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Parents Upset Over Ousted Staffers

By Donna Furey | LB Indy

What the Boys and Girls Club board president calls “the ruckus” erupted last week at the club’s TLC location over the departure of four staffers well liked by their young charges. “It gets down to philosophies,” president Bill Wood said. “Some don’t like new programs or growth.”

A meeting called last week by the club’s executive director, Pam Estes, drew about 25 parents, some of whom aired grievances about the afterschool program their children attend in Bluebird Park. Wood said he detailed changes at the club and its expansion plans at the Tuesday, April 22, meeting, but admitted club managers “should have called parents before the ruckus” ensued.

“Staff can become nervous and restless whether the organization is scaling up or scaling down,” he pointed out, in explaining why parents weren’t signaled about staffing changes sooner.

Parents say their grievances were provoked by the unannounced departure of ousted staffer Travis Parsons as well as the resignation of Christina Pellecchia and the departure of two other employees, all of whom work directly with children.

“Christina and Travis, and others that have recently left, are the very people that make TLC so wonderful,” reads an excerpt from a letter to the club’s executive director from a parent and teacher who asked not to be identified. “As a working parent, I cherish these relationships because they’re there for my child when I’m not. You’re not just letting these people go; you’re ending a bond that these people have built with my child. You’re not even giving them a chance to say goodbye.”

The staff changes followed the hiring of branch director Nancy Sanchez, who holds a master’s degree in public administration. The previous director, Ashlyn Strahle, was promoted to the main branch. On average, the club’s two facilities daily care for 294 children, 24 percent from single parent households, says a club brochure.

While Strahle’s pending departure was announced in January, Sanchez’ arrival seemed a surprise to some parents. According to Parsons and some parents, Sanchez was less visible than her predecessor and an announcement about her hiring came three weeks after she started.

Parsons, who studied anthropology at Vanguard University, thinks he was fired in part because of resistance to his efforts to explain TLC’s culture to Sanchez and the club’s executive director. Estes declined to comment on the departures.

There is a “disconnect between the executive level and their customers, who are the parents and the kids,” said Parsons, of Aliso Viejo, who does not intend to contest the job loss.

Even so, employment attorney Dawn Knepper, who is also a TLC parent, attended last week’s meeting with her husband. It is unclear if she was present as legal counsel for the club. Wood said “she [also was there to] insure that no one at TLC said anything illegal or inappropriate.”

Knepper did not respond to an email query sent to the Costa Mesa office of Ogletree and Deakins.

Parent Brian Hunt remains a TLC fan, though he understands parents’ divided loyalties to staffers with whom they have developed relationships. Even so, turnover among staff who resist a change in leadership would be an expected outcome, he said. “Collectively, the organization is doing great things,” he said.

Wood remains excited about the club’s expansion plans at the Lang Park Community Center and teen center at St. Mary’s church on Park Avenue.

And the mood seemed convivial at the annual Harry Bithell Pancake Breakfast last Saturday, April 26, in Bluebird Park.

Wood admitted that the events of recent weeks “could have been handled more smoothly” but now he feels that TLC is “moving back into calm waters.”

In an effort at more direct communication with parents, an email notified them this week that Sanchez would be absent for jury duty, but that Elena Mendoza, a previous club director, would be on site as a substitute.

Since TLC was absorbed into the Boys & Girls Club organization nine years ago, “they’ve had quite a monopoly” on afterschool care in Laguna Beach, said Parsons, who predicts the shake-up might spark some alternative choices.

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