President Judith Shapiro as chair of its Board of Trustees. The organization, led by founder Teddy Gross since 1991, is best known for its annual Penny Harvest, which last year brought in $711,390 to help feed the homeless. Contact: (212) 579-3448, www.commoncents.org.
Patty Stonesifer announced in February that she will leave her post as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the nation’s largest grant maker (assets: $38.7 billion), by next January. Stonesifer has led the foundation since its inception and plans to remain there in some capacity after stepping down. Contact: (206) 709-3100, www.gatesfoundation.org.
Alice Walker Duff was hired in January to be a program executive for the Disadvantaged Children & Youth Program at Atlantic Philanthropies, a Bermuda-based foundation with a U.S. office in New York. Duff is responsible for implementing the foundation’s Integrated Services in Schools Initiative, which seeks to integrate high-quality out-of-school time learning efforts and school-based health services into public middle schools.
Duff is the co-founder and former president of Crystal Stairs, one of the largest nonprofit child care development agencies in California, which runs before- and after-school programs at Nickerson Gardens, the largest low-income public housing development in Los Angeles. She is a board member for Parents as Teachers National Center, based in St. Louis. Contact: (212) 916-7300, www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.
Christine Calpin is the new acting associate commissioner in charge of the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, which among other things oversees the Child and Family Service Reviews for each state. Calpin was a staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee. Former acting commissioner Joe Bock returns to his former position as deputy associate commissioner. Contact: (202) 205-8102, www.acf.hhs.gov.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration announced the appointments of seven new national advisory council members. They include Marvin Alexander, youth coordinator for the Mid-South Health Systems’ ACTION for Kids Project in Jonesboro, Ark.; and Terry Cross, executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based National Indian Child Welfare Association. Contact: SAMHSA (240) 276-2130, www.samhsa.gov.
New Jersey’s commissioner of children and families, hired to that position after serving as the state’s child advocate, has resigned after two years on the job.
Kevin Ryan served as the state’s child advocate when New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families entered a consent decree to settle a lawsuit with the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Rights. Ryan replaced Jim Davy, and youth advocates say he began to implement the kinds of changes necessary for the state to move its child welfare system out of court supervision.
Ryan goes to work for the Amelior Foundation, which helps impoverished youth in Newark, N.J. Contact: (609) 984-4500, www.nj.gov/dcf; Amelior Foundation (973) 540-9148.
Connecticut has hired Stacy Gerber to head its Department of Children and Families, a move that did not exactly warm the hearts of those keeping watchful eyes on the system, which works with more than 6,000 youth annually. Gerber was a key staffer for former Commissioner Kristine Ragaglia, serving on the management team that put together the Connecticut Juvenile Training School project – a monstrous and ill-conceived youth prison that Gov. Jodi Rell (R) has tried in vain to replace with smaller facilities around the state. Contact: (860) 550-6305, www.ct.gov/dcf.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) reached across party lines and named a Democrat, State Rep. Frank Peterman, to be the new leader of the state’s ever-embattled Department of Juvenile Justice. Crist fills the void left by Walt McNeil, who was promoted to secretary of the Department of Corrections.
Peterman is a logical choice. For 20 years he has served as director of development for Juvenile Services Program, a Clearwater-based organization that runs diversion programs for first-time youth offenders. Before that he was a juvenile services counselor and a parole and probation trainee. In the Florida Legislature, he was a member of the House Juvenile Justice Committee.
Bipartisanship is not atypical of Crist, but he isn’t exactly handing a Dem a cake job. Peterman inherits a system that has been beaten up in the news media since the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson at its Bay County boot camp, and that is running its service providers out of the state by offering terrible per-diem rates. Peterman is tasked with implementing a new plan for the agency following the February release of the Blueprint Commission’s 52 recommendations for improving the system, which would push Florida toward the “Missouri model” of small, regional lock-ups and more community-based alternatives to incarceration. In cash-strapped Florida, Crist proposed only $4.6 million in new money to help move in that direction. Contact: (850) 488-1850, www.djj.state.fl.us.
The potential progress for Florida juvenile justice (see above) is, of course, followed by yet another scandal for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). A pornography probe snagged its spokesman, Al Zimmerman, who was charged by Tampa police with eight counts of using a minor in a sexual performance. Zimmerman allegedly paid two minors to pose for pictures involving sexual acts. DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth acknowledged that one of the youths was connected to DCF services. Contact: (850) 488-4855, www.myflorida.com/cf_web.
Maryland State Del. Robert A. McKee (R) – executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County, Md. – resigned from both positions after the FBI seized computers, videotapes and printed materials from his home on Jan. 31 in what authorities describe as an ongoing child pornography investigation.
McKee, 58, worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters for 29 years. He has also been involved for decades in various youth athletic and children’s groups, including a foster care review board, a children’s center advisory board, two Little League organizations and a junior basketball league, according to his legislative website.
McKee told The Washington Post that he has entered treatment. No charges had been filed as of late February.
The youth work field is teeming with people who want to “give something back” as a way to make up for past transgressions. But rarely does a desire for absolution lead all the way to allocution.
But Calvin Wayne Inman, a 29-year-old Pasadena, Texas, man who was ordained as a youth minister this year, says his work with kids compelled him to unburden his conscience. Inman admitted to police last month that he stabbed a 64-year-old convenience store clerk during a robbery in 1994, when has 16. The clerk, Iqbal Ahmed, asked for identification when Inman approached him with cigarettes; Inman says he pulled out a kitchen knife and stabbed the man.
Inman, whose fellow church members are praising his confession in local media, remains in custody without bail at the Harris County Jail.
O.J.’s Legacy: In 1952, Keller opened the Boys Farm in Buffalo, Ill., to provide an alternative to the corrections system for some youth. The program lives on today in Springfield, as the Rutledge Youth Foundation.
Oliver James “O.J.” Keller, 84, a nationally known voice for troubled youth. Keller founded three organizations that offered alternatives to incarceration for youth: Boys Farm (now the Rutledge Youth Foundation), in Springfield, Ill.; Associated Marine Institute, which operates in eight states; and the Georgia Wilderness Institute. Keller was Florida’s director of youth services from 1967 to 1973.
Gene Freedman, 82, a member of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s board of governors for more than 20 years. Freedman founded the Enesco Corp., which produced the famous “Precious Moments” porcelain figurines, and used sales of those figurines and his own wealth to support the clubs.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), 80, a one-time child soldier fighting the Nazis in 1944 in his native Budapest. A human rights champion, he led congressional efforts aimed at eliminating child labor abuses in the United States and abroad.
James Orange, 65, a youth organizer and a top aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, Orange was arrested in Perry County, Ala., during a youth-driven voter registration drive, for disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of minors. The New York Times noted that “his arrest is considered one of the catalysts for the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.”