Little has changed on the Greece campus of St. Joseph's Villa of Rochester in the decades since it was built, but within the walls there has been a flurry of transformation over the past two years.
Spurred by a change in the state's reimbursement for residential services, the non-profit organization has begun a shift toward more specialized programs for youths. That push is being led by a new president and CEO, Christina Gullo.
Gullo is no stranger to change. As the chief operations officer at the Catholic Family Center, she saw firsthand the effect that state budget cuts were having on human service organizations. In her final two years there, she helped craft a strategic plan to address those issues, aiming for more measurable outcomes and higher efficiency in client services.
At St. Joseph's Villa, state funding changes have led to a decrease in residential services and an increase in short-term programs for specific needs. Gullo must now lead the organization away from its traditional residential services and find new uses for its sprawling campus with four cottages and other buildings.
"It's been a big philosophical shift," says Gullo, 41. "But even though we now have some different services, we're still taking the same approach."
Gullo took over in November 2010, succeeding the retiring Roger Battaglia, who spent 27 years with St. Joseph's Villa. She leads an agency with more than $20 million in revenue and 350 total employees, one that works with more than 2,000 at-risk youths and families each year.
Gullo came to St. Joseph's Villa with a background that combined clinical expertise and knowledge of the administrative side of non-profits. She started her career with CFC in 1994, taking a position as a social worker with a plan to step out on her own after a few years.
"I had just graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a bachelor's degree, and my plan was to spend five years at an organization and then do private practice, but I became a social worker working with children and families, and I loved it," she says.
After five years as a social worker at CFC, Gullo moved into the administrative side as human resources manager. She welcomed this change, using her knowledge of the clinical operations as she led staff development. It was also at this time that the organization merged with Family Services of Rochester.
In her new position Gullo saw a need for improving the marketing functions within CFC, so she enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology to earn her executive MBA. She moved into upper management at the organization, first as vice president of human resources, then senior vice president of programs and strategy and chief strategy officer. In 2010 she became executive vice president and chief operating officer.
This all-encompassing skill set represents the evolution of the non-profit leader, says Carolyn Portanova, president and CEO of CFC. Portanova plans to retire at the end of the year after 21 years as president.
"In the old days of human service non-profits, we only thought about the mission, but now we think about the mission and the margins," Portanova says. "In today's economic climate you need someone who has the business skills to lead an organization."
Just before the recession hit, Gullo crafted a plan to improve external marketing at CFC, one that would put the organization in a better position for funding requests. The plan included strengthening the message about what the organization did.
"Catholic Family Center is very diversified with what it does, so we needed people to understand what our core services were," Gullo says.
The reorganization took the CFC's 12 departments and merged them into four: substance abuse, children and families, workforce development and services for the aging. The organization also shored up its billing procedures and recruitment and retention.
Because it implemented this shift just before the economy soured, CFC was in a better position to seek grants and serve its clients as funding tightened, Gullo says.
"This was a significant help in getting grants, and because we were better organized, we could take people who were receiving one service and introduce them to another if they needed it," she says.
Originally, Gullo had no intention of leaving the Catholic Family Center, but when the CEO job opened up at St. Joseph's Villa, she jumped at the chance to lead an organization and return to working closely with parents and children.
Gullo came to St. Joseph's Villa just as the state was pushing the most significant shift in human services organizations in decades. It had long funded residential programs for the developmentally disabled or troubled youths, but now it has moved funds toward more community-based services.
"At St. Joseph's Villa, it was not uncommon for a youth to be here one or two years, if not longer, and then move on to group settings," Gullo says. "But now that the change has happened, they're saying maybe it's not so good to have them in residential settings for so long, and instead want them to move out into the community and with their families much sooner."
Clients are expected to spend no more than six months in residential settings before moving to other programs, she notes. For an organization that did the bulk of its work in keeping young adults in cottage-style residences, the new system meant major change.
Gullo joined St. Joseph's Villa in the midst of an agencywide reduction, and the organization cut nearly 40 percent of its beds, going to 48 from 76. Four group homes closed as well.
The closures have meant a decrease in revenue, and to streamline the organization and make up for a history of shifting employees rather than reducing staff when other programs ended, St. Joseph's Villa cut its workforce by 25 positions in the past year.
These consolidations and the sale of its group homes have helped the organization save $1 million, Gullo says. The larger problem that remains, Gullo says, is the size of the St. Joseph's Villa campus. Built as an orphanage, the grounds contain many now-empty residential buildings.
Some new programs have been introduced to fill the space, Gullo says, allowing St. Joseph's Villa to extend its reach with the community it serves. The organization started a six-bed program for youths with eating disorders, Harmony Place, and has been approved for a respite care program for parents and youths.
"For us, the key to the future is diversification of our programs," Gullo says.
In Monroe County the shift from residential services has been taking place for six years, says Barbara Malley, director of client services and programming at St. Joseph's Villa. As a result the agency has been building up its community services.
"When I started at the Villa as director of community services in 1995, I had a staff of about 13 total and probably about 75 families," Malley says. "Now we have about 45 staff members in community services and just under 400 youth and families who we serve."
Aside from its new programs, St. Joseph's Villa has brought some off-site programs onto the main campus in Greece. It operated a day school in another building for which the Villa paid rent and busing of students, but it moved the school into an unoccupied building and had students bused there instead. The organization also consolidated its two off-site locations for community services into one building.
More changes are expected. At the beginning of next year the total bed count on the main campus will drop to 36, and Medicaid reform could shift funding to an HMO model, removing the county as the referring agency for clients.
"It's an interesting time to be dealing with funding challenges and starting all these new programs," Gullo says. "But in order to keep up, an organization has to be always moving and changing. If you don't, you'll just be trying to catch up the whole time."
Gullo sees her background as the new standard for the leader of a non-profit organization-someone with experience in both the nuts-and-bolts side of working in programs and knowledge of the business and administrative functions.
"More than ever, the whole spectrum of non-profits needs people who are versed in HR, financial planning, marketing and still understand how things work on the clinical side," Gullo says.
It is also important to understand where the non-profit sector is headed and how trends in fundraising and grants will affect organizations, she says. That Gullo does not come with a specific expertise in residential programs is good for the agency, Malley says, because it allows her to look at issues with a clear perspective.
"She has a lot of years of experience with programs in the community and really understands the importance of the Villa being more than 3300 Dewey Avenue," Malley says.
Gullo also strives to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the organization's initiatives, using the balanced scorecard evaluation system to put hard numbers to the many programs and aspects of care. These measurements will be important as St. Joseph's Villa competes for a shrinking amount of funding from the state.
"It's sometimes hard for us to track success and our long-term impact, because when a lot of families leave our care, they tend to drift away," Gullo says. "We need to do a better job of getting our arms around those long-term results."
To better convey the new image of St. Joseph's Villa as an agency branching out beyond residential services, Gullo created a 12-person team to address strategies for the future. This team collected data on program outcomes and is working on a revised mission and vision statement.
Within the organization Gullo aims to bring down barriers and keep all employees focused on the future. She admits there is some internal work to do, such as getting all employees on an email system.
"We need to move people out of their silos to work together and see how all the areas we work in affect each other," Gullo says.
A good leader must empower an organization's employees to step out and make their own decisions, something Gullo says she has tried to instill at St. Joseph's Villa.
"I spent the summer here talking to the staff and honestly asking if they felt these areas of focus for us were growth areas," Gullo says. "It's been a big shift for us to take our core of residential services and move it to include many new and different services, and that's been a difficult shift for many people involved with the organization."
At CFC, Gullo displayed an uncanny ability to bring employees together behind her leadership, Portanova says.
"From her days as a social worker I could see that she had the capabilities and experience to be a great leader," she says. "I thought to myself, 'This is a young woman who will be moving up. She has the focus and knows exactly what it is she needs to do.'"
Gullo earned accolades for her work at CFC, being named to the Rochester Business Journal's Forty Under 40 in 2005.
Gullo says she will fall back on her experience from CFC in achieving a sense of unity among employees at St. Joseph's Villa. She attends to her own development as well, remaining active in the Society for Human Resource Management and the statewide Alliance for Children & Family.
Personal time is also important: She devotes weekends to her family, spending time traveling with her husband, daughter and two step-children. Gullo also enjoys exercise, which she describes as her chanceto step away from the pressure and responsibility of her everyday life. And after getting married, moving into a new house in Webster and starting a new job-all in less than a year-Gullo says this time is more important than ever.
Ultimately, Gullo says, she strives to be a strong and decisive leader for the organization, one who can inspire the same kind of risk taking in employees.
"People need to see and understand the vision in an organization; otherwise they can become fearful, which paralyzes them," Gullo says. "Unless it's something that hurts the youth we serve or goes against our values, I want our employees to take risks and trust each other."
Position: President and CEO, St. Joseph's Villa of Rochester
Education: B.A. in psychology, SUNY College at Geneseo, 1992; master of social work, Marywood University, Scranton, Pa., 1994; executive MBA, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2005
Family: Husband John Mueller; daughter Alexandra, 7; stepdaughter Shannon, 22; stepson Patrick, 20
Activities: Travel, exercise
Quote: "It's been a big philosophical shift. But even though we now have some different services, we're still taking the same approach."
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