Mary Denton in SF Business Times

by Krystal Peak, SF Business Times Journalist

Mary Denton, CEO of Sunny Hills Services

Premium content from San Francisco Business Times by Krystal Peak

Date: Friday, June 1, 2012, 3:00am PDT

Mission: To engage vulnerable children and youth, enrich their connection with family and community and empower them to lead healthy, rewarding lives.

The start: Sunny Hills Services serves vulnerable youth and their families. It was originally founded in 1895 as an orphanage and farm in Marin County and is now a regional child welfare organization. This year, the San Anselmo-based nonprofit will serve more than 2,000 young people and another 4,000 family members through an array of programs focused on the educational, mental health, housing and developmental needs of vulnerable youth.

Milestone: The organization is about to celebrate its 117th anniversary on June 8.

Annual budget: $7.7 million.

Corporate support: Autodesk, Bank of Marin, Exchange Bank, Frank Howard Allen Realtors, Infineon Raceway, R.A.B. Motors, Sam's Anchor CafĂ©.

Board of directors: 16 board members, including Lydia Cameron, Jennifer Gotti, William Caroli, Jay Cahan.

Volunteers: 40.

Telephone: 415-457-3200


Office Issues

Recent challenge: Fiscal constraints. Especially when state and county budgets are so tight and private giving is just starting to recover. So we are always challenged by what our budget can allow us to do for the children.

Measures of success: We are currently working on enhancing our organization metrics. There are several of them that we look at; from helping to keep children out of juvenile hall and reaching as many families as possible, but, to me, what's most impactful is hearing those individual stories of children that really benefit. When I hear about one of the kids we work with who has battled anxiety and is now feeling comfortable in the classroom because we were able to help provide support - that's the metric I get the most from.

Smartest move: One of the things that's been really positive is an initiative in the East Bay where we worked with three other organizations to provide a better experience for our clients. (It's called) Next Steps Collaborative and it helps provide housing and support services for more than 100 youth.

Missed opportunity: Kids that need our services who we aren't reaching or who we don't have the capacity to serve.

Misconception: That the public funding that we receive covers our costs. We do get a substantial amount from state and county sources, but nowhere near the amount to meet the public need.

Around the corner: Sunny Hills is just starting the second year implementing a strategic plan - an effort to further define our theory of change to assure we have a real clear idea of our track and outcomes. Also, our Wine, Women & Shoes fundraiser will take place on Sept. 15. The event features a shopping marketplace, wine and food tasting, fashion show and more.

Personal insight

Personal path to nonprofit work: My path was certainly non-traditional. I spent 20-plus years in international banking and eventually joined the board of a small nonprofit group. I was totally hooked by the mission of furthering nonprofit efforts. I wanted to put my skills to work in the sector rather than just volunteer. Twelve years ago I joined Sunny Hills.

Most surprising aspect: That was going to be one of the most challenging jobs I've had. It was amazing how much of my business and banking experience I've used in managing this business. There is a lot of developing strategy and programs as well as the financial management.

Biggest pain: Never having enough hours in the day to do all the things I have on my to-do list.

Greatest pleasure: I work on the Sunny Hills Services main campus in San Anselmo and I get to see the kids from our therapeutic day school playing on the front lawn. When you see them playing with such abandon, you realize their potential for a better and brighter future.


Best recent moment: Sunny Hills Services just received a grant from Tipping Point Community. At their recent fundraising event, I got to see the outpouring of their support of the community as they raised more than $8 million.

Dream for another life: I play the piano a little and I would love the idea of being artist or performer in some capacity.

Greatest inspiration: I get inspired more by nature, beauty and music.

Causes: Social and economic justice such as access to affordable housing, and I am connected to the Humane Society.

Most like to meet: Warren Buffett. He is probably the person with the best grasp of the economy, business and market. Also Eleanor Roosevelt. She was an extraordinary woman, and I still have a thank-you letter she wrote to my grandmother that means a lot to me.

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