CEO, director of development leaving Social Advocates for Youth

Two top executives at Social Advocates for Youth who helped push through the landmark Dream Center for at-risk youth in Santa Rosa have announced they will be leaving the agency.|

Two top executives at Social Advocates for Youth who helped push through the nonprofit group’s landmark Dream Center for at-risk youth in Santa Rosa have announced they will be leaving the agency for other jobs, marking a transition of leadership at a time of significant growth and success for the organization.

Matt Martin, SAY’s charismatic chief executive, has been tapped by Redwood Credit Union to fill a new vice president position, heading the credit union’s community and government relations division.

Cat Cvengros, SAY’s director of development, will take a vice president post at Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, one of the country’s largest food banks.

Martin was sought out by Redwood Credit Union’s CEO and president Brett Martinez, who described Martin as a friend.

“I’ve been talking with Matt about his goals for a long time,” Martinez said, adding that Martin has long expressed interest in the broad financial role Redwood Credit Union plays in local households. “The big news is that he’s going to stay local and continue to have a huge impact not only on Sonoma County but in the region.”

Cvengros and Martin, viewed by many as a high-powered team at the top of SAY leadership, said the timing of their departures was “coincidence.”

Both cited the development of the Dream Center as their biggest accomplishment, one that involved a $9.5 million fundraising goal and public relations campaign, with buy-in from local leaders, residents and philanthropists. The facility, the former Warrack Hospital off Summerfield Road in Bennett Valley, provides temporary and permanent housing for more than ?60 homeless and former foster children while teaching a larger segment valuable job skills. It opened last year.

“As I stand in this building - the SAY Finley Dream Center - it’s awe-inspiring to know that I get to live and work in a community that cares so much for those who need it most,” Martin said. “I’m so proud to have played even the smallest part in this work to make the Dream Center a reality and know that lives will be changed here for the better for generations to come.”

SAY, established in 1971, helps at-risk youth, including foster youth, with housing, counseling and career training. It has an annual budget of just over $7 million, 142 paid employees and more than ?370 volunteers.

The organization’s current chief operations officer, Katrina Thurman, will become CEO after Martin leaves April 4. He starts with the Redwood Credit Union on April 17.

Asked why he was leaving SAY, Martin said, “At Social Advocates for Youth we have a core value that reads ‘we are our best selves,’ That includes continuous learning and growing, not only for our youth, but for us as staff members and professionals. After eight years of a tremendous journey at SAY, I felt it was time for me to continue learning and seeking new ways to help. It’s all about being my best self - for the community.”

Petaluma businessman Scott Pritchard, SAY’s incoming board president, said Martin has played a crucial role in SAY’s growth and success and that Thurman is more than capable of continuing the organization’s vision.

“Theres’ a robust enough team there,” Pritchard said.

“The organization is on track to hit all of our goals according to our strategic plan.”

Cvengros, 35, who has been with SAY for six years, called Thurman an “extremely passionate and skilled leader,” invaluable as COO for the past four years. She said that only an “incredible opportunity” could draw her away from both SAY and Sonoma County. In fact, she’s planning to keep the downtown Santa Rosa home she owns and rent it out.

“The opportunity to work with Kathy Jackson and the team at Second Harvest is an honor. There is great income disparity in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, and I’m honored to work on behalf of the quarter million families they feed each month,” Cvengros said. “It’s a mission I feel strongly about; without food bank support growing up my family would not have kept our housing.”

Asked to compare that work to her work at SAY, she said both are important.

“Both need to happen. I’m compelled to change, which is healthy for growth - mine & SAY’s,” she said. “We, as a community, are Social Advocates for Youth. My role as a part of SAY is changing - I get to be a different kind of supporter now.”

Martin, 41, originally from New England, worked as an elementary school teacher before becoming director of operations at the Petaluma Boys & Girls Club. He started at SAY eight years ago as director of development and became its CEO two years later.

He said his role with Redwood Credit Union will allow him “to work with families just like mine.”

“Families who are struggling financially, working to end poverty for their children,” he said. “Getting the chance to do that with them will be a really important loop closure in my personal and professional life.”

Redwood Credit Union serves more than 270,000 members in the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Ukiah. Martin was set to announce the departures to SAY staff this morning.

“Honored doesn’t even do justice to how blessed I feel to have been able to spend the past eight years working with you all,” he wrote in the prepared announcement.

“Our agency is well-positioned to continue fulfilling it’s strategic plan and setting the foundation for another 45 years of serving Sonoma County youth and families under Katrina’s ongoing stewardship.”

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