Mountain View Voice

News - November 23, 2012

'Miracle on El Camino' helps CHAC expand

by Daniel DeBolt

They are calling it "the miracle on El Camino Real."

After several decades without having adequate space, good fortune has finally smiled on the Community Health Awareness Council, the non-profit which provides low- or no-cost mental health services to local schools and the general public.

This spring, CHAC is planning to move into a building at 590 West El Camino Real that doubles the size of its long-time downtown home.

"We will have twice the space, which we will fill in one day," said CHAC executive director Monique Kane.

How did a non-profit that has lost funding this year make such an upgrade? An unusually charitable developer bought CHAC the building to make way for a project on CHAC's property. The Malek Family Foundation is offering a "deed swap" which will be complete any day now.

CHAC's home across the street from St. Joseph's church will be torn down for a new development that also fronts Castro Street. There's already a notice on the door to let CHAC's clients know the organization is moving.

"We move, then they knock it down," said Kane as she sat in her second story office overlooking the intersection of Church and Hope Street. "I'm going to miss this building because it's so homey."

The move to a larger building is long overdue, staff members say. With the new space, CHAC's staff will no longer have to leave their offices to make space for counseling sessions conducted by one of the organization's 80 interns. And there will be much-needed rooms for community classes and intern training and meetings that might have taken place in a hallway, staff members said.

The new building, now home to tech companies Loopt and Green Dot, will be owned by CHAC, mortgage-free.

"This building is going to meet our needs like a hand in a glove," said development director Paul Shutz. He and Kane called it the "Miracle on El Camino Real" because CHAC would not have been able to afford the move by itself. The building will double the value of CHAC's assets, Shutz said.

The deal was part business, part charitable contribution. It happened because "the footprint of this building was valuable enough," Shutz said, and because the developer wanted to support CHAC, Kane said.

CHAC is going start raising funds soon to furnish and update the new building; the Malek family foundation donated $10,000 towards that effort.

The patriarch of the Malek family who was behind the deal passed away this year and was very happy about doing this for CHAC, Kane said.

This year's successes

Staff members at CHAC were abuzz about the expansion of their school counseling services into Sunnyvale this year, which they say caused a significant drop in expulsions and suspensions.

Excited to show some proof about the effectiveness of their school counseling services, the same as are used in Mountain View schools, CHAC's staff pointed to a 66 percent drop in Sunnyvale School District's suspensions and expulsions after CHAC's counselors came in. Referrals for disciplinary action dropped 78 percent.

The numbers are a result of students being able to talk about stress, anxiety and depression-related to problems at school and home such as bullying, divorce, gangs, drugs and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.

School administrators said the service helped to "increase opportunity to learn and keep students on task."

"It is clear that CHAC helped us achieve that goal," said Dr. Benjamin Picard, superintendent of the Sunnyvale School District.

The district also measured an 18.8 percent increase in behavior, attendance, motivation and academic performance. CHAC also found an increase in how safe students feel at school.

Kane added that this year there are now some full-time counselors at Mountain View's high schools to help the students suffering the most. Counseling is usually conducted by interns.

CHAC seeks funds

Despite the good fortune with the building, CHAC still lacks funds. The Packard foundation recently pulled a $60,000 grant. As a result, CHAC's interns will take home a stipend around Christmas of only $100. That isn't much for work that usually takes 20 hours a week for several years, staff members say.

Donations to the Voice's annual Holiday Fund will go to CHAC as well as other Mountain View-serving non-profits which will be featured in future issues of the Voice through the end of the year.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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