For two decades Petaluma's nationally recognized homeless services agency, COTS, has been inextricably linked to its executive director, John Records.
So much so that Records has been called "John Cots" on occasion.
But after 21 years at the helm, Records is shifting to a consulting role with the Committee on the Shelterless, which offers permanent, transitional and emergency housing, food for the needy and educational and work assistance for about 2,300 individuals, children and families each year.
In no small part because of COTS' success, Records has been hired as a non-teaching public service professor and co-director of the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services at the State University New York at Albany's school of social welfare.
He will help lead a "budding consortium" of Albany and four other universities that plans to replicate in other social service settings the COTS "whole person" model of reducing homelessness.
"My heart will still be here with COTS," said Records, who turns 63 this summer.
Mike Johnson, the agency's chief operating officer, will become chief executive officer on July 1. Once homeless himself, Johnson, 50, has worked for COTS for 14 years in 11 jobs — starting out as a cook.
For Records, it was time to make good on a promise to his wife, Glena.
Long ago, he pledged that they would return to her beloved childhood home in the Rocky Mountains, so that now will be his home base. The couple will spend winters in Petaluma and Records will travel to New York as necessary. He will remain on the COTS board of directors and will continue in an advisory role for fundraising, development and program innovation.
Petaluma has benefitted greatly from Records' leadership on homeless issues, said Mayor David Glass.
"He has built a model for how to work collaboratively and humanize situations that but for the grace of god go all of us," he said. "The philosophy they built — a hand up rather than a hand out — they've made that work. They've united a community around an issue that so often tears communities apart."
The succession plan had been in the works for several years and coincides with the 25th anniversary of COTS.
Records began volunteering at COTS shortly after it was founded in 1988 by Mary Isaak and Laure Reichek. He was drawn to helping others partially because of his parents' mental illness and alcoholism.
Witnessing those troubles awakened his compassion, he said, and taught him there can be hope even in the darkest times.
In 1992, he became executive director for the agency, which at the time consisted of a 35-bed emergency shelter that opened in the winter to as many as 80 people sleeping on mats on the floor. Its annual budget in the first few years was $140,000.
Today, COTS has a budget of $3 million, about a quarter of which comes from city, county and state funds. About 27 percent comes from foundation and federal grants and 20 percent from donors.
It offers 320 beds each night, delivers 762,000 pounds of food each year and serves about 126,000 meals annually in the Petaluma Kitchen.
Each year, 2,300 people are housed, about half in the emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing programs. Others are served in permanent housing programs for veterans or shared market-rate housing.