December 12, 2007

By Paul Feinberg

Upward Bound Family PlaceAt first glance, Upward Bound House doesn’t look much different from the many multi-unit apartment complexes in its north-of-Wilshire, Santa Monica neighborhood. There's a man on one side of the building tending to some gardening, he's chatting with another fellow who gives you directions to "David's office." Around the corner, a hopscotch game is painted on a pathway and the executive suite looks like it might have once been where a manager met with prospective tenants.

But the business of Upward Bound House is quite different than its apartment-for-rent neighbors.

"We provide housing and supportive services for homeless families for kids," explains the organizations new executive director David Snow ('00). "We’ve got a 21-unit apartment building and families live with us for up to a year though it's typically from six to nine months. We provide intensive case management services (for them.)"

Snow's office is casually decorated and his initial demeanor is casual as well. But his passion for his work quickly becomes clear as he explains his work and why he does it.

"The population that we serve, homeless families with kids is a unique subset of the homeless population," he said, pausing to ask a reporter if they have children and noting he and his wife have an 18-month-old son of their own at home. "This population wants what any one wants for their kids. They want a stable environment. They want a future for their kids (and) they want their own future. So, they are motivated and partly because of our case management system and partly because (of) how motivated they are, we’re very successful in what we do. We track families for at least a year after they graduate and 95-percent of the families that graduate from our program remain in independent, self-sufficient housing."

Snow describes a three-step process for Upward Bound House families, who must endure a 6-month-waiting period (due to demand) before garnering admittance. The first step is stabilization, which involves linkages to government services, job training skills, life skills training, parenting skills training, and (if necessary) psychological counseling for parents, children and the entire family together.

The second step is saving. Residence at Upward Bound House requires employment. If there are no family members employed when they move in, staff help them find work. There is no rent charged - services are ostensibly free - but families are required to save 75% of their earnings in a bank account the staff helps set up.

Upward Bound Senior VillaThe final step is financial management. In addition to the rent-free environment, Upward Bound House helps families set up a budget and learn about money management. Snow says one of the major reasons families become homeless is "because they don’t have good financial management skills." Upward Bound House has a food pantry where residents shop for groceries, with the help of an onsite nutritionist. Snow estimates that two-thirds of a family's food budget is supplemented at the pantry. The facility also has a thrift shop, not open to the general public, where resident families can select other household goods donated by the community.

As executive director, Snow heads a 20-member staff of full- and part-time staff. "I'm the general manager, chief fund raiser and the external face of the organization," he said. He is responsible for Upward Bound House's operations, the finances and the overall development and growth of the program, which he considers to be in "growth-mode" at the moment.

Snow did not plan on a career in the non-profit world. Before entering UCLA Anderson, he served as a consultant in Washington, D.C. While at Anderson, he focused on entrepreneurship and "took a lot of (great) classes with Bill Cockrum and Al Osborne and Bob Foster." While still in school, he started a software company and then spent the next couple of years consulting on his own, assisting small to mid-sized companies with fund raising, strategic planning and marketing.

"I had a bit of an epiphany towards the end, where I was working with a logistics and distribution company," he recalled. "And while I found the functional aspects of consulting really gratifying, I wasn’t passionate about the product. And I found that there only so much professional gratification you can get out of helping organizations figure out its business issues. You need to be connected to the service and the products."

It was about that time that a board member at Upward Bound House invited Snow to consult with the organization on a pro bono basis. He helped set up the board's strategic retreat, put together a strategic plan and when things went well he was asked to join the board. Six months hence, the board parted ways with its former executive director and asked Snow to step in, first on an interim basis and eventually as the permanent executive director.

Snow admits he's a bit surprised to find himself in his current position. "But when I step back and think about it, I'm running an organization and while it might be in the non-profit world, it's still an organization that needs to make its payroll, that has a mission," he said. "We have a service that we need to provide, it's not a service that we get paid for per se, but we have investors and need to demonstrate a return on the investment to our investors. So all the things from business school (apply in) the non profit world.

"From a professional perspective, it's incredibly challenging and engaging, it draws on my background and from an industry perspective and a service perspective and from a product perspective it’s the most gratifying and rewarding thing. I have an 18-month-old and you see in the parents' (clients') eyes, when you’re interacting with them, they want the same things that I want for my kid."

As part of the aforementioned growth period Upward Bound House finds itself in, Snow is looking to expand the organization’s board of directors. He's considering tapping the Anderson network for new members.

"I’m looking to add what every board needs," he said. "I’m looking for a banker. I'm looking for an accountant. One of the reasons the board selected me at this point in the organization's history (Upward Bound House is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary) is that the board is responding to the broader, regional community need for more services. So, we're in transition and I think it would be a great opportunity for an Anderson alumnus to get involved in this organization and help it get to that next level."

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