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Mike Smylie of Novato’s Gilead House wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Mike Smylie

Acting Executive Director

Gilead House

1024 7th St., Novato 94945

415-895-557

www.gileadhouse.org

Professional background: Retired, after 40 years as an environmental consultant

Education: MS and BA, University of Texas; MBA, Golden Gate University

Number of staff: 4

Describe your organization: Established in 1999, Gilead House remains the only organization in Marin County that provides transitional housing and support services exclusively to low income and often homeless single mothers and their children.

Since our beginning, our mission has been to inspire hope and empower our moms and their children toward financial stability and independence as they navigate the journey to self-sufficiency.

Gilead House serves a population of women with children who represent the most vulnerable amongst our community. Our residents may have experienced domestic violence, job loss, mental illness, or are recovering from substance abuse or other events that have left them vulnerable economically and emotionally, with no stable place to live.

Our program focuses on a number of learning areas, including financial planning, substance abuse counseling, parenting classes, and mental health counseling amongst a host of others, all offered in a safe, sober, and stable living and learning environment.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: My wife and I have lived in Marin County for over 35 years, where we have raised three sons. I became involved with Gilead House three years ago when I was asked to serve on the board of directors. In late 2019, I was elected to the role of board president.

In early 2020, I stepped into the role of acting executive director following the departure of a previous administrator. Then COVID hit and, like most nonprofits, we worried about the ability to raise funds and keep operations going during the pandemic.

So I agreed to stay on as executive director to help steer the organization during the crisis. My time as acting executive director has been a true life-lesson and has given me the opportunity to see the good side of our community, particularly during a time when so many are struggling.

How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In just about every way possible. As an organization that assists often homeless families develop the skills to become successful members of the community, the inability to bring these families together to socialize, participate in life skills classes, and learn effective communications skills is a significant challenge.

In addition, during the time when all were sheltering-in-place, our clients did not have the ability to work and therefore were not earning any income.

Moreover, the children were falling further and further behind in school as many did not have access to computers to participate in online classes.

To address this, Gilead House had to completely change the way we provided education and life skills classes to our clients, and worked hard to develop an online tutoring program for the children, with computers donated by our donor community. Today we are in much better shape but still not able to bring groups together for socialization, education, and recreation.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more women in need of our services, particularly as a result of the pandemic. We are also seeing the the cost to raise a family in the Bay Area without the need or assistance from others continue to go up.

To address this, we are constantly assessing the services we provide to ensure that they are consistent with and advance our mission, are benefiting all of our families, and are being delivered in the most effective way possible.

Gilead House continues to be blessed by a very generous donor community, including individuals, families, churches, and corporate partners.

Notwithstanding this, our ability to host large in-person fundraising events - historically a significant source of revenue - remain in question. This puts a strain on our overall revenues and requires us to be very conservative with all expenses outside of those directly tied to supporting our families.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud each time a family successfully finishes our program and is able to move into their own apartment. They have such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they have achieved.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Since Gilead House gets no money from the government, my biggest challenge continues to be raising the money required to deliver our mission.

And that involves constantly looking for new ways to do donor events, constantly looking for grant funds that we would qualify for, and staying in constant touch with our donor community.

Mike Smylie

Acting Executive Director

Gilead House

1024 7th St., Novato 94945

415-895-557

www.gileadhouse.org

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

In the fall of 2018, the Marin Community Foundation (MCF) began a qualitative research effort to provide insight into ways to improve the lives of homeless mothers living in Marin County. A report issued by MCF in 2019, entitled “The Book of Moms, “provided statistics on the stark realities of achieving self-sufficiency in Marin County:

- The low-income limit for a family of four living in Marin is $117,400, the highest in the nation.

- After paying for rent in Marin County, Latino households are left with $16,367.

- The number of full time jobs a minimum wage worker needs to be self-sufficient in Marin is six.

- 35% of Marin households live below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

And that’s in normal times; the pandemic has made even more plan the difficulties faced by those whose education level limits them to hourly, non-benefited jobs.

In many ways, The Book of Moms represents the story and profile of Gilead House clients: on average 36 years of age with two children and some college credits, working an hourly job with no benefits resulting in an annual income of approximately $35,000.

Studies confirm the value of education. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that those without a high school diploma earn on average $9,600 annually; those with a diploma or GED earn on average $29,500. Those graduating with a bachelor’s degree earned almost double that amount, with an average of nearly $45,400.

This year, Gilead House launched our Education to Opportunity Program. This program supports our clients continuing their formal education, regardless of level. The effort is individually designed to meet each client where they are when the come into our program and could involve:

- identifying educational/career goals and pathways

- obtaining GED

- paying for college classes aimed at obtaining an Associate or Bachelor’s degree

- supporting Vocational training

- support employment readiness classes

- providing financial support while attending college classes and/or vocational training.

In addition to education assistance, the Gilead House Education to Opportunity Program teams each client with a case manager and mentor, working in conjunction with an assigned school counselor, to ensure each client receives the support needed to successfully complete her education program on time.

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

We’ve recently begun to migrate all of our client files to a software program called Apricot. This has proven to be an essential tool for tracking not only our case files, but also our client’s education progress.

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

The reasons one becomes homeless has become much more complicated over the 20 years that Gilead House has existed.

As such, any program designed to assist homeless clients in becoming self-sufficient must be at least as comprehensive as the issues that caused their homelessness in the first place.

Over the next five years, housing costs, wealth inequality, drug and alcohol addiction, and domestic and racial abuse will continue to be major issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Moreover, the ramifications of homelessness on a community can be profound. In Marin, each unsupported homeless person costs the community roughly $60,000 due to the high costs of hospitals, the court system, criminal justice, and other public services. When all members of a community have an opportunity to achieve, the community is psychologically and socially healthier.

Those in this profession much continually assess the causes and impacts of homelessness and ensure that the programs they are covering are evolving to meet these new demands.

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

One of our clients was selected to receive a home makeover from a donor group. The rules were simple: the client had to meet the group at the client’s apartment one morning, turn over the keys to the group leader, then leave for the day.

While she was gone, the donor group completely furnished the apartment, down to dishes, clothing, and furniture. When the client returned to the house that evening, the donor group let her into her new apartment.

And while she was an adult of around 40 years old, it was as if a young child had come downstairs for their first Christmas morning - she was dancing around, alternating between laughing and crying, and hugging everyone she came into contact with.

Later she said that no one had ever done anything like this for her in her entire life. I’ll always remember the look on her face when she saw her furnished apartment for the first time.

What other community involvement would you like people to know about?

In addition to my time at Gilead House, I am also a volunteer and member of the board of directors at The Marine Mammal Center. The work the center does to promote ocean conservation through the work we do with animal rehabilitation, research, and education is very inspirational and motivational.

What motivates you to volunteer your time and talent?

I have always had a strong belief in the value of giving back to my community, particularly when it comes to helping the most vulnerable amongst us.

How do you think the role of the board member will change in the next five years?

I think board members will be expected to be more impactful and action-focused in the work they do on a board, particularly smaller boards where each individual has an important role in helping the whole become more effective.

What are the lasting impacts on people volunteering or serving on boards as the result of the COVID-19 crisis?

I think the COVID crisis has opened everyone’s eyes to the fragility of life and the impact events like this have on local communities. Continuing to volunteer or serve on boards during the pandemic is just a recommit to the value I see in helping others.

QUICK TAKES

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: No single individual comes to mind but I recall a CEO of a company I was previously involved with who was asked a question about the type of company he wanted to lead.

He thought a second and said he wanted to be in a company that offered three things: first, the company was involved with the most challenging issues in that profession (it happened to be environmental challenges); second, the company was recognized by others in that profession as being the leader in what they did; and three, that each individual who worked for the company, no matter how large or small a role they played, had the opportunity to go home each day knowing they had contributed to changing the world.

The idea that one can be involved in something that’s recognized by peers as being the best at what they do, that staff have the opportunity day in and day out to work on the most challenging issues facing that industry, and in the end, one can go home with a sense of satisfaction that they’ve contributed to changing the world has stuck with me for a long time.

Current reading: Thelonious Monk: “The Life and Times of an American Original”

Most want to meet: Barrack Obama

Stress relievers: Playing the piano

Favorite hobbies: Hiking

Social media you most use: LinkedIn is the only social media I’m on

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: FOMO (maybe more from by previous industry)

Typical day at the office: No day is typical. Since we have a small staff, I get involved in something different every day.

One day might be moving furniture to prepare for a new family’s arrival, one day might be talking at a fundraiser, one day might be teaching a life skill class, one day I might be taking the kids to a local park so the clients can do school work uninterrupted. I suppose it’s the diversity of the job that makes it both extraordinarily challenging but also very rewarding.

Best place to work outside of the office: a local coffee shop (now days, outside - don’t know what it will be like this winter).

Words that best describe you: Curious, hard-working, dedicated

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