October 7, 2006
Food Bank director seeks to build
relationships, forge partnerships
Blake Young pays a visit to children participating in a play care program at the Saca Community Learning Center.
Cathy Joyce/
Herald photo
By Nancy Westlund
Herald staff

Life has come full circle for Blake Young, who is a few months into his role as executive director of Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services.

Appointed in May to head up the social service agency, Young oversees 12 programs and manages 30 employees and some 700 volunteers.

“In a sense I’ve grown up here,” said Young, 40, who began volunteering at the organization when he was 28.

“My number one job is to create a really solid foundation, to offer a welcoming environment, earning people’s trust by going out and molding programs to meet their needs,” he said.

Raised by a single mother and grandmother in Bakersfield, Young’s childhood experiences include both standing in a food line himself and volunteering to help the poor — life lessons he has never forgotten.

While attending California State University, Chico, Young became involved in a Big Brother program in which he tutored and spent time with the son of a fellow student who was a single mother struggling to raise her child without a father.

“He was a kid like me and I had the opportunity to shape his life,” said Young, who with his wife Cyndie is now raising his own two daughters, ages eight and ten.

It was while working as a supervisor for United Parcel Service that Young began volunteering at Sacramento Food Bank Services in the Oak Park area with some co-workers. Whether connecting families up with vital food and medical services, preparing adults with job skills to lead productive lives, or teaching young mothers how to wisely nurture their children, the mission is the same.

“It’s about building relationships,” said Young, who said he shares a common vision with Father Daniel Madigan, who originally founded the agency, and its board of directors.

Over the past 10 years, Young has served as the agency’s director of operations, then associate director prior to being appointed executive director.

When SFBFS opened the Saca Community Learning Center in January 2005, it was Young who was instrumental in the in the north Sacramento facility’s design and construction, shaping programs to meet the needs of the community.

“We canvassed the community, talked to neighbors and the Grant Joint Union High School District to determine the most-needed services,” he said. “We found adult learning was what people really want.”

Funding for the Saca Center included a $1 million contribution from Tony and Ilham Saca, who annually host the Saca Ball supporting SFBFS programs.

The Diocese of Sacramento committed $2 million from its 2002 capital campaign funds to SFBFS, earmarking $1 million of that sum for the Saca Center.

Today the Saca Center is filling its classrooms with students, providing free literacy classes, high school equivalency preparation, English as a Second Language, and computer classes.

The center’s mother-baby program offers nutrition seminars for expectant and new mothers and fathers, and child-rearing programs for parents supported by play care for children.

“We’ve found where the emphasis needs to be is the connection between parents and their children,” said Young, explaining that many parents unable to speak English benefit from instruction to assist their children with homework assignments.

The Saca Center has also forged vital partnerships with Sacramento area schools, including Christian Brothers, Jesuit, Loretto and St. Francis High Schools and Holy Family School in Citrus Heights.

Student projects include gathering and repairing bikes for children, neighborhood clothing, food and baby diaper drives, and a Christmas toy collection.

“It’s an opportunity for students to help the needy — kind of on the job training, giving back to others,” said Young, who recalled several students who have celebrated their birthdays by requesting donations to the center in lieu of presents.

“A lot of people are helping us to build something special here. These are the foundation years,” he said. “Building relationships takes a lot of time.”

Young said long-range plans call for guiding Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services through the construction of a new center to be located in the north area of Sacramento that would duplicate many of the programs now operating from its original center in the Oak Park area.

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