Dean Letter: Interview with Cheryl Wilson

Hello St. Paul’s.

One of St. Paul’s greatest success stories is the founding over 60 years ago of St. Paul’s Episcopal Home. For over half of its history, St. Paul’s Senior Services, as it’s now known, has been led by my friend and colleague Cheryl Wilson. Last week Cheryl and I sat down to talk about St. Paul’s Senior Services and to share some news. A transcript of our conversation follows.

Cheryl:                        Thank you, Dean Penny, and thank you for your friendship, and our relationship. I really appreciate being able to join you today. Yes, I was born in Australia as a member of the Church of England, born and raised in the church and came to America, joined Christ Church with my husband, had our children baptized there, our grandchildren baptized there. We feel very blessed to be a part of the Episcopal Church and we have our niche at the cathedral. So we’re going to be able to for eternity, enjoy the beautiful music and the wonderful sermons from the cathedral.

SPSS’s Vision statement says that we envision a world where seniors have options as to where and how they live. We also have a mission statement, which is reviewed annually by the board. The last revision was 2018. And it says St. Paul’s is spiritually guided to help seniors lead enrich lives to excellent and innovative services. We also have guiding principles, which we as staff and everybody connected with St. Paul’s embrace and adhere to each and every day. I won’t go through those but we are guided by those guiding principles every day and in everything that we do.

Penny:             It’s great to see the spiritual ethos, carrying through all the years as the mission statement has been adapted and evolved. And it all started with some people from St. Paul’s parish didn’t it?

Cheryl:                        It certainly did. In the 1950’s Father Robinson established a need in the community for housing. And he went to 10 leaders of the congregation and those 10 men got together and spent years basically researching how we could solve the problem. And they came up with community living and the Manor was born. The Manor was built and opened in 1962. And soon thereafter, the Tower was built in 1967. They have been the backbone of our organization, and basically our flagship for the 60 plus years. So we have obviously grown since then: we now have 11 buildings. We serve over 1000 people in our PACE program. We serve over 600 people in our residential, skilled nursing, and our daycare centers. So when I came to St. Paul’s, we had a budget of $2 million. And we had we were serving 159 people. And so you can see that we have really grown over the 30 years since I’ve been here. It’s been a real blessing to serve more and more seniors.

Penny:            To say you have grown is an understatement. It’s an extraordinarily successful organization. It’s far outgrown its parent, the cathedral. I just want to summarize the current structure, the governmental structure, if you like. St. Paul Senior Services is still a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Paul’s Cathedral. And the Chapter is the sole member as we say; it’s of course a nonprofit organization. We have two Chapter members on the board and I as Dean serve as president of the board. And the head chaplain has been and still is an Episcopal priest. So there are still close ties, and there is this legal formal relationship that ties the cathedral and St. Paul’s Senior Services together.

These days the cathedral doesn’t have very much involvement in the day to day activities and operations. St. Paul’s is so well run, especially as we’ve seen during this pandemic: you have been much more successful than most elder residential organizations at keeping the COVID virus out. It’s been really impressive how you have led the organization in this crisis time. We want to do everything we can to support the continuing mission of St. Paul’s Senior Services. And the board is now proposing a change to the bylaws and to the structure of St. Paul’s. What does that mean?

Cheryl:                        We have a board committee called the Bylaws committee, made up of attorneys primarily. And on that committee, we have all members of very strong faith, and two members who are very strong in the Episcopal Church; they review the Bylaws on a regular basis. And currently, if the Bylaws are going to be changed, they do need to come to the Chapter for their approval. And so hence this conversation. The conversation for many, many years before I even came was the relationship between the church and the St. Paul’s Senior Services. And so now, we have grown with a budget of $131 million, as I said, 11 buildings serving many different populations. And it’s getting more and more difficult to explain the relationship when we go to ask for government money, county money, state federal money to support our programs, or outreach into the community. And they always want to see our bylaws, and the relationship has been a bit of a challenge to get some of the grants that we would like to have.

And so the Bylaws committee has looked at that, and they’re making a recommendation, that we change the relationship, just from the legal perspective, so that the sole member relationship would no longer be in effect, but that the spiritual and all of the other connections that we have –  board members from the cathedral, etc, etc, –  would remain the same, but that the sole member relationship would change. And again, it’s in order to enable us to grow even more and serve more people in the community. Fundraising, as we have always done to expand our programs, is getting more and more difficult. The bigger we get, the more fundraising we need. And the more expensive these programs are to produce. And you almost cannot do new programming and new buildings without some governmental support nowadays; and funders now. donors, large granting organizations and foundations want to know what the relationship is. And what if St. Paul’s board decided to do X? Does the Chapter have any right to come back and say, No, you can’t do X. And so there’s a little ambiguity there: that big foundations, you know, we’re going out to big foundations now for large grants. And they, they’re asking the questions. And in order to enable us to be able to continue to grow, to continue to serve, and really to fulfill the mission that Father Robinson envisioned way back when.

I walked father Robinson through the building about 25 years ago, before he passed away. And I asked him, you know, we went to several of the buildings that we had at that time and asked him,  Well, how do you think your baby’s doing? And he said, I think you’re doing great, but you need to keep doing it. There are more people to serve, don’t stop. So I took that as his blessing to expand and to grow. And I continue to take that as his exhortation for us to continue to serve more people.

Penny:             The need grows and grows. And I love the image that Father Robinson gave of the baby, because at 61 years old, it’s about time, I think, for the baby to grow up and leave home. And if the cathedral relationship is standing in the way of the mission of St. Paul’s Senior Services, we have to remedy that. I think this is a great time for us to be doing this, as the relationship is so good. And I think Chapter is, is very likely to approve a change that the board will propose.

Having sat on the board for nearly seven years, I know how it’s getting more and more difficult to provide that housing for seniors of modest means, and you have to be creative and inventive to find ways to do that. And to maintain the presence in Bankers Hill that means so much to so many, because it’s just a few blocks from the cathedral. So I’m excited about this possibility for St. Paul’s Senior Services and very supportive of it. There are other churches too for whom St. Paul Senior Services means a lot. I know that St. James’ and St. Peter’s and Christ Church Coronado have all been very significant sponsors of the financial needs, the chaplaincy program, and so forth. Do you think that will change?

Cheryl:                        I do not think that will change; those relationships are very solid. Their commitment to St. Paul’s over the many years has been amazing. And we can count on them. And we know that they’re there for us. And they pray for us also, you know, the priests are wonderful friends. And that relationship will continue on, I’m absolutely sure.

Penny:             as long as it’s St. Paul’s, there’s an obvious connection, which of which we are all extremely proud. We’re so glad to share the name. Is there anything you’d like to say about what comes next for St. Paul’s Senior Services? And how can we help?

Cheryl:                        Well, thank you, we are continuing to explore opportunities for expansion. Right now, looking at St. Paul’s Manor, which is 61 years old, we have to do some major thinking about that building and what the future holds for that building. And we’re in the planning phases and stages. Again, fundraising is very difficult, to raise money to support the renovation, or reimagine that building. But that’s on the cards and right in front of us. We’ve also been invited to establish a PACE center up in Redondo Beach, by a community group up there. We’ve also been invited to look north of us to establish establishing additional service programs for seniors.

And right now we have two buildings in construction ready to open actually this year, with more homeless housing, with supportive services through PACE. So we’re very excited, we’ve got a lot scheduled. Again, we are open to meeting the needs of the community, we are a separate community-based 501c3 IRS designation. So we need to be responsive to the community, and we try to do that. We listen to the community, we have outreach where we have focus groups with the community (not so much in 2020). But hopefully again in 2021. And we do try to respond to the needs of the community. And not only the faith-based community and our churches and our friends, but also the wider community.

Penny:             St. Paul’s Senior Services is open to people of all faiths and no faith; it has never been restricted to Episcopalians. This shift in the relationship doesn’t have any direct financial consequences for either the Cathedral or St. Paul’s Senior Services. Our accounts have been totally separate for years. And we are, as I said, seeing this as an opportunity to let St. Paul’s Senior Services fly free. And from what you’ve just said the sky is the limit. Congratulations on the size of your vision and on the possibilities. It’s just extraordinary. And we all look forward to continuing to support St. Paul’s Senior Services and continuing to have this close relationship. I’m so thankful for your work and your leadership. And by the way, congratulations on your 50th wedding anniversary; that was very recent; another way in which you are a role model for many of us. So thank you so much, Cheryl and I appreciate this time with you. I look forward to what the future will hold. And for you, friends of St. Paul’s Cathedral and St. Paul Senior Services. Thank you for watching. Thank you for listening, and see you on Sunday.

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