By Joyell Nevins
Angels Foster Family Network CEO turns personal into his business
La Mesa resident Jeff Weiman’s specialty is taking great businesses or organizations and making them better.
“I’ve made it my career to go into organizations, and grow them,” he said. “I believe I can go in and make anything better.”
The Navy veteran has worked with Arc of San Diego, helped revamp the San Diego Red Cross chapter, and boosted Fleet Week. This latest project, though, is more than a business project; it’s personal. Weiman was hired as Angels Foster Family Network CEO in 2013 after he and his wife, Peri Lynn Turnbull, were foster parents through the organization themselves.
Between Turnbull and Weiman, they have four children: a 14-year-old daughter, 11-year-old fraternal twins, and a 6-year-old son. And they wanted more. An exploration of many options landed them at Angels’ door. After attending an orientation in April 2013, Weiman and Turnbull knew this was it.
Three months later, in the middle of the day, they got a phone call. A mother with outstanding warrants had been picked up at a traffic stop. She went to jail; her 6-week-old son went to the Polinsky Children’s Center.
“It’s always the most surreal thing,” Weiman explained. “We got a call at 2:30 in the afternoon, and by 4, 4:30 we were there picking up a baby. We showed our license, signed some papers and boom, we got a child. Even as experienced parents, it was still like going from zero to 100 mph.”
Weiman related taking in a foster child like going into the movie theater and seeing “The End” roll across the screen.
“You’re trying to roll that movie back and figure out who the characters are and what the history was,” Weiman said.
Like when Weiman and Turnbull took the child to the doctor, and couldn’t give any medical history. The baby was physically, emotionally and cognitively delayed from being virtually ignored for the first six weeks of his life (they learned later he spent almost all of his time in a car seat or a play pen and had very little parental interaction). Weiman and Turnbull were learning on the fly, but one thing was certain.
“We said we’re just going to jump in and love this kid,” Weiman said.
And they did. They also incorporated his biological father – when the dad called Weiman spewing hatred for taking his kid, Weiman “walked him off the ledge.” Weiman invited the man into the child’s and their life, and helped show him how to be a dad (even simple things like playing on the floor with his infant). Weiman said it was clear the dad had an “undying love” for his child; he had just never been shown before what it meant to be a father.
Four months later, that kid was placed with his paternal grandmother. Four years later, he and his father are still a part of the Weiman family’s life. The child and Weiman’s own 6-year-old son start asking about each other if they go a few weeks without seeing one another.
“Here’s a young kid who had a bad start, but it didn’t end there,” Weiman said. “We see how we rewired his brain.”
In the final meeting with Angels concerning this child, Weiman heard the organization was in transition and looking for an interim executive director. Between his CEO experience, business mind, and appreciation for their mission, Weiman thought he could be a perfect fit. He started in November 2013 as interim director, and in June 2014 was hired officially as executive director.
Then he did what he does best — make a terrific thing better. Weiman related that the organization itself had a “great foundation,” set by founder Cathy Richman. They were incredible and had a lot of experience working with the children, but on the business side it was more of a startup.
Weiman came in and helped update technology, streamline the budget, and clean up the financial side of the house. He also assisted Angels into moving into a new facility, complete with a child care area, and pushed his staff to get outside of the office.
“To me, a good day is when there’s nobody there,” Weiman said, referring to the staff working with the families and out in the field.
Weiman praises the employees for their passion, creativity, and commitment to Angels’ mission. He noted that giving people the freedom and resources to do what they need to do and do it best is vital.
“It’s treating people like adults — setting expectations and saying ‘now, go do that,’” Weiman said.
Angels program director Sara Lucchini shared that the feeling of respect and admiration is mutual.
“Jeff is admired by the staff as being a visionary and someone who definitely leads by example,” Lucchini said.
Angels is now the largest private provider of foster families out of the 10 foster family agencies (FFA) that work with San Diego County.
“A key to Angels’ growth needs to be attributed to Jeff’s leadership,” Lucchini said.
Another key to their success, according to Weiman, is that Angels focuses on one thing, and they do it really well. That niche is working with children five years and younger only in a goal to get them housed back with family members.
Sixty percent of the children that come through Angels’ doors go back to their family; 30 percent are adopted; and 10 percent end with a non-relative extended family member (like a close family friend). None get stuck back in the revolving system.
How come? Weiman noted that Angels’ model focuses on care — both for the foster child and his or her foster family.
“Many foster systems operate in reactive mode — moving from crisis to crisis,” Weiman said.
Angels tries to operate proactively. They set the expectation with their families that they keep the foster child until the child is back with a family member or a permanent home situation. There is no seven-day or 30-day grace period for sending a child back into the system. Weiman noted that in many of those cyclical situations, the system ends up doing more damage than good.
To help make that expectation a reality, Angels first does a detailed home study on potential foster families to place the child that “best fits” each family. Staff provides 24/7 personal support to the foster families.
The organization also only allows their families to only have one foster child or sibling set at a time (Weiman pointed out that it’s not about the number of kids in the house; it’s the natural age progression — even the best parent would find it hard to provide the attention needed to six 2-year-olds all at once).
Angels is welcoming of foster parents from all walks of life, as long as they have an interest and love of children.
Now that Weiman has helped Angels get some extra momentum, will he be moving on to another company that needs a boost? Not likely.
“I don’t see myself leaving Angels until it is has reached its full potential — that any kid five and younger in the San Diego area has the ability for a quality of foster home like Angels,” Weiman declared.