Get to Know

More from this show

Get to Know Luis Ibarra, former President and CEO of Friendly House, a community based organization serving the Valley.

Jose Cardenas: Last year friendly house celebrated nine decades of dedicated service to our community. 2010 also marked the retirement of long time president and CEO the agency, Luis Ibarra. Tonight an opportunity to get to know Luis Ibarra. Luis welcome to "Horizonte." It's really not quite a get to know, everybody knows who you are. You've been around a long time, not 90 years, but for a long time.

Luis Ibarra: You can tell by my silver hair.

Jose Cardenas: No, you look great. You've been involved in the nonprofit community for some time.

Luis Ibarra: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: United way, and then Friendly House. Tell us a little bit about Friendly House and then we want to talk about some of the things that are going on in the valley.

Luis Ibarra: If you can imagine, this agency is one of the oldest in the United States. And even in Arizona, six years after Arizona became a state, the Friendly House was established in 1920. And I'll tell you, it's grown, it's become an institution, it's part of the community. A lot of people don't know it. Maybe the name, Friendly House, it was picked by the board at that time, or the people that incorporated it. It's La Casa de Amistad it's in Spanish but its where people--

Jose Cardenas: House of Friendship.

Luis Ibarra: Yes, where people could go and get help, regardless of what the issues might have been. It was really established to help the immigrant population really establish themselves here in the United States, moving to this country, learning the culture, learning the language so we helped them with English classes, with education, with issues around immigration, and as we go through the history, we got asked to do more. Help me with immigrating my family, I have other family members, or the unification of families, some people were having challenges with housing. Emergency services, employment and training, so that's how the Friendly House involved, and now we serve well over 40,000 family, youth, and children a year, just in Maricopa County.

Jose Cardenas: How big of a budget?

Luis Ibarra: Just under $10 million.

Jose Cardenas: And the impact of the budget cuts over the last few years?

Luis Ibarra: Significant. Significant, significant. I think that there's a couple things that have happened. One, because we're so good at what we do, we actually got increases in some funding from some of the single state agencies like the department of economic security, because we did such a good job. They actually gave us more work and they took it away from other from other agencies that maybe were not delivering the services that they felt that they needed. So we balanced it out, but we still lost some revenue. In education, all of our preventive programs that working with youth in the summer, those were all challenges. Those are the first ones to go. When people are cutting, they don't realize that you really have to not only invest in the community, to keep it whole, but there's a lot of things -- I always said, why do you wait until kids are in trouble before you start funding programs to deal with them? Then it becomes very expensive. Because it's very remedial, time consuming, and the skill level is actually higher. I can do more with $100 with 30 kids in a preventive program than --

Jose Cardenas: the thousands you spend --

Luis Ibarra: Yes, exactly.

Jose Cardenas: Speaking of education, I know Friendly House has a charter school. What other kind of educational activities?

Luis Ibarra: Well there's after-school program -- that's really how we started. I don't know if you know the history of the Academia del Pueblo, that's our school and it's K-8, we have just under 300 children there. But I had a superintendent, actually from Phoenix Elementary School District come to see me, and ask me to help them in developing a curriculum and a design to deal with special need kids. Especially the immigrant children. Overage, limited English proficient, some of them maybe went to first or second grade and now they're in junior high age, can't put them in eighth grade. The subject matter is too high for them. So we said, yeah, that was our after-school program. We helped kids really try to get them to a level where they could feel like they now get it. Well, we developed this curriculum, and presented it to the district, and then all of a sudden the district says, yeah, but we want to be responsible for 100% of the school. I said, well then why did you need me? And I thought, silly me, I thought two board members from friendly house, two from the district, could be the governing board. No, they wanted to take 100% complete control of it. And I said, no, we're not going to do that. So I convinced my board to get our license on our own, and we developed the school.

Jose Cardenas: Luis remind me how many years with Friendly House.

Luis Ibarra: 17 years.

Jose Cardenas: And during those 17 years, what do you think have been the greatest accomplishments?

Luis Ibarra: There's been many and I'm very fortunate that we had the support of a lot of people in the community. It seemed like everybody I called would always respond. Especially if they knew what we were trying to do. Significant board members, working board members that also brought resources and rolled up their sleeves and really provided the governance for the agency when we needed it. I want to tell you that probably the most significant thing that I can really note for you is that when I came from United Way, people thought I was silly for leaving.

Jose Cardenas: You were one of the senior people.

Luis Ibarra: I was the senior vice-president. My job was to distribute the money after the campaign. I did some of the campaign as well, everybody did. But my job responsibilities built was to get the money out into the community. Well, I knew the Friendly House was in trouble. We were almost $2 million in the hole. We were in jeopardy of losing the organization when I stepped in. We did not even have money to be able to pay staff that we would tell them, don't cash your check until we tell you to cash it. Even though we would give them a check. But no funds in the account. That's how bad it was Jose. And a lot of people didn't know that, but I said, I will accept this challenge because a lot of people didn't know, I served on the board of the Friendly House. I chaired the board of the directors of the Friendly House. I had a lot of history with the Friendly House. I worked at the Friendly House in the 1970s. And that was one of my first jobs when I got out of grad school. I had saw an advertisement for social worker, I went to work and I was director of social services for the Friendly House. That was my first, quote, big experience in the community, except for the Boys & Girls Club that I did some work with. That to me was the most significant.

Jose Cardenas: Saving friendly house --

Luis Ibarra: The Friendly House, and now Friendly House is got money in the bank, we have the money to do the programs, yes, it is a challenge, and my successor Raul, he and I have spent time talking about this, but he also knows, and I met with him, he said, thank you Luis, for leaving me such a strong agency. And I said, yeah, but there's still more to do. And he understands that. So I think that when I talk about my history with Friendly House, believe me, at first I thought, how am I going to do this? Where do I start? In finding new revenue to support this agency? And I'll tell you, I remember the day my CFO came to see me and he handed me a little slip of paper, and it had $1.2 million. And I said, what's this? And he said, that's how much money we have in the bank.

Jose Cardenas: So success there. And you leave a strong legacy. But you're also leaving at a time when the challenges are perhaps greater than ever, maybe not to the financial stability of the organization, but in terms of what's going on in Arizona.

Luis Ibarra: Yeah and Jose you're right. And there's really no good time. And people have asked me, why did you leave? I could have stayed. But Jose like everybody else, I feel like I left my mark, Raul will leave a mark, the people that came before me, not a whole lot. But they left their mark. And the people that will come after Raul will leave their mark. The Friendly House is not Luis Ibarra. The Friendly House is an institution that I've had people from all over the state that used to come to the friendly house. And I would ask them, why did you come here? Because they told me that if I came here, somebody would help me. And our staff -- I just -- it was almost culture. I would tell people, look. When you work for this organization, and I meant, I tried to meet everybody before they got hired, I just wanted to know who I was going to be working with. But I would share the story with them, I would say look, when people come to our agency, they have already tried everything else. They've talked to other people, they tried to ignore it and make -- and hope things get better, they've prayed about it, they cried about it. They fought about it. And now they come to us. Strangers. And they're wanting us to help out. I said, that's how you need to treat people and get "en que modo te puedo server"- how can I help you? We're not here because of friendly house to do our work, we're here to help this community. And you need to understand that. That's what this agency is all about. And so we never made referrals, because of things that we didn't do. Somebody came and said, OK, we do immigration law. We don't do domestic law we don't do criminal law. We would tell them where to go, but we would call and make the appointment and let the person know that somebody was waiting for them when they got there and we would give them the information. And we said, "mire, te estan esperando"- they're waiting for you. And ask for this person. This is "el domincilio" - here's the address for you to go. It's a little bit different way of doing business instead of -- you -- you need to go somewhere else. I tell people, if you did that, we're going to lose them.

Jose Cardenas: We've got less than 30 seconds. What's in the future for you?

Luis Ibarra: In the future for me, I think I still live in Glendale, I'm still part of the community. I'm still going to be involved. I'm not going to go away and say, look, I've done my thing and -- I'm still involved in a lot of things.

Jose Cardenas: We know where to find you.

Luis Ibarra: Yes. People have my number and they know how to get a hold of me.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you so much for joining us.

Luis Ibarra: Thank you Jose for having me.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for all your work and best wishes.

Luis Ibarra:Former President and CEO, Friendly House;

airs Feb. 28

Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert

Barry Gibb singing (Bee Gees: In Our Own Time)
aired Feb. 24

Bee Gees: In Our Own Time

A cute little duckling with text reading: Arizona PBS Ducks in a Row Event
March 6

Getting Your Ducks in a Row to Avoid Conflict When You Are Gone

Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson
aired Feb. 23

The Highwaymen: Live at Nassau Coliseum

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: