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This non-profit leader focuses on service

Family Service of Rochester Inc., one of Rochester’s lower profile non-profit organizations, is nearly 100 years old.
Gregory Langen, 53, has been president and CEO of the $5.5 million organization for 10 of those years. Despite lean times and dwindling resources, he takes the organization’s original mission-to work out plans for raising the needy above the need for relief and for helping the poor to help themselves-extremely seriously.
The community’s needs have changed since the agency was founded as United Charities in 1911. The organization was part of a wave of human service organizations inspired or cultivated by George Eastman in the early part of the 20th century.
United Charities, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, was an umbrella organization founded to coordinate a variety of smaller charities working to help the unemployed, those in poverty and families left by men gone to war overseas, an account by former Rochester historian Blake McKelvey states.
The agency eventually turned its fund-raising arm over to what is now the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and focused on coordinating and providing human services.
“Since then we have merged with other agencies and we’ve been through various iterations,” Langen says. “But basically we’ve always been the safety net for people experiencing some kind of trouble in their lives.”
Now the agency’s mission statement sounds less patronizing-to promote a nurturing community that enables vulnerable families and individuals to thrive throughout their lives.
“Our agency has morphed over the decades and now we’re a multiservice agency providing all sorts of things,” Langen says. “We try to fill niches. That’s
really our specialty, doing things that other people are not doing or we can do in some unique better way.”
Family Service offers 24 programs for children, adults, families and seniors, including child abuse prevention, drug prevention counseling, pediatric foster care, legal guardianship, intensive psychiatric rehabilitation, a mental health clinic, a sexual abuse program and housing-assisted living and licensed home health care.
But like all local non-profit agencies, funding has become a huge problem.
“We have taken a 25 percent cut in county funding, which was about 40 percent of our budget,” Langen says.
And like other agencies with programs that partly are funded by Medicaid, the lack of an increase in Medicaid dollars hits Family Service in the pocketbook.
“Our enriched-housing program is working with the same dollar it was in 1988,” he says.

Cutting costs

To cope, the agency has had to freeze salaries and reduce employment from 127 in 2001 to 100 today. All management took 10 percent salary cuts in fiscal 2001 and wages have been frozen since.
The agency had 20,000 clients in 2001 and now has some 18,000. Programs have been merged or cut, but still caseworkers have more cases to handle than they did a few years ago, Langen said.
“We look under every rock to find ways to cut costs without cutting services,” Langen says. “And even with doing those things we’ve had to increase caseloads and that kind of thing, which we’re not happy about.
“But we’re still here and still serving people.”
Family Service board member Christopher Wiedemer sees Langen as a virtual magician.
“This guy continues to amaze me at how well he keeps this boat afloat,” Wiedemer says. “He’s been so creative at managing at a time when non-profits and for-profits are going under.”
Langen’s role too has had to expand as funds have been cut.
“I’m now really the jack of all trades,” he says. “All of the people left here are doing several jobs.”
He is chief administrator, strategist, fund raiser and webmaster.
“I can’t say we’re doing everything as well as we did when we had all these people devoting full time to all these functions. But it’s been the only way we can survive,” he says.
Family Service charges clients for some services-mental health counseling, for example-with fees based on their ability to pay. In fiscal 2003, fees raised some $2.8 million for the organization.
Roughly 25 percent of Family Service’s work is with children, Langen says.
“We have a specialty program on sexually abused kids,” he says. “It’s kids who are identified by the county as being at risk of foster care, are physically or sexually abused. We try to stabilize the family and get those kids in a safe situation and keep them out of foster care, which is a far more expensive situation.”
Another third of the agency’s work involves mental health services, including a clinic, chemical dependency program and an intensive psychiatric outpatient program.
The agency also has legal guardianship or is representative payee for 1,000 people. When adults are deemed by the courts as unable to manage their own affairs, due to mental illness or other disability, Family Service receives whatever government money the clients are entitled to, pays the rent and other bills, makes sure food is available, then doles out an allowance on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.
“These are people we keep off the street in many cases,” Langen says. “We have people who used to live under the Broad Street Bridge now living in safe housing.
“Some people stop by once a day for their spending money because if we gave them more than a day’s worth of cash they would lose it or misuse it,” he says. “We have a terrific track record. We lose almost nobody once they get in our care, because it’s a much better life to have a roof over your head and food in your stomach.”
The balance of the agency’s work deals with senior citizens.

Senior efforts

For 23 years, the agency has run a state-licensed enriched-housing program for low-income seniors. It operates 86 residential units in three Rochester Housing Authority buildings.
The residents in these apartments receive Supplemental Security Income from the federal government and funding from the United Way and Family Service.
“They get three meals a day, an independent apartment, personal care and household chore service, transportation to doctors and recreation programs,” Langen says.
“It lets frail elderly people who don’t have family supports live with some dignity. And it costs a total of $46 a day for each client. It keeps people out of higher levels of care, which would end up costing the taxpayers more money.”
Family Service also runs a nutrition site at Monroe Community Hospital.
The agency’s newest project for seniors is targeting a slightly higher income demographic. There is a gap in senior housing in the Rochester area, Langen says.
The well-off can afford the high fees for many of the private-pay facilities. And low-income seniors receive subsidies for their housing needs.
But moderate-income seniors, who may live on $30,000 a year, do not qualify for government help. With limited resources they may not be able to afford a private-pay facility when they become frail and require daily help.
The new project, which Langen smiles broadly about when he discusses, is the Northfield Senior Living Facility. The $7.2 million project is being constructed on property donated by the Fairport Baptist Home Care Ministries on Nine Mile Point Road in Perinton.
Northfield’s one- and two-bedroom apartments each will have a full kitchen, dining room and bath. The building has shared spaces, including lounges, a central dining area, recreation areas, a hair salon, outdoor walking areas and parking.
The Baptist Homes will provide Northfield residents with three meals a day, housekeeping, laundry and transportation services. Also included are 24-hour medical emergency and medication services, security and recreational activities.
One-bedroom apartments with rent, meals and all services will cost from $2,400 to $2,550 a month; two bedrooms will run $2,800 a month.
“It’s intended that all their needs can be met with their current income, so no
Medicaid is needed,” Langen says. “They can pay their own way-it’s dignified, respectful and very efficient.”
Pulling together projects like Northfield and a similar one in Henrietta called Brentwood are the best part of his job, Langen says.
“This kind of project-it’s entrepreneurial, risk-taking, out-of-the-box thinking. It’s developing relationships with not just the non-profit world but people in all the professional sectors,” he says.
“A lot of what I do day-to-day is nickel-and-diming and doing more with less. But this kind of stuff is so rewarding because you’re fulfilling a need, which the social worker in me really loves, and can help with major issues like Medicaid costs. It’s just a thrill.”

Starting in high school

Langen decided to become a social worker in 1969 as a teenager at Greece Olympia High School. Michael Boyar, now deceased, was executive director of Jewish Family Service of Rochester Inc. and he visited the high school for a career day program.
“He talked about what social work was like. And at that time my favorite song was ‘We Can Change the World’ and I just wanted to help make the world a better place. After the assassinations and everything else I just wanted to help,” Langen says.
After graduating in 1973 from SUNY Buffalo with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology, Langen went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University in 1975.
From Syracuse University, he went to work as a program director for a Syracuse alcohol and drug abuse education program, then was a team leader for the Child and Family Service of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
During that time he met and married Anita Boyar, the daughter of Michael Boyar, who had first introduced him to social work. And in 1984, Langen became a director, then executive director of Rochester’s Jewish Family Service, where Boyar had worked in 1969.
“(Boyar) never knew any of this because he died before it all happened, but he made a major impact on my life in a lot of ways,” Langen says.
While at the Jewish Family Service, Langen increased the agency’s budget from $308,000 to more than $1 million and increased the endowment by 83 percent.
Langen and his wife have been married for 30 years. They live in Pittsford and have two sons, Rob, 21, and Michael, 17.
The couple traveled extensively before they had their children, touching down in Europe, Egypt and Israel and camping in 49 states.
“Now we’re rediscovering our traveling bug,” Langen says.
This past summer they went camping in Alaska and plan a trip “someplace warm” this winter, Langen says.
One of the most memorable warm weather trips they have had was staying in a tree house on the back side of Maui.
“You’re overlooking the volcano, the Pacific Ocean,” he says. “You feel like Robinson Crusoe.”

The big picture

But the travel bug should not get in the way of Langen’s plans for the future of Family Service. Staff recently went through a strategic planning process.
“We decided to just let go and come up with what we called some big, hairy, outrageous goals,” Langen says. “We decided we want to become the provider of choice for funders, we want to be the employer of choice so we can attract the best staff, and the charity of choice, the one people think of when they want to donate.”
Part of making all that work is creating an endowment to keep the agency from its dependence on outside funding.
“We’re breaking even and muddling along, but we’ve never really invested in an endowment,” Langen says.
Family Service traditionally has kept a low profile with regard to publicity, partly to keep costs down, he says.
“We have a long history of plowing every dollar we can back into services. We’ve tried celebrity luncheons and we’d bring in $40,000, spend $20,000 to do it, and probably that much more in staff time. So it was not really netting much of anything.
“And we thought there might be some benefit in the name recognition, but we were never able to find any significant number of new clients we served or new donors we brought in because of dinners or tournaments or that kind of thing.”
But the situation likely will change in order to create an endowment.
“We need something to lean on in these times,” he says.
The other method of reaching those goals is partnering with other agencies, he says.
“By developing the right relationships with the right agencies, we can do it,” he says. “Discussions are happening and I am very hopeful.”
Family Service has a contract with Catholic Family Center and Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. for case management for the elderly in public housing. The agency partners with Monroe Community Hospital for its nutrition program and with local schools for drug prevention services.
“Greg and I have worked very closely through the years,” says Carolyn Portanova, CFC’s president and CEO. “I have found him always open to collaboration and not all CEOs are like that.
“He is always looking for new and creative ways of doing things.”
In addition, Family Service has been accredited nationally and is helping to teach other agencies how to assess their practices and improve their services.
Rochester’s economy has changed dramatically in the last few years, and non-profit funding likely will remain tight, Langen says.
“I think in five years, there will be fewer non-profits in this town. I’d rather be part of the wave that talks about the best way we can work together rather than be forced into it or not be here at all.”
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

12/10/04 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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