Morgan Hill Today 2014 12 Winter - Page 20

When Lisa DeSilva moved to Morgan Hill 33 years ago she never imagined that one day she would be a leader of a community non-profit group that has helped thousands of people change their lives for the better. DeSilva is the Chief Development Officer for Community Solutions in Gilroy, a human services agency that served more than 7,000 clients, from children to older adults, last year alone. DeSilva, 55, remembers moving to Morgan Hill when she was 22 years old – plucked from the camaraderie of college life to sleepy Morgan Hill after graduating from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology and women’s studies. “It was a much smaller community than now,” DeSilva recalls. “I think there were 18,000 people at that time and only a couple of traffic lights.” She lived in the Chesbro area of Morgan Hill and remembers feeling “unplugged from the world.” While working the graveyard shift of the conveyor belt at Gilroy Foods, she registered for a women’s studies class at Gavilan College to meet other women. Soon after, she and a group of classmates began discussing the idea of opening a women’s resource center in Morgan Hill. They were going to name it Annapurna, which is a section of the Himalayas in Nepal. An all women expedition team scaled it without any sponsors in 1978, becoming the first Americans – and the first women – to climb the treacherous peak. DeSilva and her friends envisioned a center offering childcare, self-defense classes, employment training and counseling. However, they realized that their dream was a bit too big and needed to scale it down. She and a small group of women met every Monday night for a year, from 1980 to 1981, and opened the crisis hotline in October 1981. Soon after, they founded the Bridge Counseling Center in Morgan Hill, offering counseling services and mental health services for youths and families. This group ultimately became Community Solutions in 1996 and expanded to offer crisis intervention and support services. Today, Community Solutions has 190 staff members and five different program divisions, including support services for survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic abuse; adults living with schizophrenia or a serious mental illness; adults with a history of substance abuse or having been incarcerated; youths in the foster care system, juvenile delinquent system, and those who have gang affiliation or showing at risk behaviors; and children in families who are struggling with severe crisis and dysfunction. Their client base is primarily in South County with offices in Gilroy, South San Jose and Hollister. “Poverty is a problem for many of our families. It compounds what they are already challenged with, however, income has nothing to do with whether someone is battered by a husband or abused by a family member,” DeSilva said. DeSilva has been the chief development officer for the past 13 years and is responsible for fundraising, donor activities, community relations and communications. 20 M O R G A N H I L L T O D A Y W I N T E R 2 0 1 4