Family Care Network, which provides family-based therapeutic foster care to children of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, is the brainchild of founder and chief executive officer Jim Roberts.
He established the nonprofit agency in 1987 after several years as a chief probation officer. In that capacity, Roberts had witnessed the failure of the group home concept for foster care and believed that a family setting would be more natural and beneficial for children. “The family is the most important social institution we possess, and that is where children need to be, in a family,” said Roberts.
Now, 30 years later, the Family Care Network has grown and expanded to include 200 employees and hundreds of volunteers, filling an important niche in the foster care system. Supported by grants, fundraisers and donations, FCNI partners with the county to provide foster care and services for children with behavioral and special needs.
Through the years, Roberts leased space to accommodate his growing nonprofit. In 2013, with the help of gifts and bequests from the community, Family Care Network was able to build its own 27,000-square-foot building on 2 1/2 acres of county land near the airport.
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The building was designed using the science of “trauma-informed care,” Roberts explained. That means that the entire structure, from paint and design elements to furniture and spaces, was created to function as a warm, inviting and relaxing environment for those being served by the nonprofit. “With our goal of therapeutic family-based care, it was important that our new steel building felt more like a home than an office,” says Roberts.
So when it came time to landscape the large property, Roberts, an avid gardener, wanted to continue the therapeutic and welcoming theme, using a planting scheme that resembled a residential, rather than industrial, setting.
With our goal of therapeutic family-based care, it was important that our new steel building felt more like a home than an office.
Jim Roberts, Family Care Network CEO
He worked carefully with Oasis Associates Landscaping, brainstorming ideas for incorporating low water varieties with welcoming bursts of color, texture and seasonal variations. Beds of blooming perennials such as red dwarf bottlebrush, purple agapanthus, and deep orange kangaroo paws were repeated throughout the property, while familiar trees such as melaleuca, magnolia, flowering plum and sycamore added foliage color.
Roberts knew intrinsically that the most important area for incorporating the landscape into the therapeutic process was at the entrance. He chose long-blooming bright yellow lantana for the entrance from the street, then lined the front edge of the parking lot with mounds of white “flower carpet” roses under graceful Chinese pistache trees, and placed cheery “razzleberri” fringe flowers and perky Santa Barbara daisies along the front of the barn-red building.
As visitors walk to the front doors, they pass alstroemerias and geraniums spilling out of large metal stock tanks. More stock tanks at the front door greet them with dainty pink “Japanese lanterns” and red and white cyclamens. Inside, soft lighting, a gentle water feature and cozy sofas and chairs that resemble a farm-style living room add to the desired comfort level.
That comfort level is not just for the visitors, but also for the employees. “We worked hard to create an environment that was fun and conducive to staff wellness,” said Roberts.
A café with rustic tables and artwork created by employees and an outdoor patio with a place for bocce ball on a small lawn add to the sense of community experienced by the employees. In a sunny area off the parking lot, the employees built a “wellness garden” featuring raised beds for growing their own vegetables and flowers, complete with irrigation system and a custom-built gate donated by a supporter.
We worked hard to create an environment that was fun and conducive to staff wellness.
For the water-wise, it is interesting to note that for this particular development, the county required that there would be no groundwater runoff from the property. As a result, Roberts engaged a water engineering firm to design grading, bioswale and French drain plans to ensure that any excess water would flow to a central settling pond instead of going into the county sewer system. There are no curbs on the downward parking sections of the lot, so that all of the water flows into the French drains located under a variety of natural grasses, variegated boxwood and red-toned flax.
Family Care Network likes to share its new facility with the public and holds two open house tours each year.
“We want the people of our community to know what we are doing here, and we invite them to be part of the process through our various fundraisers and our open houses,” says Roberts.
Just last week, Family Care Network hosted all of their foster children and families at the Le Vigne Winery’s Pullman train for a special reading of the “Polar Express” and a visit from Santa Claus, along with cookies and hot cocoa. For fun, the kids who wore their pajamas got a present from Santa Claus. Family Care Network is one organization that makes ‘giving’ their present to the community throughout the year. Merry Christmas!
Jim Roberts’ gardening tips
- Soil preparation is the most important part of planting. Make the planting hold several times larger than the plant, and create a rich mix of soil, compost and planting mix.
- Roses in home or commercial settings: For the best effect, plant beds of roses of all one variety. Floribundas and groundcover roses make the most effective show in group plantings. Feed roses six weeks before first bloom and after each major bloom.
- For height in wide spaces, use variegated Euonymus in large groups. The gray leaves contrast well with photinia, dwarf coyote brush groundcover and other deep-green varieties.
- For information on Family Care Network: fcni.org
Jim Roberts, CEO of Family Care Network