San Francisco native Charisse Lloyd found herself at a crossroads back in 1999. She was pregnant, living at home with her grandmother in Lower Pacific Heights, and desperately wanted to stand on her own feet as she started her family. Her first step on that journey was her decision to join Felton’s (then Family Service Agency of San Francisco) Welfare to Work program, which supports people on cash assistance get jobs and become self-sufficient.
Charisse recalls the moment she reluctantly decided to go on welfare, “So I said ok, you could either do one or two things. You can either become a statistic, a person who just relies on this income, or you can use this income to your benefit and make the best of it. So I gave myself a timeframe of two years. Family Services Agency stepped in, right on time.”
Her goals were clear: independence, her own home, a stable job, and a good education for her son. Upon completing the program, Charisse was asked to join the agency as an administrative assistant, a job she held three years until she switched over to the Tender Lions Program, which supports mental health support for children and their families. Her career growth in the agency was reflected in personal transformation. Confessing to having trust issues, Charisse says the family-like and tight-knit support of the co-workers slowly opened her up to people, helping her become a better person and a better employee. Working at Felton Institute was never short of providing inspirational female mentors in leadership. Charisse says one special person to her was Dr. Carole McKindley Alvarez, an African American woman and psychology professor, who specializes in gender violence, diversity and psychology. “Those are the type of people who I feel that feed my brain, and I was inspired to be like them. And you aspire to be like the people you come in contact with.”
She refined her early dreams of working in behavioral health as a psychiatrist to that of managing a mental health program. The climb up the agency ladder was steady and strong, as Charisse was promoted to Program Manager and later, Program Director. The Tender Lions Program she now manages was changed to Full Circle Family Program (FCFP), a fortuitous renaming that is not lost on Charisse as it reflects on her 19-year-journey from being a client to a director.
“We chose the name Full Circle Family Program because it also represents the agency that we work for…to be able to provide family support and services, we have to show that we are a family within our own entity. If they see how we are together, they will form a family trust with us, meaning they will be more inclined to open up to us.”
Charisse adds, “When clients are referred to our program for mental health support, we start at the beginning of the circle. And so what we are doing is building a circle of trust, of family, of responsibility, of livelihood and we are showing that young person and their family that we don’t have to do it alone. There’s a circle of us, a team of us that will help them meet their goals.” Charisse is proud of her team, which is small but mighty. The program supports 23 families with a staff of three. FCFP provides mental health services to children ages 4-18 and their families living throughout San Francisco. She explains that their work is critical at these times because so many families, especially African American families, are in need of mental health services. Through education and increased awareness, dispelling the stigma around mental health issues paves the way for treatment and better futures. Foremost, building trust with the families she serves is essential.
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties.
Felton is named for its social services pioneer and executive director Dr. Katharine “Kitty” Felton who was called the ”conscience of San Francisco” and was committed to ensuring that children and families in crisis have access to social services and resources in order to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org