Last Friday was bittersweet for Sandra King. Closing a chapter in her professional life that has lasted a quarter of a century, King stepped down as executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
For the past 10 years, King's role as executive director of the nonprofit, nonsectarian agency entailed the overseeing of a diverse roster of affordable social services, executed by 400 employees and 1,100 volunteers at JFS storefronts throughout Los Angeles County. These specialized services include providing counseling and addressing issues pertaining to marital problems, substance abuse, domestic violence, single parenting, the elderly, the disabled and immigration resettlement.
King, this year's winner of the National Association of Social Workers' Daniel E. Koshland Award in Social Welfare, did much to extend the scope and range of JFS. Under King's reign, JFS became the second largest Jewish agency of its kind in the country, not only deriving financial assistance from the Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation but a host of alternative sources, including grants from city, county and state resources, as well as from municipalities such as West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Burbank and Torrance. These allocations continue to attract contributions from private foundations and from corporations toward JFS programs.
"Her lasting contribution is that her agency has grown from a budget of $12 million to $20 million," says Dorothy Goren, a past president of JFS. "She has enabled Jewish Family Service to reach out and help so many more people."
"She has one of the sharpest minds I know and she's a brilliant strategist," says Lisa Brooks, JFS director of development and public relations. "She's also tireless, especially when it comes to improving service for clients."
And she does it with panache, says Brooks: "I've never heard her say 'I'm sorry, I can't take it on.' She always finds a way to do more and never loses her sense of humor."
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, JFS and the local Jewish community turned a corner with the admission that Jews were not immune to the social ills that affect the general population. The JFS installed two very important programs - Alcohol Drug Action Program (ADAP); and Family Violence Project, which provides services for women and children experiencing domestic violence. King played a pivotal role in the development and the application of these services.
"It was previously believed that the Jewish community did not need those services," says King, who found, based on the individuals entering her offices, that in fact it did.
King is widely credited for expanding the breadth of programs offered by JFS. Among the recent agendas that she implemented is the Multipurpose Senior Services Project (MSSP), a collaborative program between the county and the state which ensures that the frail elderly can remain at home and avoid premature institutionalization by applying funds toward in-home services rather than nursing home care."We've really become a voice in the development in social and health services and become a model both locally and nationally," King told The Journal.
"What has amazed me about her is her real ability to understand and deal with so many complex angles of the agency," says Sandy Weiner, outgoing president of Jewish Family Service. "I really have worked very closely with her and I've just increased enormously in admiration for her skill at managing a large organization that provides so many services."
Despite weathering such setbacks as cutbacks and bureaucratic politics, King says that, over the years, JFS has effectively "maintained our stability and grown into a very large organization." Sure, there is much more to be done at JFS ("The work never ends," she says), but King is proud of her accomplishments, from which she draws "a great deal of satisfaction. The agency has provided a setting which allowed for creativity that encouraged new ideas and allowed us to expand our horizons. The board of JFS is to be commended for allowing for this climate."
Next up on King's plate are plans to "take a short vacation and spend time with my children and grandchildren." But even in retirement, King insists that her work and her relationship with JFS will not end; she intends to stay connected with the agency and to remain someone on whom JFS administrators can count on for advice and support. And the former executive director, whom Goren describes as a "very dedicated, very feeling human being," will lose no sleep over how JFS will manage in her absence. King cites a "strong management staff," and a great choice in the decision to install Associate Executive Paul Castro as the agency's new executive director.
Says King, "I have a great deal of faith in his ability to contribute toward the future success of the agency." It's a success built on her legacy, which will not be soon forgotten, according to her former colleagues."Working with her is a learning experience," says Goren. "I will miss being able to talk to her about what's going on in the community, and I will miss her as a friend. But I certainly expect her to take some time off and come back and be an effective volunteer."
"She really will be missed by our board and staff," says Weiner. "She is a really visionary leader."