Address: 300 Sunny Hills Dr., San Anselmo 94960; 415-457-3200; sunnyhillsservices.org

Age: 59

Residence: Larkspur

Professional background: 20+ years in international banking and finance, first with Bank of America and then as a consultant. After serving on the board of a very small nonprofit in San Francisco, when I saw the tremendous impact the organization had on a very limited budget, I made a decision to “bridge” to the nonprofit sector and use my skills and experience in a very different way. I was fortunate to find a position as CFO of Sunny Hills in 2000, and tremendously appreciate the opportunity I was given. It was a very steep learning curve, and a very rewarding new career.

Education: B.S. in economics, U.C. Riverside; MBA, Haas School of Business, U.C. Berkeley

Staff size: 110 employees

 Describe your organization.

 Sunny Hills has been helping vulnerable children and their families for more than 117 years. Originally founded as an orphanage in Marin County, we now serve about 1800 young people every year in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Alameda counties. We impact many more siblings, partners and other family members. Our mission is to engage vulnerable children and youth, enrich their connection with family and community and empower them to lead healthy, rewarding lives. We help young people stay on track, or get back on a track of healthy social, emotional and behavioral development so they can thrive as adults and nurture the next generation of youth. Our services range from preventive and outreach services, early intervention services as well as more intensive therapeutic services. Our programs address the needs of mentally-ill and other at-risk children and youth, including:Mental health treatment for children and youth of all agesSpecial education in therapeutic schools, grades K-12Gang prevention and intervention for youth in middle school and high schoolTransitional housing and support services for transition age foster youthKinship services to meet the needs of vulnerable children being raised by relative caregivers

The children and families served by Sunny Hills Services are ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Fully 100 percent of children in our programs are working to overcome emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, mental and behavioral health programs, or are at risk of neglect, abandonment or other emotional trauma. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

[caption id="attachment_65018" align="alignleft" width="200"] Mary Denton[/caption]

 I like to think big, and I work better and stay motivated if I have a big vision or goal in view. That’s true in my personal life as well as in my professional life—when I turned 50, I decided I wanted to start jogging, so I signed up for a half-marathon through Team-in-Training. I’m glad to say I completed it! Two years ago I was talked into a 5-day trek on the Salkantay Pass in Peru, and reached the summit of 15,214 feet in elevation. I’m happy now just doing local hikes on and around Mt. Tam, and I’m also happy curling up with a good book. My family lived in Bogota, Colombia while I was growing up, and that experience opened my eyes to other cultures, and also inspired my love of world travel. 

What is your role in the organization?

 As CEO, I have to keep looking far forward of where we are today and where we will be tomorrow, with a view to making strategic decisions that will let us continue to be there for the children and youth who need us. And I also need to make sure that the tactical decisions are right! I am very fortunate to have a great team at Sunny Hills, from our leadership team, to our direct care staff and our Board of Directors—that makes my job easier.

What achievement are you most proud of?

The achievements that I am most proud of are the ones that happen every time we successfully graduate a young person from one of our programs, and they believe in themselves and have a positive outlook for their future. When I our clients face to face or hear their stories, their resilience and courage in facing and overcoming their challenges astound me. A parent recently wrote us and thanked us for saving his family—their adopted son is attending our school, and previously his significant behavioral and emotional issues were ripping apart their family and seriously impacting his sister. And now they are coping and seeing a more positive future. It is very humbling, and makes me proud that I made the decision to work in this field.

What is your biggest challenge today?

It is a constant challenge to weave together the many public and private funding sources that we need to access in order to do our work. It is especially challenging in times like this, when state and county budgets are under so much pressure, everyone is trying to understand realignment, and private philanthropy is still recovering from the market crash. We can’t always pay our staff as much as they are truly worth. Funds to invest in preventive programs — which have the potential to save so much money and avoid so much suffering in the future — is hard to come by. The need for services is always greater than our funding.

What the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

Two big projects underway currently are 1) to further our work in schools and afterschool program that help keep kids in school, out of trouble and out of gangs, including the use of restorative justice principles, and 2) to increase our capacity to provide housing and services for youth who have aged out of foster care, pursuant to the recent extension of eligibility age limits.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

Technology, technology, technology. We are enhancing the metrics that we track and measure, both to give us a good feedback loop in designing and implementing our services, and also to demonstrate to funders that we have positive outcomes. Having the right systems and hardware in place is essential to capture data easily and to be able to make sense of the data. Good data also drives the definition of evidence-based practices, and helps us identify where there are client needs.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Health care reform and greater integration of behavioral health care services within the overall healthcare framework will significantly change who our partners are, how we get funded, and to a certain extent how our clients are referred to us. The biggest change in the last decade has been the movement to community-based services—i.e, we go to where clients can best receive our services, rather than expecting they will come to us. What will not change for Sunny Hills is our services principles—valuing each client as an individual, acknowledging the importance of family relationships, understanding and being guided by the developmental needs of clients at every age, and recognizing that client’s needs are best met by a holistic and individualized approach in all of their life domains.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Oprah Winfrey, for her impact on the lives of so many women.

Current reading: Berlin Noir, a trilogy by Phillip Kerr. It’s in the crime/detective genre, and set in pre- and post-war Berlin, it paints a fascinating picture of the culture and life in that time and place. I also recently finished the Steve Jobs biography, which left me with lots of insights about leadership and innovation. I read it on my iPad.

Most want to meet: Warren Buffett—a great philanthropist and someone who in my opinion has the best grasp economics, markets and business in general.

Stress relievers: Petting one of our cats, listening to classical music and sometimes playing it on the piano, reading, the occasional yoga class.

Favorite hobbies: Hiking, reading, crafting jewelry, cooking. I’ve recently been inspired to improve my sailing.

Words that best describe you: Dedicated, focused, optimistic