Dennis Agnos is the Chief Development Officer for Social Advocates for Youth (S.A.Y.)

•John Brodey
Happy Anniversary S.A.Y.
It was 50 years ago, almost to the day, when one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in Sonoma County opened its door. During those 50 years, S.A.Y. (Social Advocates for Youth) has grown to become an iconic symbol of community outreach and for good reason. In retrospect it’s hard to imagine that there were enough homeless youth in Sonoma County that long ago to warrant a dedicated program to their well-being. As we have often seen, however, such work never really gets to a point where it’s no longer needed. If anything, Dennis Agnos, the Chief Development Officer of SAY, acknowledges that the size and scope of services have grown in relation to need.
Homelessness has been around a long time but the threats homeless youth face have become more severe and life threatening. In fact, the number of those classified as Unaccompanied Children and Transition Aged Youth (657 total) is not only the largest category but it experiences the highest unsheltered rate. As of a year ago, 97%/93% of those two groups were unsheltered. This is probably a low figure as these children/young adults are invisible. They are not the ones with signs at intersections, they stay hidden where they feel safer and they avoid outside contact which renders them harder to count. They are the most vulnerable. The statistics, as Dennis explained to us at our weekly VOM Rotary Zoom call, are frightening. A full 37% have experienced some form of abuse and 33% have reported trading sex for a place to stay. Drugs and human trafficking as well as the difficulties associated with identifying as LGBTQ (one-third of them) make survival perilous. The vast majority have never known an adult they could trust.
With all this, it is encouraging to hear Dennis report that the number of clients has dropped this past year by 47%. The pandemic, in turn, has stressed their ability to serve their 3,000 clients a year. Their multi-layered focus on not just emergency shelter and permanent housing (for 109 youth), but also on providing psychological/grief counseling, crisis stabilization, health care and educational/career guidance. Dennis went on to describe how they have had to adopt a Pandemic Pivot that has impacted their operation and its several different locations like the Dream Center and Coffee House Teen Shelter. They have had to reboot and switch service interfaces to things like ‘tele-health therapy sessions’ instead of in person visits.
They are rising to the occasion, but one vital area defies a solution…fundraising. With an annual budget of $7 million, 22% of that money comes from the community through donations. The usual fundraising events like our Rotary Crab Feed will not happen this year and that presents real challenges not just for our club which has supported SAY for a decade but it also impacts these organizations’ ability to raise funds directly from the public. We hope you will mark April 17th on your calendar as there will be a ‘drive-through’ event at the Dream Center. You won’t find a better or more meaningful cause to support. Please email Susan Boyle at susan.boyle@saysc.org or dennis.agnos@saysc.org for more details.

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