Sonoma County Children’s Village ends its run

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The board of the Sonoma County Children’s Village, a nonprofit agency that introduced an innovative model for housing the region’s foster children in a nurturing, homelike environment, has dissolved its organization, ending a more than 20-year bid to champion the needs of youngsters whose own families weren’t able to meet them.

The board of directors closed the Children’s Village in October 2015, following a state policy shift intended to place more children with foster families, steering them away from group settings.

After several years of working to meet the needs of foster children in alternative ways — funding orthodontics, tutoring, specialized therapy, even gymnastics and driver’s training — the agency’s board has decided its assets would go farthest by entrusting them to another organization with values that match, board president Jackie Crook said.

The Children’s Village is transferring $2.5 million remaining in its coffers to TLC Child & Family Services, a more than 40-year-old Sebastopol nonprofit that has quietly educated and served more than 600 foster children annually for decades.

“We feel very grateful and excited to be passing on our legacy and resources to TLC,” Jackie Crook, Children’s Village board president, said in an announcement of the transition. “As an all-volunteer-run organization, we had come to another crossroad. We decided that, rather than spending our precious funds on building out our own organizational capacity, we would dissolve and gift our resources to the right nonprofit that has all the necessary structures in place.”

As a symbol of the changeover, the Children’s Village already has conveyed to TLC’s headquarters in rural Sebastopol a stone carved with the name Georgia Moses, the 12-year-old girl whose tragic death inspired the creation of the nonprofit.

Georgia Lee Moses was living with her mother and a younger sister in Santa Rosa when she disappeared in 1997. She was found slain nine days later near a Highway 101 offramp in Petaluma.

Georgia, it was later learned, had for years kept her family going essentially on her own, in the face of her mother’s increasingly acute mental illness, though the preteen was often at loose ends herself. She would sometimes be away from home and school for days on end, as she was when she disappeared — with no one to report her missing. Nine days after someone last saw her standing with a man outside his car, her nude remains were found near the offramp. She had been strangled in a still-unsolved homicide.

Troubled community members, including a long-time foster care coordinator and children’s advocate named Lia Rowley, marshaled their grief and anger around an ambitious idea involving a new kind of community for foster children that would build the nurturing environment normally provided by an extended family.

A key goal was keeping foster siblings together.

The group opened a cluster of homes and apartments in 2006 off Kawana Terrace near Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Preserve, in which staff members and surrogate “grandparents” resided on the premises, and community volunteers helped with tutoring, maintenance and other help.

But after serving 84 children, the village closed in 2015, unable to sustain a high enough census to stay afloat after shifting foster policies shortened the time children might stay in group homes.

The Children’s Village board later sold the property but reoriented itself to fill existing gaps in foster services — including orthodontics and other dental work not covered by Medi-Cal — as well as contributing toward supportive housing for young adults transitioning out of foster care through the nonprofit Community Support Network.

That’s some of the work TLC does, as well, in addition to hosting a high school on its 7-acre campus on Gravenstein Highway North, helping with residential and mental health services and providing transitional housing for those ages 16 to 24 who are aging out of foster care.

Rowley, the founding director of the children’s Village, died last fall, and the all-volunteer board decided just recently to dissolve rather than spend money to compete for funding with some 3,000 other nonprofits in Sonoma County.

TLC, meanwhile, is a robust, stable organization with a staff of more than 100 trained in social work, special education, counseling and child development, Chief Executive Officer Susan Fette said.

With the extra funding from the Children’s Village Legacy Fund, the organization will now be better positioned to get ahead of changing federal policies designed to help more at-risk families stay together with extra support and programming up-stream of the need to remove children from the home.

“The whole landscape of foster care is really changing, and what’s great about this particular gift is we can stay current,” Fette said. “I’m overwhelmed in such a great way to be holding TLC history and Children’s Village history at the same time.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan on Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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