Letter from our CEO: Journeys, Transformations, and Resilience
RECENTLY, I took some time off to visit my brother on the East coast. It was my first vacation away since joining MEND in 2017. I've taken a day or two off, but never fully unplugged.... The pandemic is one reason why. But the other is that the past 6 years have been a period of significant and necessary change, as we charted some very rough waters to stability.
For over 5 decades, you have enabled MEND to serve the crisis needs of deeply vulnerable people right here in Los Angeles. As an example, millions of meals are consumed each year because of your kindness. Simply put, you are making a difference for families, seniors, and men & women who struggle.
Ensuring that this incredible legacy endures for another 50 years & beyond necessitated the development of a sustainable business model and impactful services that lift people from surviving...to thriving. Getting the organization out of long-term debt, creating financial reserves, and developing a robust fundraising plan became a priority. We committed ourselves to rebuilding MEND's fiscal strength, and I'm proud to report to you that we have done just that.
To get there we addressed many difficult questions with the utmost of care. Which programs must we keep or sunset? How could we ensure the needs of participants are met after we close programs? Are similar services being offered by others with more expertise in the community? What comes next? And so on.
With this guidance in mind, we closed the education and training center housed in a secondary property on Van Nuys Blvd and sold the building in 2019. This allowed us to retire debt that had accumulated over many years and set up reserves that ensure financial integrity. We seamlessly referred all participants to other local services. In early 2019 we turned our attention to the free clinic. Its operating costs had ballooned to such an extent in the years preceding my tenure that closing it became the only prudent choice. Again, we were able to help all patients find a medical home within two weeks of shuttering. And because we never stop seeking opportunities to better serve those who come to MEND, we successfully leased the clinic space to an incredible partner, Serra Medical Group, who are available to treat participants we refer to them.
Some things remain constant: The vast food services you help us operate through the Community Nourishment Programs continue, and in fact, have expanded to offer Buen Provecho farmers’ market, and a separate resource for people managing a chronic health condition. Older adults are able to pick up food every other Wednesday during Living Wise+Well services, which also engage them in low-impact exercise (chair yoga, etc.) and social connection with others. First Step services for the homeless resumed every Thursday after a brief pause during the pandemic, and anyone in crisis will always find their needs addressed with kindness & compassion.
There’s a saying among program evaluators: no data without stories, no stories without data. The pause in some services in 2020 gave our senior leadership and Board a chance to really study the data. What was it telling us about the community and its needs? A Community Needs Assessment answered this question, pointing to several priorities: food, wellness, income, jobs, and housing.
Thus, in 2022, we opened the Here We Thrive Resource Center to deliver employment & wellness services, offering them at varying intensities to meet people where they are – literally and metaphorically. The Center features Gateways Employment Services with an array of services to jobseekers including paid work experience, help with finding and keeping a job, job readiness classes, and so much more.
For men and women with a chronic, diet-related illness exacerbated by food insecurity, Pathways to Wellness offers oneto-one help, and group nutrition classes, cooking demonstrations, and exercise groups. A Care Management component further assists Medi-Cal enrollees & those who are persistent users of the ER for routine medical care. It helps participants find a suitable health home and address the related issues that contribute to poor health, such as housing, employment, lack of insurance, etc. Finally, a System Navigation team provides information, referrals & assistance to help demystify an often complicated process of accessing services, including public benefits (e.g. CalFresh & WIC), childcare, legal help, and more.
There is a fascinating philosophical thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus – you likely already know of it. The paradox asks the following question: If the ship’s original parts are replaced over the years, is it still the same ship? Applied to MEND, the answer is yes. Our mission remains the same as at inception – to serve the most vulnerable with dignity and respect. Even as we’ve let go of some services, we have upgraded others in line with the needs of a community that desires long-term change.
Let me finish this long letter in this way. Recently someone who had just completed a tour at MEND remarked: “You really need to see it in action to fully grasp all that happens here.”
Indeed. We invite you too to come and visit… to see the work you are supporting. If you’re unable to make it in person, give me a call to chat at (818) 686-7321.
Thank you for helping us do such incredible work.
President & CEO