New Resource Center director says helping people 'is who I am'

After waiting months for the announcement, John Van Cleef sent his resume to the Community Resource Center the day the Encinitas-based nonprofit posted a job opening for a new executive director.

“And then I went back and re-read the e-mail announcing the posting, and I hadn’t followed the instructions at all,” he said. “An hour later, I wrote back, ‘I was really excited and didn’t read your instructions, so here’s the rest of everything you asked for. Please don’t hold it against me.’”

They didn’t. Van Cleef got the job, which he started Sept. 17.

Community Resource Center Board of Directors President Katrina Dodson said his enthusiasm for the job stood out and helped in the selection.

“Our decision to go with John was based on the fact that he didn’t just want a job,” she said. “He wanted our job. And that was really important to us.”

Van Cleef, 49, had been working as director of volunteer services and community outreach at Palomar Health for the past four a half years and had worked for the YMCA for about a year before that. The bulk of his career has been with the Salvation Army, where he worked 20 years, including five years leading the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

With parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents involved with the Salvation Army, Van Cleef grew up in the organization, which he said shaped his values and motives.

“It’s part of who I am,” he said. “Helping other people is how I am as a person.”

As executives in the Salvation Army, his parents were transferred every few years, so Van Cleef grew up in several different cities. He has an affinity for the Seahawks and the University of Washington Huskies from living a few formative years in Seattle, but said he loves San Diego County, where he’s lived since 2006. He now calls Carlsbad home.

The Community Resource Center, which turns 40 next year, focuses on programs that serve the needy and helps prevent people from becoming homeless. It also operates the 24-bed Carol’s House for domestic violence survivors and their children, which served 242 people last year.

For the past two years, the city of Encinitas has funded the center’s Opening Doors program, which has found permanent housing for 48 homeless Encinitas households, or 117 people.

Van Cleef would like the center to do even more.

“We catch everybody we can, but we know there’s greater need out there,” he said. “Cities around us are looking at the issues of affordable housing and food insecurity and domestic violence, and we believe we have answers to help meet those needs and the capacity to grow to meet those needs.”

Van Cleef said he would especially like to expand service for domestic violence survivors by providing more shelter beds.

Besides his passion for the work, Dodson said the board liked Van Cleef’s background in capital campaigns, which could help the center grow.

“We love the model we’ve worked on in years of service to the community, and we’d love to grow that model in other locations,” she said. “To do that, we really wanted to have someone with fundraising chops to get us there.”

Van Cleef said this is an exciting time to be in the social service field because communities are becoming more conscious of the needs around them.

“The significant things we address and the community consciousness about those things are meeting together,” he said.

“Affordable housing, social determinants of health and food, how women should be safe in their own homes and the emerging awareness of mental health issues, CRC is touching all those places,” he said. “And to assimilate it and come up with a plan to expand and meet those needs in the future, it’s exciting.”

The last permanent executive director at the Community Resource Center was Isabel St. German Singh, who left in August 2017 after serving for about a year. An interim executive director filled the position for a few months, and the board of directors had been leading the organization since January before hiring Van Cleef.

Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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