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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 3:52 am | Fair 41º


CALM CEO Prepares to Retire From Long-held Post

After 31 years with nonprofit, Cecilia Rodriguez plans to pass the buck in December

Cecilia Rodriguez is retiring at the end of the year after eight years at the helm of Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) in Santa Barbara County. She began with the organization 30 years ago as a volunteer.
Cecilia Rodriguez is retiring at the end of the year after eight years at the helm of Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) in Santa Barbara County. She began with the organization 30 years ago as a volunteer. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The newspaper ad was tiny, but it caught the eye of Cecilia Rodriguez some 30 years ago.

CALM, a Santa Barbara nonprofit specializing in child-abuse prevention, was seeking volunteers to go out and speak about its mission.

With two young ones of her own at the time, Rodriguez saw the opportunity to get out of the house, to socialize and to focus on a project.

It took no more than one training session to convince her to devote her life to the belief that every child deserves to live in a safe home.

“It grabbed me,” said Rodriguez, who at 67 plans to retire as CALM CEO in December. “It wasn’t talked about so much then. Although, there are still people in Santa Barbara that think this isn’t happening.”

She’s come a long way since 1984, as has CALM, which was founded in 1970 and stands for Child Abuse Listening Mediation.

Rodriguez started as a volunteer educator, but worked her way up, taking over as CEO eight years ago, and helping the nonprofit establish critical treatment and prevention programs.

She prides herself on nurturing a CALM team that’s bilingual — about 70 percent of staff also speaks Spanish — and one that will continue caring for kids long after she leaves.

Leaving her fulfilling yet emotionally trying post never crossed Rodriguez’s mind until about a year ago, when her two adult children were rearing two babies of their own.

“After they were born, I started feeling the tug,” she told Noozhawk. “I just want to be with them. “I’m so grateful to have had such a fulfilling and rewarding career.”

CALM treats 2,000 children annually for trauma, 5,000 more in school prevention programs, and makes more than 900 home visits to new parents, typically with children from infancy to 5 years old.

Rodriguez feels she’s achieved her own mission, helping to raise awareness of the fact that not all parents are cut out for the gig or have adequate support.

“We do a lot of prevention,” she said. “We come from this belief that all parents love their children. Some parents don’t have the skills.”

The soft-spoken leader draws from her experience as a young parent, home alone with two kids and on the brink of losing her temper.

Everyone has the capacity to hit a child under the right circumstances, she said, even though we don’t like to think that.

“Being a parent was very challenging,” Rodriguez said, thinking of her daughter going through so-called terrible twos. “There were days where I’d have to send her to the neighbor’s because her room wasn’t far enough.”

Rodriguez, who grew up in Los Angeles but moved to Santa Barbara when she was 17, said locals became more vocal about child abuse in the 1980s after the Catholic Church sex scandals broke.

CALM helps victims of trauma — Rodriguez has served as a child forensic interviewer over 20 years — but the CEO emphasized prevention efforts, such as a program to help stabilize kids in foster homes.

Under her leadership, CALM created an intensive in-home parent-training program and an early prevention program in eight area preschools.

Because of Rodriguez’s thoughtful planning, the nonprofit opened offices in Santa Maria and Lompoc within the past five years, expanding the reach of its evidence-based strategies, said Ben Romo, executive director of First 5 of Santa Barbara County and a former CALM board member.

“CALM is such a standout organization in our community,” he said. “The reason CALM is so strong is because she’s investing in staff. At her core, she’s about helping people and helping people in meaningful ways.”

Rodriguez is just as complimentary of her employees, who she encourages to surround themselves with beauty outside of sometimes heartbreaking work.

Staff took the message to heart, making their boss a scrapbook of photos and thank-you notes to remind Rodriguez of her loves: children, gardening, yoga and traveling with her husband of 47 years.

CALM also created the Cecilia Rodriguez Child Abuse Treatment Fund in her honor, which will be used to treat victims of child abuse who can’t afford to pay for help. 

The hunt is on for Rodriguez’s successor, who will hopefully start in January and enjoy hanging out with kids as much as CALM’s departing leader.

“Now it’s time for me to go hang out with my own kids,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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