Southwest Key “Familia” Gathers At 2014 Youth Justice Meeting
Southwest Key Youth Justice leadership from around the country gathered in Atlanta, Georgia August 5-7, 2014 for a Program Directors meeting. The event was indicative of a company culture that Southwest Key leadership holds dear.
“I see the value of connecting our different programs from around the nation to create a sense of familia and getting back to our roots,” says Veronica Delgado-Savage, Vice President of Youth Justice Programs at Southwest Key.
Those roots are firmly planted in the Youth Justice field. Southwest Key CEO Dr. Juan Sánchez founded the company to help adjudicated youth after he saw his own childhood friends getting into trouble and losing their enthusiasm for the future. The company began, humbly, in 1987 in a San Antonio, Texas basement with just five employees, including Sánchez, and a handful of kids to track.
Today, Southwest Key has 44 Youth Justice programs in five states including Texas, California, Georgia, Wisconsin and New York.
That kind of growth means maintaining a culture of familia takes a little extra planning, but it’s a commitment from which company leadership has never waivered. They firmly believe that encouraging staff to socialize and form bonds will result in better services for their clients. In fact, for the company’s 25th anniversary, Sánchez officially added “Familia” and “Fun” to Southwest Key’s corporate values.
Delgado-Savage loves seeing her staff have fun together and bounce ideas off each other. “It’s empowering to see their passion for the kids,” she says. “I love seeing a roomful of diverse, strong and talented leaders.”
If the testimony of guest speaker Judge Steven Teske of Juvenile Court in Clayton County, Georgia is any indication, the formula is working.
“This year we only committed 20% of the kids that we committed the previous year,” Teske told the group. “We got the best audit in the state and counties are coming to us to learn about our system and this is all because of Southwest Key.”
The Georgia program isn’t alone in its success. In 2013, Southwest Key’s Youth Justice programs across the country diverted 3,169 kids from prisons, a success rate of 90 percent.
While the revelation is gratifying, the team isn’t resting on its laurels. Southwest Key leadership invests heavily in ongoing skills building for staff, employing a department of full-time trainers that travel from program to program throughout the year. Including to the meeting in Georgia where they took the staff through leadership and change management training.
Emily Martinez, Director of Southwest Key’s Fatherhood Program, planned to share information she learned about Juvenile Justice reform with her team back in San Antonio. “They can use this to deal with their own challenges and to help the clients deal with change and challenges in their lives,” she says.
“It’s great learning about what other programs are doing,” adds Rocci Walker, who has been with Southwest Key since she started as a part-time Youth Tracker fourteen years ago. Today, Walker is the Program Director of the company’s GPS Tracking Program in Georgia.
Her career path isn’t unique at Southwest Key. Employee retention is something the company seems to have refined. A fact that becomes clear when employees like Walker describe events like the Georgia PD meeting as, "kind of like a family reunion.”
Orlando Vargas was hired just days before the PD meeting, but he seemed to feel similarly.
“My team immediately embraced me and made me feel like part of this Southwest Key family,” says Vargas who is the new Regional Director of Southwest Key’s Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program in Texas. “I’d like to replicate that sense of community and partnership among my own staff.”
Joella Brooks, Southwest Key’s Chief Operations Officer and Vice President of Youth Justice Services agrees, “I appreciate the commitment of our staff and am proud to be connected with such a talented group of leaders.”