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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, August 17, 2001

Urban Ministry to join InnVision Urban Ministry to join InnVision (August 17, 2001)

Services for needy to broaden; current director resigns

by Bill D'Agostino

Urban Ministry of Palo Alto announced this week that it has begun partnering with San Jose-based InnVision, a similar but larger social services agency. The move is designed to bring stability to the group, which for years has been struggling with leadership turnover and funding problems.

Urban Ministry board chairman Gerry Sarnat stopped short of saying the two groups had merged, preferring to call it "partnering." He said the group is "confident that this strategic partnership provides a major step forward" in reaching the goal of improving services to the homeless and needy.

The statement was made alongside the announcement that Executive Director Ross Winetsky had resigned.

Despite telling the Weekly in January 2001 that "I'm here to stay," Winetsky's tenure as executive director lasted just under 11 months. He was Urban Ministry's fifth director in five years.

Winetsky, a singer-songwriter who plays the piano and guitar, left Urban Ministry to pursue a musical career in Nashville, Tenn. One of his songs is an up tempo number about homelessness called "Hanging Out in the Shelter."

Winetsky said that his decision to leave "comes at a good time, coincidentally but positively," for the group, which in the last few months has been fending off a crisis due to the downturn in the economy -- demand for services has been increasing while donations have been decreasing.

"Better serving the needs of the homeless remains a priority of mine," Winetsky said, "and I am confident that the restructuring of Urban Ministry will work toward that end."

So far, the community response has been excellent, according to Sarnat. Funds are still needed to allow services to continue, though.

Winetsky announced his resignation to the board on July 29. As a result, Sarnat called InnVision and "accelerated the plans that we already had on the drawing board."

As part of the new partnership, Urban Ministry will enter into a management services agreement with InnVision, which operates 11 service sites in San Jose and serves over 10,000 people annually.

According to Sarnat, none of Urban Ministry's services will be altered by the arrangement, except to potentially gain the assistance of InnVision in areas where they have more expertise and staff, such as drug and alcohol services and job training.

"Our clients will be the winners in the collaboration," Sarnat said.

Because a recent fund-raising push has been so successful, it made the merger possible. "We became a much more attractive partner when we could pay our own way," he said.

Don Jensen, Urban Ministry's current director of volunteers and community services, will become the Urban Ministry program director. Jensen will report directly to InnVision CEO Christine Burroughs, as well as to the Urban Ministry board through Sarnat.

Kathy Espinoza-Howard, human services administrator for the city of Palo Alto, said she felt the move was a good compromise that would allow the Urban Ministry to both maintain their own identity in Palo Alto and also take advantage of the larger administrative and financial services of InnVision.

"I'm really very optimistic about the merger," Espinoza-Howard said. "It will really bring forward an opportunity for Urban Ministry to strengthen its services."

E-mail Bill D'Agostino at [email protected]


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