Don Bosco welcomes interim executive director, continues to evaluate operations

(Editor’s note: Following the interview for this article, Northeast News learned that Angela Torres, director of the Family Support Center and Youth Development Center, has submitted her resignation, effective Sept. 14).

Northeast News
September 11, 2011

Earlier this summer, The Don Bosco Centers paired down its staff and is continuing to re-evaluate its operations.

“We’re running lean and mean, but we’re getting the job done; we’re serving,” said Angela Torres, director of Don Bosco’s Family Support Center and Youth Development Center.

Staff members are now “wearing multiple hats,” Torres said, but services remain strong.

Each day staff and volunteers at the Don Bosco Senior Center package more than 600 Meals on Wheels to be delivered throughout Historic Northeast. An average of 170 to 200 senior citizens visit the center Monday through Friday to eat lunch, socialize and participate in ongoing activities.

There’s the English as a Second Language Program, which recently moved into Don Bosco’s main building at 535 Garfield. The 12-month program averages 1,500 to 1,800 participants annually and teaches English as well as life skills, said Leslie Gasser, who started with Don Bosco two weeks ago as development manager.

Before working for Don Bosco, Gasser worked as the director of development at the not-for-profit Aldersgate Village Retirement Community in Topeka, Kan.

“I was grateful to have an opportunity to return to Kansas City. I miss the energy of Kansas City and just being here,” she said. “The opportunity at Don Bosco opened up, so it was a great fit for me. What’s been the neatest thing for me in coming to work in this area (Historic Northeast) is just how many people really love this area and have laid down their roots and really want to have a big input; they care. This area is undergoing a renaissance.”

In addition to Gasser, Don Bosco now has a volunteer interim executive director, Torre Nigro. Before Nigro joined the team, Don Bosco had been operating without an executive director for 90 days. Nigro started last week and will continue to serve in his position for 90 days.

For 27 years, Nigro worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield and recently opted for early retirement.

“One of my goals is to do some community work,” he said.

And Don Bosco was the perfect fit.

Nigro’s great uncle, Alex Nigro, served as the first executive director of The Don Bosco Centers and Nigro served on the Don Bosco Board of Directors for six years.

While Nigro grew up in south Kansas City, Mo., a number of his family members lived in Historic Northeast, including his grandmother who frequented the Don Bosco Senior Center and lived in the attached assisted living housing.

In addition to his family ties, it was Don Bosco’s ESL program that attracted Nigro to Don Bosco.

No one else in the area is offering an ESL program like Don Bosco’s he said.

“Our goal is to provide and help them become productive citizens, and the first thing you have to learn is the language,” he said of ESL.

“With language comes freedom,” added Gasser. “You’re a prisoner if you can’t assimilate in the culture and can’t speak English.”

During the next 90 days, Nigro’s role will include searching for additional funding, evaluating Don Bosco’s operations, ensuring Don Bosco isn’t duplicating services provided by other nonprofits, searching for opportunities to partner with other nonprofits and assisting in finding a permanent executive director.

One example of eliminating duplication of services is the after-school program for youth. More area schools are now offering after-school programs, so Don Bosco opted to eliminate the after-school program this year. However, the organization is considering offering an after-school program during school holidays and will continue to offer programming during the summer. This past summer, more than 100 youth attended Don Bosco’s summer camp. Don Bosco offered the camp in partnership with the Upper Room, which incorporated a reading component to improve the youth’s reading skills. Out of the 30 Upper Room summer camps, Don Bosco ranked in the top five for advanced reading skills, Torres said.

As for funding, Nigro is also looking for in-kind donations and already secured an in-kind donation to repair a handicap accessible bus and another donation to fix the leaky roof at 535 Garfield.

Those who want to volunteer or donate services are always welcome, Gasser said.

While some have questioned the stability of Don Bosco, staff members at Don Bosco are adamant that the organization is here for the long haul.

Don Bosco’s services are “much needed” and stakeholders and community members are dedicated to ensuring those services continue, Torres said.

“There’s too many people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make sure the clientele continue to be served,” she said.

“We’re going to keep on going,” Gasser said. “We are here to stay.”

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