Hill Country Family Services: Center of the Circle of Care

By: Kevin Thompson

A great mind of business management theory also had a big heart. The late Peter Drucker believed nonprofits play a key role in building a fully functioning society.

“If managed properly, these organizations are the best avenues for meeting human needs and alleviating suffering,” Drucker once said.

Chief Executive Director Jamie Cox and the staff of Hill Country Family Services certainly agree. The 2016 Greater Boerne Chamber Nonprofit of the Year increases the quality of life and self-reliance of less fortunate Kendall Countians. “There are big challenges in our immediate community,” Cox says. “Twenty percent of Boerne ISD kids are economically disadvantaged. Sixty-five percent of Comfort kids. Homelessness and mental illness have increased. It’s not always obvious, however. We often don’t see what we don’t want to see.”

Having attacked military targets for two decades as a Marine fighter helicopter pilot, Cox now sets his sights on eliminating hunger, poverty and despair. And he’s doing it with an uncommon approach.

Most nonprofit executives don’t speak in terms like branding, return on investment, data points, synergies, best practices and end state goals. Cox does. “Nonprofit corporations are businesses just like for-profit companies. The only difference is a nonprofit pours all its net income back into the mission of the business.”

While he’s certainly on a mission, he’s not going it alone. He stands on the shoulders of staff and volunteers who have served clients for more than three decades. “In 1985, Marilyn Vogt and Joanne Hill saw people who were unable to feed their families or pay a bill,” Cox recalls. “Through the goodness of their hearts, they began serving people out of one of their garages.”

HCFS moved to its current “campus,” as Cox calls it, on Advogt Street in north Boerne in the mid-1990s. Today, it has an annual budget of more than $1 million, which includes the agency’s budget, cash donations, grants, in-kind donations, volunteer hours and program costs.

While the agency still assists clients with food, clothing and financial assistance, Cox is pushing to the root causes of poverty.

Cox’s first hire was a master’s-level counselor, Claudia Clark. Clark develops personal relationships with many of the six-hundred families the agency assists each month. “The past year has been a renaissance in how we reach our community,” Cox states. “Claudia is a big part of that. Physical needs are usually an outward sign of a greater issue. We now provide someone to talk to while we provide materially. It has magnified our impact.”

Whether literally saving a single mother contemplating suicide, transitioning a shelter resident to independent living or helping a client open his first checking account, Clark is making a difference. “My parents grew up in Mexico in homes with dirt floors,” Clark recounts, “My calling has always been to help others get out of the cycle. I see the struggles of working class families, living paycheck to paycheck,” she continues, “They want to get below the surface if you’re willing to get into the mess.”

Order is forming from chaos. Through an exclusive focus on Kendall County, sixty engaged volunteers, a grocery that’s more HEB than food pantry and a retail store that’s as much gift as thrift, HCFS is re-thinking charity. Its “circle of care” model leverages other area agencies. “We physically and intentionally connect our clients with a network of resources.” Cox explains.

The agency offers “bonus shopping” to people who take steps to better their situation: for example, the pregnant lady who consults with the Pregnancy Care Center, the senior who utilizes Kronkosky Place for fitness, the family who engages Mission for Health for wellness checks or the family that seeks low-cost childcare from the Boys & Girls Club. “When we treat people with dignity, they usually respond with responsibility,” Clark adds.

If HCFS is quarterbacking care for struggling citizens, Cox is quarterbacking HCFS with a self-deprecating humor. “Would you say it’s my gritty determination, good looks or charisma that makes me so effective?” he asks Clark. “Those are your only three choices.”

His staff returns fire. They recently repositioned his desktop nameplate to the doorframe above an office restroom. “We laugh a lot around here,” Cox says. “It’s how we maintain our sanity. We have to. We get a lot of sad stories.”

“Jamie’s energy is infectious; he goes 100 miles an hour,” Clark remarks about Cox who sees his role as secondary. “I really am just a mouthpiece for the incredible work our staff and volunteers do in the lives of people.”

Case in point: Comfort Boys & Girls Club planned a bike rodeo, but three kids didn’t have bikes. HCFS store director Jill Ramsey called through her network of store operators. She located three serviceable bikes that the kids got to keep.

“Everybody on this campus is looking for ways to help someone,” Cox concludes. “At the end of the day, it’s about trying to say ‘yes’ to every person.”

Hill Country Family Services

Golfing For a Great Cause

On October 2, 2016, Hill Country Family Services will host a charity golf tournament at Cordillera Ranch’s Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. All proceeds will directly support HCFS’s counseling program and food pantry for Kendall County’s families and children. Sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, contact Jamie Cox at 830.431.1541 or jamie.cox@hcfamilysvcs.org.

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