Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Skotnicki.
Laura, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My family relocated to Arizona from Illinois when I was a year old so you can probably call me a native. I grew up in Chandler and graduated high school from Chandler High School. I attend Arizona State University and graduated in 1990 with a BS in Family Studies and Child Development. While in college I worked numerous jobs in retail including working at a shoe store, working for a whole sale pewter company and several hotels. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go with my degree so I took a job managing a book store. While working at the bookstore I began researching non-profit positions and teaching positions while volunteering in the community.
A few days later I received a “blind” call from a company requesting I come in for an interview. I went to interview and found out I was interviewing for Save the Family. After growing up in the east valley all of my life I was shocked to learn that Save the Family served homeless families with children. I had no idea there were homeless families throughout the community. I am sad to say, I was oblivious that family homelessness was an issue. I had experience volunteering in a domestic violence shelter and I was aware families lived in poverty, but I was shocked by the reality.
Save the Family was honest and indicated they did not know when their funding would be awarded. At that time, Save the Family had no support programs for the adults or children and I was very interested in working with the children. At that time, Save the Family was a small non-profit with only 3 full-time employees and one part-time grant writer. I decided to start volunteering for the agency. My volunteer work included sorting food and clothing, helping prepare housing units for families to move into their transitional housing units and within a month I was trained to do intake interviews and work as a case manager to ease the case load of the one case manager. As a volunteer I had a case load of five families. Within 8 months Save the Family received additional funding and I was asked to come onto the staff full-time. I loved working as a case manager getting to work with families to help them with becoming self-sufficient however, within five years I was getting restless for a change and as opposed to looking for another job I decided to go back to school and obtained a Master in Counseling degree from the University of Phoenix. While juggling working full-time and attending school full-time I also completed a counseling internship with another local health care company whose mission was to assist low income women. For the next two years I worked to obtain my state and local certification as a counselor.
Within Save the Family, I moved into working with the homeless teens. I developed and taught curriculums to assist teens in their personal development including avoiding Teen Dating Violence, how to Navigate College, and worked with the school district to help our teens identify a career path. I matched Save the Family’s homeless youth with extra-curricular programming in the community to help them expand their skills and achieve their goals.
From there, I became the Parent and Child Education Coordinator. I would work with parents to assess their strengths and weaknesses in parenting. I helped develop teaching curriculums for family programming and teaching parenting classes. Within a couple of years, I changed positions again and became the Director of Case Management. It was during this position that I was asked to start contributing knowledge and information for grants. Eventually it just became easier for me to start develop a grant from start to finish. I love numbers and data and I was able to integrate the goals and successes of our programming into grant opportunities. Eventually I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer. I am currently responsible for all writing and monitoring all of Save the Family’s city and federal contracts, managing compliance issues and handling HR functions for the agency.
Working in social services is a lot like working in education. You may not know the impact of your work until months or years later. One of my greatest joys is bumping into people in the community who I have had the pleasure of assisting throughout my tenure with the agency and hearing their stories of success or sometimes even setbacks, but they always say I treated them with respect and dignity.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
From the outside looking in-others may have found my road smooth. I would not characterize anybody’s path as smooth but bumpier or with a lot of twists and turns. During my time at the agency, I have had my own personal successes and struggles. I am blessed to be married with one child-a daughter age 15. When our daughter was born, she almost died. She spent two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and has a permanent injury from the experience-a left brachial-plexus injury. She has experienced five major surgeries starting at age 4 months-all out of state (Texas and Massachusetts) due to the nature of her injury.
I have also lost several family members during my tenure including both of my brothers to terminal illnesses and a cousin to suicide. What I have learned through my own personal struggles and through working with families at Save the Family who have their own personal struggles is that everyone needs help navigating life or the various “systems” in our community (social services, employment, education, the health care industry, etc.). I have been blessed in my life to have had many positive female role models (starting with my mother and daughter) and have had the opportunity to participate in several impactful programs including: Gilbert Leadership and the Bank of America Emerging Leader Program. One thing that always resonated with me was something a good friend/co-worker once told me “it is not the problem/issue that defines you but how you react to it. Once kicked you can stay down or find a way to get back up.”
My advice for young women is to volunteer in the community. Try a diverse number of activities/causes in the community. Surround yourself with a group of mentors or friends who you can consult with on decisions in your life.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Save the Family – what should we know?
Save the Family’s mission is to equip families to address poverty and overcome homelessness. Save the Family has been serving homeless families with children for more than 30 years. Founded in 1988, Save the Family was created to help homeless families become self-sufficient. In 1989, the agency acquired four housing units and served the first four families, who were referred from a local domestic violence shelter.
As research and knowledge into homeless best practice services has expanded and improved so has Save the Family’s continuum of housing services to include long-term shelter, rapid rehousing, Supportive Services for Veteran Families, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing through our affiliate ARM of Save the Family. These services are supported by an array of supportive services for adults and children. Save the Family is utilizing national best practices of focusing on data, assessment and housing coupled with wraparound services.
In addition, early on, Save the Family recognized the need for services beyond just housing. The agency offered the first adult and children’s education programming in 1991. Adult classes centered on parenting and personal growth and development, while children’s classes offered expressive art activities, aimed at assisting children with sharing their experience of homelessness. Program services for adults and youth continued to grow and now include career development, financial planning, education and support for domestic violence, tutoring, after-school classes and tuition dollars for summer camps and extracurricular activities.
Although Save the Family was born out of a need in the east valley, Save the Family assists families throughout Maricopa County and served 688 homeless and low income families this past year consisting of over 2,337 adults and children with the average age of our clients being just 6 years old. In our 30 years, Save the Family has served thousands of families.
Which women have inspired you in your life?
Many women have inspired me in my life. First and foremost, my mother. I grew up in a single parent household, the youngest of three children. My mother worked throughout my life, working any shift necessary to provide for my brothers and I. One thing I knew growing up was that it wasn’t a choice for me, I had to go to college. Although my mother completed Junior College, I was the first in my immediate family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. My mother taught me to have a strong work ethic. She taught me that no job is too small. That as a leader you have to be willing to “roll up your sleeves” and be willing to do any job you are asking one of your employees to complete.
Secondly, my daughter has inspired me. When I see the struggles, she has grappled with and overcome usually with a smile it is inspirational. She is able to balance independence with the ability to ask for help when needed which can be hard for some people.
Finally, I have been inspired by the many colleagues and clients I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from over my career. I have been blessed.
- Address: 125 E. University Drive
Mesa, AZ 85201
- Website: www.savethefamily.org
- Phone: 480-898-0228
- Email: Lauras@savethefamily.org
- Instagram: @savethefamily
- Facebook: @savethefamilyaz
- Other: Linkedin: @savethefamilyfoundationofaz
Representative Matt Salmon, Joan Service, Jacki Taylor, Bryson May, Nicky Stevens, Roger Peck