Monday, April 24, 2017 Children’s Bureau: 2017 Community Leader Award
Children’s Bureau President & CEO Alex Morales and Board Chair Julia Stewart will accept the Community Leader Award on behalf of Children’s Bureau at Leadership California's Legacy of Leadership celebration on April 24, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Children’s Bureau changes the lives of at-risk children by providing a foundation for their development into caring and productive adults by: preventing child abuse and neglect; protecting, nurturing and treating abused children; bringing together families and communities to create safe and secure environments; and advancing the welfare of children and families through programs in foster care, adoptions, child development, parent education, mental health, research and advocacy.
Alex Morales, L.C.S.W. has served as president & CEO of Children’s Bureau since 1988. Under his visionary leadership, the organization has raised more than $22 million through the generosity of 600 individuals and foundations, enabling construction of the Magnolia Place Family Center in Los Angeles.
The Center was the founding spark of the Magnolia Community Initiative, now a national model for programs enhancing community wellness, resiliency, prevention and family support. The Initiative seeks to help 35,000 children and youth within a 500-block area in southwest Los Angeles, enabling them to receive nurturing care from their families and community as they achieve success in education, health and economic stability.
Julia Stewart is Board Chair of Children’s Bureau. Her passion for the well-being of vulnerable children corresponds with a lifelong passion for the restaurant business. She started in her first job as a teenage food server at IHOP in her native California.
As a nearly 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Julia is the former Chairman and CEO of DineEquity, Inc., one of the world’s largest full-service restaurant companies. In 2007, she led the merger of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar and IHOP Restaurants into a $7 billion company in system wide sales. She has served in previous roles as the first female CEO of IHOP, president of Applebee’s, and has held key executive restaurant industry positions.
She is also dedicated to the development and advancement of women in the foodservice industry, as one of the founders of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, WFF, which today has over 4,000 members and whose mission is to advance women to the C-Suite and onto the boards of companies operating in the $6 billion foodservice industry.
Alex Morales and Julia Stewart
Children’s Bureau: Two leaders bring brighter future, big dreams for children and youth of LA
by Carol Caley
March 2, 2017
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Alex, you’ve been engaged as president and CEO of Children’s Bureau for nearly 30 years, at an organization that has been working to serve children and families for 110 years. You have spearheaded the evolution of your organization over a long period of time. This must be a labor of love for you.
Alex: VERY MUCH SO. When I came to Children’s Bureau in 1988, I had been leading another nonprofit. Coming here was just a strategic career move. But that was then. After a few years, my role became more than a career, it became a personal mission. I actually considered it a kind of ministry. My parents were both ministers, so people used to say to me, “you ought to become a minister.” I now say, “Children’s Bureau is my ministry.”
Q: As a leader, how do you define success?
Alex: CHILDREN'S BUREAU IS IN THIS WORLD called “nonprofit.” What I don’t like about that term is that it’s focused on how much money an organization makes—does it create a financial return, in the traditional sense, for the owners and investors? A nonprofit is a public benefit corporation, and our corporation has been formed to create a benefit to society. The board of directors, the investors, the staff, my leadership—is based on creating a benefit to the world of vulnerable children and families around us.
Q: So success is measured in terms of the value to the community, not the dollar value.
Alex: YES, FOR CHILDREN'S BUREAU, the benefit we’ve promised is to help vulnerable children grow up to become successful and caring adults. So our nonprofit leadership should be about creating that, and our leaders, investors and supporters all contribute to that. We’re a mission-driven organization. We’ve been successfully creating that benefit for a century.
CHILDREN'S BUREAU WAS DOING different things a century ago—it still focused on helping vulnerable children, but the help they needed then was a little different than what they need now. The ability for an organization to stay relevant, to keep delivering that public benefit in changing times—that’s what successful leadership is.
Q: Julia, you’ve just recently left your role as Chairman and CEO of DineEquity, where you had a remarkable career trajectory over more than 16 years. You started out as a food server at IHOP, learned the food service business from the inside, and experienced what it’s like to move up a ladder of success. Now you’re in your 5th year as board chair of Children’s Bureau, having been on the board since 2005. You’ve said that there is just one thing that took you from your days of waiting tables to the corner office—the honor and privilege to serve. Tell us about your role at Children’s Bureau.
Julia: I DON'T BELIEVE there is any greater privilege or higher calling than serving others. Our hard work at Children’s Bureau is incredibly important. But your own individual legacy is based on what you do for others, not what you do for yourself. Serving is a feeling not like any other.
THAT'S HOW I FEEL about Children’s Bureau. For me the service comes in many forms. It’s a cause and an opportunity that’s near and dear to my heart. So, it starts with that: how one makes a difference.
Q: Has your business leader role given you insights into your board leadership?
Julia: I DON'T DISCOUNT THE WORK that I do as a business leader: I provide opportunity, development, employment, income for people. But one makes a lasting difference by serving those who are less fortunate, those who have unique challenges, and those who might not be served by anyone else. At the Children’s Bureau, I’m so proud of the difference we make. We see lives changed. We see families changed. Those are long-lasting changes. And our work is difficult. We don’t necessarily look for short-term solutions, but rather solutions that improve families for current and future generations. I take that very seriously.
|“Your own individual legacy is based on what you do for others, not what you do for yourself.”
Alex: ONE THING I WOULD LIKE TO ADD: It’s very hard for organizations to find people who will extend their caring as far as Julia has to vulnerable children whom she will never know. For us, it’s a treasure to have somebody of her talent come aboard and be willing to invest as a volunteer civic leader.
Q: How do you see your roles dovetailing in advocating for some of our most vulnerable children? Can you share what your plans are for the organization? Any big dreams?
Alex: THE ORGANIZATION WORKS in many different communities in Los Angeles and in Orange County, some seventeen different communities in all. Today we are helping 30,000 vulnerable children and parents in those communities.
WE'RE ALSO VERY PROUD of a pioneering venture that is critical to benefiting the community as well as the country: our Magnolia Community Initiative. This is a collaborative strategy that harnesses the efforts of 70 community organizations to work together to serve 14 different Los Angeles neighborhoods, all connected, where 35,000 children live. These surround one of our community centers, Magnolia Place.
Julia: THE BOARD HAS TALKED a lot about this initiative and our passion and desire to see it grow and flourish. We think it has national implications and national scope. The work we’re doing at the board level is threefold. First is the oversight of management, which is an ongoing, day-to-day proposition. Second, we’re working on a long-term strategic plan, evaluating our current services for now and the long term, and how we might potentially expand beyond California and go nationwide. The other piece is sustainability, how we take leadership of the organization into the future.
||“We have worked as a society on how we can help one child and one family at a time. But we need to scale that up to see if we can actually help and change a whole neighborhood.”
Q: So the big dream is for the Magnolia Community Initiative to become a national model?
Alex: ABSOLUTELY. WE HAVE WORKED as a society on how we can help one child and one family at a time. But we need to scale that up to see if we can actually help and change a whole neighborhood. That’s where we are pioneering: Can we develop a strategy that has scalability and replicability for other communities?
GIVEN THE CLIMATE OF THE TIMES, there’s not a lot of new public funding, and there are limits to how much philanthropy is available. The needs continue to grow. Finding solutions that can be scalable, transformative and replicable—that’s a riddle worth solving. So many lives depend on it.
WE PROVIDED THE FOUNDING SPARK, and are building and testing and making progress. We’ve helped create a large-scale network of people and organizations in these 14 neighborhoods. We want other communities to learn from us, to take this on. This is a great legacy moment for Children’s Bureau. I’d like to see this continue to move forward, even past my own leadership time.
Q: What were the influences that brought each of you to a life of service? Can you share a moment or milestone that really meant a lot to you?
|“I felt, if there's a way to prevent all this, then we don’t need counselors trying to help people after the fact.”
Alex: I BEGAN AS A COUNSELOR working with families who were caught up in this problem of child abuse. I’m considered an expert by the Children’s Court, having seen so many families—more than a thousand—and have tried to figure out what can be done to help them.
WHAT STRUCK ME is not how horrible things happen in the privacy of a home, and how parents can go so far wrong. What struck me is the upbringing that those parents had—it was so poor that it led to things that shouldn’t have happened. They wish they could do better, but they just don’t have the support and information to know how to make life better for their children.
I FELT, IF THERE'S A WAY TO PREVENT ALL THIS, then we don’t need counselors trying to help people after the fact. If you could break that cycle, then when children grow up and have their own families, it doesn’t need to continue.
Q: Julia, what influences brought you to serve, and could you share an experience about that?
Julia: FOR ME IT'S VERY CLEAR. Both my parents were teachers, a profession I’ve always felt to be among the most honorable. My parents very much wanted me to be a teacher, and frankly, were disappointed that I was going into the hospitality field.
AND YET, a defining moment came early on in my career, when I was working for Taco Bell. I took my dad around South-Central LA, which happened to be part of my territory, and I had him spend the day with me. He got to see what I really do, and that I do teach—I just don’t do it in a classroom. The subjects are different, but the outcomes are the same: people become more confident, they feel better about themselves, they have new skillsets, I catch people doing things right. I’m impacting and influencing every day. At the end of the day, my dad said, “We’re so proud of you. You are making a difference.”
||“Women are attuned to the heartbeat of a child.”
THAT BECAME A LIFETIME COMMITMENT. I promised my dad that I would dedicate my life to that, and also continue to give back to those less fortunate. I’ve been able to do that. Not just for Children’s Bureau, but throughout my career. I’m very proud that I’ve taught my children to do the same.
Q: The poet Mary Oliver said, “Make room in your heart for the unimaginable.” What would you imagine for women’s leadership in the years ahead?
Julia: FOR ME, I WOULD TURN THE QUOTE AROUND. I don’t think anything is unimaginable when it comes to female leadership.
Alex: I'M NOT CRAZY ABOUT THE WAY our world is going right now. One way we can save ourselves is by women taking leadership. I feel like women are attuned to the heartbeat of a child. My work is helping children, to make a better future for our world. Women have the ability to hear that, be concerned about that, work towards that, build consensus and community around that kind of important goal. It may sound like I’m pessimistic about the future, but my hope is that women’s leadership can help save us.