By Nonprofit Marketing ArizonaApril 22, 2016

Set the scene to downtown Phoenix in 1977. Dr. John (Kipp) Charlton saw a problem that no one seemed willing to solve, so he stepped in and took action. 

Charlton, a pediatrician and community advocate for children and families, knew the sad reality facing the Phoenix area: There was a need for a safe shelter and care for children who were abused and neglected. In addition, he was convinced that parents needed a supportive place that they could reach out to when things got tough at home. 

Using both his social and professional connections, Charlton brought together a group of community volunteers who launched a public education campaign to convince a wary public that, indeed, child abuse and neglect existed in the community and that everyone had a responsibility to support efforts to prevent it. Under Dr. Charlton’s leadership, Crisis Nursery Inc. opened in 1977 with six beds. That number had grow to 29 by last year. 

Just 13 miles away in Mesa, Child Crisis Center opened its doors in 1981 thanks to the women of the Mahana Club, who also saw the need to provide a safe haven for children in their community. Child Crisis Center began as a 7-bed emergency shelter for abused or neglected children and grew to 42 beds last year. 

Flash-forward 34 years, and both the longstanding CEOs from Crisis Nursery and Child Crisis Center were on the verge of retirement. Instead of simply searching for their replacements, these longtime friends and colleagues had entertained the idea to merge these two like-minded entities with the hopes of helping more children and being stronger together. 

The boards came together and agreed that a merger would make sense in the broader landscape of our community. It was recognized during negotiations the depths of the agency’s similarities and the concept of a combined, new organization would have an even greater impact on the lives of the children and families. 

Services were uninterrupted throughout the yearlong merger process, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The success that these two groups saw in the formation of Child Crisis Arizona is a lesson in nonprofits coming together to strengthen themselves, but more importantly, the community they serve. 

How they did it 

Crisis Nursery was operating the emergency children shelter, a foster care program and an Early Head Start and preschool. Child Crisis Center had the emergency shelter, a foster care and adoption program, a home-visiting program for families with children up to age five, and a family resource program that offered free classes and workshops to community families. 

A rebranding process began with an outside agency where staff, the board, community stakeholders and volunteers came together to understand where they saw the organization going. 

Just the logo process took seven months from start to finish. It took five months to finalize the new name. 

In Sept. 2015, newly named Chief Executive Officer Torrie A. Taj took the helm and was ready for endless, vibrant possibilities as she assessed the agency’s palette of impressive programs. 

“The reality is, we need to be here to respond to the crises faced by our most vulnerable, our children and families in need,” says Taj, whose holistic approach begins with praise of both past directors and the current board. 

“Traditional CEOs carry out the work,” explains Taj as she marvels at the legacy left by the two long-term CEOs. Necessity demands hands on-attention to detail as well as growth when nonprofits are carving out their niches. 

“As a new nonprofit CEO, I am not here to carry out the work. I am here to organize the structure and infrastructure so that the professional staff — the social workers, the counselors, the nurses, and all those specialized, big hearts — can best carry out the work. I am here to lead... to have the vision, to make sure the resources are in place, to hire the best talent.” 

Taj’s job from day one was full of bigger complexities. She worked toward combining more unlikely worlds while her staff replicated some services and smoothed other duplicated services into one consistent product. A self-described “cheerleader for change,” the new environment she’s creating melds “crisis” with “best practices,” bonds “poverty” to “provider of choice,” and infuses “welfare” with a “culture of philanthropy.” 

The re-launch takes off 

Behind the scenes, processes were put in place for a rebranding launch. A director of marketing and communications was hired, and a plan was established for rebranding the agency and announcing the new organizational name during a fundraising luncheon in Nov. 2015 in front of more than 800 guests. 

Just like launching a new business, the Child Crisis Arizona team had been hard at work creating a new logo, tagline, business system, collateral materials, website, social channels and countless other things. What could have easily taken more than a year was put together in several months — just in time for the public launch. 

The November launch was a success, but the staff was still racing to launch its Foster Care Tax Credit campaign, which brings in necessary dollars to the agency to support its programs. 

“Entering into end-of-year giving season with a new name, and the idea of telling people who were and who we used to be was a challenge, but a challenge we overcame and at the end of the day was a monumental success for the agency,” says Taj. 

The timing of rebranding during the end-of-year giving was scary but became an opportunity to get in front of the community with the new name, materials resonating with the public to garner support. It also allowed for more opportunity to share with the public who they were and what they planned to accomplish through media relations, social media and community outreach. That work continues today and will be an ongoing process. 

“If we want to grow we need to follow models of the next step, not think of ourselves as just a $15 million dollar nonprofit. We need to keep building awareness, creating partnerships and serving the children and families to the best of our ability,” says Taj. “We have to be their safety net. The children can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” 

Child Crisis Arizona Vitals 

The state-of-the-art services those multiple programs provide represent compassionate fulfillment of Arizona’s most dire needs by a staff that’s 250 strong. Housed within the three promises--Prevent, Advocate, Support--with which Child Crisis Arizona’s logo is tagged, the programs’ two campuses are located in Central Phoenix and in Mesa. The combined Children’s Emergency Shelters annually house, protect and feed more than 400 children ages birth to 11 years. Along with the waiting closets of soft stripes and bold patterns in the Child Crisis Arizona shelter bedrooms, children with emergency needs are offered warm welcoming sleeves of safety and loving structure at a moment’s notice ... for as many days, weeks or months as are necessary. From vaccinations in the nurse’s office to simple snack bowls of sliced apples and cubed cheese served family-style, the firsts many children experience here are eye-opening. 

Their wide-ranging Family Resources and Education programs cover Early Head Start and a preschool in Phoenix, a home visiting program, and onsite classes to more than 3,000 participants on both campuses annually, all at little to no cost. The concept that resilient parents can be the best teachers is as important as the pint-sized bikes that line the playgrounds. From Anger Management to Nutrition to Parenting skills, Child Crisis Arizona is keenly aware that disrupting the unhealthy cycles of violence and neglect, even preventing them, are essential to reconfiguring splintered families into safe, whole units. 

Child Crisis Arizona’s final programming complement is the integral service of finding, training and continuing education for Foster and Adoptive families. Hard to imagine scenarios of the under-developed, drug-addicted baby or the beautifully dark-eyed toddler rescued from a laundromat dryer create daunting care responsibilities for families into which 500+ children are placed annually. The frightening statistic that 100,000 family members locally are raising related minors demands that stunned grandparents and other sudden caregivers be provided concrete assurance and a healthy toolbox of resources as they re-navigate how to parent. Anticipating and providing the specialized medical or emotional tools all these shapes of families require helps ensure and maintain the most delicate but essential of family bonds. 

Across this wide array of critical services, Taj is proud to distinguish that re-branding Child Crisis Arizona’s continuum of care as a unified whole with a $15 million dollar operating budget communicates far greater promise than any single program ever can.