Vivian Clecak Founding CEO Human Options www.humanoptions.org
At a young age, Vivian Clecak felt community come together to support her family through her father’s debilitating illness. That’s when she committed to help others in need, volunteering throughout school and attending graduate school for social work.
In 1981, while she was practicing social work in South Orange County, Clecak’s passion took her beyond the private practice. Many women were reporting serious issues of domestic violence during sessions, even though the community assumed that the newly constructed suburbs didn’t need domestic violence services. With three other women who shared her vision, Clecak incorporated Human Options and opened an emergency hotline to assess the need for a shelter in South Orange County. Working out of her car, Clecak, the organization’s founding CEO, raised awareness and funds as the hotline kept ringing. Within one year, through community grants and grass-roots fundraising events like bake sales, she opened a shelter for abused women and their children. Growing from a small agency into a countywide, multi-service program, Human Options provides education, prevention and intervention services, emergency shelters and long-term transitional housing. Clecak has spearheaded innovative programs that transcend traditional services. For example, she developed a men’s task force to advocate against domestic violence. While guiding Human Options toward growth, Clecak continues to develop herself and volunteer her time. She serves on the boards of several foundations, and has received numerous leadership awards and lifetime achievement honors from community organizations and industry associations. As Human Options expands its services to help more women, Clecak focuses on the quality of the programs. Human Options is one of only two domestic violence programs in the nation to conduct formal research to determine effectiveness. Three university research projects showed that 90 percent of women who graduate from Human Options’ shelter and the Second Step transitional program are still violence-free one year or more after graduation.
FINALISTS Debra Miller CEO and founder CureDuchenne www.cureduchenne.org Before her son’s diagnosis, Debra Miller had never heard of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The news that her son was afflicted with the incurable disorder inspired Miller to found CureDuchenne and persevere through formidable obstacles to support the quest for a cure.
Despite all the challenges most non-profits face, Miller has mobilized parents and forged connections with the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and investors while serving as CureDuchenne’s founder and CEO. Energizing the loved ones of those afflicted with the disorder offers them hope and the opportunity to make a difference in the fight against this debilitating condition.
Since the largest impediment to a cure is not science but funding, Miller broke new ground by launching CureDuchenne Ventures, LLC, a venture philanthropy model. An advisory board with significant pharmaceutical experience heads the investment firm. Remarkably, the veterans not only oversee research directives but create a return for investors by taking an equity stake in drug development firms.
The unique model appeals to the motives of those hunting for a cure as well as those seeking profits. It also allows CureDuchenne to be the lead investor and direct potential returns toward critical research projects.
Although tracking a drug through arduous clinical trials can be frustrating, Miller remains flexible and uses ingenuity to solve problems. She views action as therapy and transfers her passion and hope to others while her organization provides a fundraising platform, and networking and support for families battling the disease. Her extraordinary planning, leadership and management skills have carried the program as well.
Most importantly, Miller has had the strength, courage and fortitude to put the entire Duchenne community on her back as she marches forward. Miller and her team have proven that hope is indeed a viable business strategy and a motivational elixir.
Mark Whitley CEO Easter Seals Southern California www.southerncal.easterseals.com
Mark Whitley found his passion for helping the mentally handicapped by volunteering during high school. In college, he found an opportunity to help that population by working for Easter Seals. Now, after 38 years at the company and 25 in the role of CEO at Easter Seals Southern California, Whitley’s dedication to the mission runs deeper than ever. When Whitley first arrived at Easter Seals Southern California after working for the company in Chicago and Baltimore, the office had a small staff and limited budget serving several local organizations. He began developing innovative programs focused on improving not only the business but also the lives of the mentally disabled people it serves. For example, Whitley partnered with Head Start to create child development centers for children with autism. Though non-profits rarely get contracts with insurance companies, Easter Seals received one to expand these child care centers, making it California’s largest care provider for children with autism. Even in tough economic times, Whitley’s leadership keeps the company on track. When the state cut funding to Easter Seals during the recession, he developed more efficient programs to get support from national corporate sponsors. Because he created a culture of passion for the company’s mission, employees were willing to take pay cuts to support it. As a result, Easter Seals Southern California didn’t let any employees go, close any programs or turn anyone down for program services. In his role as CEO, Whitley has multiplied the organization’s budget, staff and client base to drive the Easter Seals mission further throughout Southern California. In doing so, he created a successful business model that has united a handful of regional offices under one organization. As revenue has increased, so has the efficiency of funding, as more than 90 percent of Easter Seals’ funding goes straight to program services.