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