Meet Allicia Graham Frye, chief executive officer of nonprofit Jonathan's Place, which helps child survivors of abuse, abandonment and neglect. Allicia not only oversees the daily operations of the facility, which includes an emergency shelter, but also spends time with the children being cared for each day. Allicia has spent her working career serving others; in part as vice president of support services at The Children's Shelter in San Antonio. When she moved to DFW she accepted a position that only served adults and found she missed working with children. When the opening at Jonathan's Place became available, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Allicia calls her current work both challenging and rewarding. We wanted to know more about her mission to help children in need and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Jonathan's Place.
Allicia Graham Frye: Jonathan’s Place helps children who have been victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect. We offer a full continuum of care with specialized treatment for physical, mental and emotional healing. Our programs include (1) Dallas County’s only emergency shelter that welcomes newborns to 17 year old victims of abuse; (2) a girls residential treatment program for girls 10 to 17 years old in need of therapeutic residential care; (3) a foster and adoption program where we recruit, train and support foster and adoptive families; and (4) a runaway prevention and outreach program, National Safe Place, designed to educate youth about abuse and provide access to immediate help and safety to those in crisis. On September 10, 1994, Jonathan’s Place opened as the first licensed foster group home in the State of Texas to focus on specialized services for children 11 years of age and younger, including newborns. In the fall of 1999, the license for Jonathan’s Place changed to an emergency shelter. Included is a picture of of Jonathan. Yes, the Jonathan of Jonathan’s Place. He was the first baby fostered by Lisa Matthews (pictured) and serves as the inspiration to help North Texas’ abused, abandoned and neglected children. Today, Jonathan is all grown up and doing wonderfully. We’ll stop ourselves before we get too sentimental. Just know there are thousands of children like him in Texas – and that’s why we keep going.
DT: What are your duties at Jonathan's Place?
AGF: At Jonathan’s Place, I oversee all of the day-to-day operations and strategic planning for the organization. While the management challenges facing a growing agency can be daunting, I make a point to spend time with the children in our care. I assist with back-to-school shopping, hangout with the children the game room, art therapy room, and library, but the most precious moments are when I just sit with a child and hear about their day. I find the moments spent with the children to be the most rewarding.
DT: How did you become involved with Jonathan's Place, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the center?
AGF: I moved to Dallas from San Antonio where I was the vice president of support services at The Children’s Shelter. I took a job with The Volunteer Center of North Texas but after a year I realized I really missed working with children. Around that time Jonathan’s Place was searching for a new Chief Executive Officer and I decided to apply. Although this has been one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had, it is also the most rewarding. There’s nothing better than looking out of my office window and seeing children playing and laughing all over our campus. Children, who just days or even minutes ago, were suffering from abuse and neglect. I am truly blessed.
DT: It can be difficult for older children in the foster care system to get adopted. Why is that and how do you begin to convince people to consider adopting an older child?
AGF: Many people have this preconceived notion that the older the child, the more difficult the behaviors. That is totally untrue. Many of our foster families who attend our trainings are convinced they want younger children that look just like them, and as they start working on their supervised observation hours in our emergency shelter, they realize that it doesn’t matter the age or ethnicity of a child. They realize that all children need safety, stability and to be loved. It’s amazing to watch that transformation.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
AGF: The State of Texas reimburses Jonathan’s Place for about 57 cents of every dollar it takes to care for care for abused children. We count on the generosity of thousands of donors every year to care for the abused and neglected children from 21 Texas counties.
DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
AGF: If I may be blunt, our biggest need is funding. We see so much need to help the abused children in North Texas. For example, with donor support, we are expanding our Foster Care & Adoption Department. Last year, there were 17,006 confirmed cases of child abuse in North Texas (CPS Region 3) alone. 3,609 children were removed from their home. In March 2014, there were a total of 3,435 children in foster care in North Texas, but only 2,085 beds in foster homes available. This left 1,350 children to live in shelters or outside the region. This new office and additional staff will help recruit, train and support foster families throughout North Texas and ensure abused children have a safe, loving place to call home. Your support helps us make investments that make a real difference in the lives of children.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Jonathan's Place?
AGF: My most memorable moment is a series of months where we had the opportunity to care for a senior in high school named Faith. At the age of five, when Faith should have been worried about what color crayon to use, she was worried about caring for her one year old sister. They were left home alone. After a teacher called Child Protective Services, they were placed with relatives. After nine years of bouncing between family members in multiple cities, she was reunited with her great-aunt, but the situation wasn’t any better. Their great-aunt refused to take medications to deal with multiple mental health disorders and could not meet the needs of Faith and her sister. Then, after attending four high schools in as many years, her great-aunt called the school last Spring and told them she didn’t want them anymore. With it being early in Faith’s last semester in high school, the Jonathan’s Place staff worked diligently to get her enrolled so she could graduate. That’s just the beginning of how your donations helped. Soon, it was time for prom season. Armed with donated gift cards and money available from gifts to our recreation fund, Jonathan’s Place I took Faith on a prom dress shopping trip to Macy’s, David’s Bridal, and Terry Costa. In just a few weeks after prom, she was walking across the stage at her graduation (wearing a cap and gown purchased with donations. Today, she’s living with her sister in a Jonathan’s Place foster home, working a part-time job in retail, and attending classes at Collin College. She plans to enter the highly-acclaimed music program at the University of North Texas. Faith has made an incredible impact on my life and strengthened my resolve to care for the abused and neglected children of North Texas. I wanted to share with you the opening paragraph she wrote for a scholarship application:
“Music is the mother I never had, the father that never existed, and the love I have been searching for just about all my life. Being neglected is a hard situation to conquer: Waking up knowing your Dad will not be there, skipping kindergarten so you can care for your baby sister, and later, wanting to become an adult but not having family to help you learn how to grow; no matter how much you change yourself for them to even like you. It makes you feel unwanted and unloved. I found a way to channel the hurt and pain through music.”
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
AGF: To be honest, I smile. Every time I walk on our campus I realize how a child’s life is being changed because we are here; because our community cares; because they are deserving of a safe, happy, and nurturing environment. Working at Jonathan’s Place has a way of making all your personal worries, obstacle, and/or drama seem like nothing in comparison to what our children have been through. Working at Jonathan’s Place puts everything in perspective.