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Santa Maria Celebrates Merger of Nonprofit Agencies Serving Families

Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center retiring executive director Judi Nishimori's life's work honored during community reception

Family Service Agency board member Cole Kinney, left, watches as Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center executive director Judi Nishimori presents Steven DeLira with a trash grabber during a recent open house. DeLira was hired to lead the newly merged agency as its deputy executive director. Nishimori joked that he will inherit her duties as the organization’s official trash collector when she retires at year’s end. Click to view larger
Family Service Agency board member Cole Kinney, left, watches as Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center executive director Judi Nishimori presents Steven DeLira with a trash grabber during a recent open house. DeLira was hired to lead the newly merged agency as its deputy executive director. Nishimori joked that he will inherit her duties as the organization’s official trash collector when she retires at year’s end. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

Community leaders and residents gathered in Santa Maria last week to celebrate the recent merger of the Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center and Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County, as well as the upcoming retirement of the center’s longtime executive director.

After 39½ years with the nonprofit Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center, Judi Nishimori will retire from her position with the nonprofit agency at year’s end.

The native Santa Marian said the time is right to pass the torch to a younger generation to lead the center, which Nishimori helped grow into what it is today.

“With the merger of the agencies, it solidifies the presence of the Youth & Family Center,” she told Noozhawk. “And it really broadens out the services we can provide between FSA and Santa Maria countywide, so it makes us more competitive in the bidding process.”

The Youth & Family Center aims to provide a “comprehensive continuum of quality, affordable, accessible and culturally competent prevention, intervention and treatment services to youth and their families to improve the overall quality of their lives.”

Family Service Agency works to improve the health and well-being of the county’s most vulnerable children, families and seniors by providing them with access to food, shelter and other basic needs.

Established in 1899, the organization also provides youth mentoring, case management, substance abuse treatment, advocacy and a wide array of mental health programs.

Judi Nishimori speaks during a recent open house at the Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center, which merged with the Family Service Agency. Click to view larger
Judi Nishimori speaks during a recent open house at the Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center, which merged with the Family Service Agency. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

Because the organizations share similar missions and cultures, leaders say it was a perfect fit to join the two agencies, allowing individuals in both the North County and on the South Coast easier access to services, most of which are now available countywide.

“When we interviewed Family Service Agency, it was like a family reunion,” Terri Zuniga, who sits on the Youth & Family Center’s board of directors, said about selecting FSA to help the center in its next phase of growth.

“It was such an easy fit.”

The merger officially happened in July, and the Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center name is continuing to be used in the Santa Maria Valley to allow the center to maintain its identity.

Zuniga said the merger also provides greater financial stability and organizational efficiency for the two agencies, which, in turn, provides an opportunity to positively affect thousands of children, families and individuals countywide.

Nishimori said with the new leadership of Lisa Brabo, Family Service Agency executive director, and Steven DeLira, its deputy executive director, the organization can’t be left in better hands.

“This is the time,” she said about retiring. “I can leave without having any fear of losing anything we gained in the last 40 years.”

During Monday’s celebration, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino presented Nishimori with a proclamation honoring her life’s work in the Santa Maria Valley. It’s estimated she has affected 5,000 to 10,000 people a year since starting her career with the center.

Interim Santa Barbara County Chief Probation Officer Beverly Taylor signs a retirement/thank you card for Judi Nishimori. Click to view larger
Interim Santa Barbara County Chief Probation Officer Beverly Taylor signs a retirement/thank you card for Judi Nishimori. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

When Nishimori started her career with the Family & Youth Center, the organization employed eight people and had a $750,000 budget. Today, the center employs 60 and has a budget of $3 million.

“Can anybody actually say they have been in one job for 39 years?” asked Cole Kinney, Youth & Family Center/FSA board co-president. “That is just amazing.”

Since the merger, services provided by both agencies have also continued as normal, and no jobs or programs were cut.

Family Service Agency is now able to now serve the county with program sites in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe.

“(The merger) benefits the community because it creates a greater stability across the organization as a whole,” Brabo said. “There isn’t going to be a lot of spikes and dips in services. We can keep them constant.

“It also brings a lot of expertise together.”

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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