Oscar de la Torre (File photo)
Oscar de la Torre (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
Oscar de la Torre (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

PICO BLVD — The head of an embattled youth organization stepped down from the top job this week, just as city officials released details about a competitive bidding process that could reassign the group’s funding to another institution.

Oscar de la Torre, long-time youth advocate and school board member, will continue to serve the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC) as its interim executive director until its Board of Directors chooses his permanent replacement.

He will then transition into a consultant role, and focus on PYFC’s programs and fundraising.

“In my new role, I will support the board and staff to ensure PYFC lives up to our mission statement,” de la Torre said. “I’m charged with supporting best practices in direct services and leadership development for marginalized youth and families.”

He will also mentor the new executive director, when he or she is selected.

Although de la Torre is technically taking a step back, he still has the board’s confidence, said Leila Steinberg, a board member.

“Oscar is an excellent leader, role model and mentor to the youth that we serve,” she said. “We are fortunate that he has agreed to continue to support PYFC in his new role.”

Steinberg joined the board after half of the board members — including four in key leadership positions — left the organization en masse in late 2012, causing a disruption in the organization’s leadership at a critical time in which over $300,000 in municipal funding was in jeopardy.

de la Torre will also work directly with the board and a new hybrid organization of PYFC and another service provider that will be responding to City Hall’s request for proposals, a formal term for the process by which the organization will compete to keep that cash.

That money hung by a thread when the City Council put PYFC on notice in June 2012 for what staff described as internal weaknesses.

The council gave PYFC leadership six months to get its fiscal- and paperwork-house in order with the help of Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs, or SEE.

City officials returned to the City Council in December with a scathing report about the organization’s progress, highlighting the departure of the board members.

de la Torre disputes much of that report as inaccurate and biased.

Rather than strip PYFC of funding, the City Council voted to put $315,220 back up for bid and allow the organization to compete for it alongside any other nonprofit focused on at-risk youth.

That’s two years earlier than anticipated under the four-year grant funding cycle.

City officials have held at least one meeting in the community to gather criteria for the applying nonprofits so that they could get the requirements out in time to include the monetary request in upcoming budget discussions before the City Council, said Setareh Yavari, human services manager with City Hall.

Applications are due April 26 at 5 p.m., just over three weeks after the requirements are posted.

“The timing for this is to make sure it can be reviewed and rolled into our budget process,” Yavari said. “That’s why the turn around is based on a July 1 start.”

City Hall will release its recommendations for funding on May 20, and the City Council will adopt funding for the Human Services Grant Program on June 25.

The first day of the municipal fiscal year is July 1.

The document put out by City Hall is titled “Opportunity Youth in Santa Monica.”

Applicants must serve youth between 16 and 24 years of age in Santa Monica, at least half of which must be above the age of 18 and at risk of gang violence or incarceration.

Evidence gathered in the recent Youth Wellbeing Report Card and through police statistics caused City Hall to refocus its efforts to help young people get either a high school diploma or equivalent, prepare them for employment and develop programs that target self-confidence.

The chosen organization will have to accomplish those goals, and provide documentation showing that it is achieving progress on those fronts.

One of the chief complaints about PYFC was that it could not provide quantitative data to show how many kids it was helping and how effective its interventions were.

The April 26 deadline seemed fast to de la Torre, but PYFC has been holding meetings of its own to galvanize the youth and prepare for the application process.

The benchmarks described encompass things that PYFC is already doing, de la Torre said, and the organization is working hard to look at what other programs and practices it has that can be strengthened.

“We feel very comfortable, especially if we partner with an agency that has more capacity,” de la Torre said. “We feel our application will be competitive.”

PYFC is reaching out to Homeboy Industries and similar organizations to find a partner that can give it the institutional support it needs so that it can accomplish the mission-critical work with at-risk youth.




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