In Their Own Words
In 1906, Mr. & Mrs. Jacob Strickland took in an orphaned nephew to their farm just outside the northern city limits of Los Angeles (which is still our main site today). Another boy - a ward of the court - arrived in the same year. By 1908 there were 13 boys living on the farm. The Stricklands supported the home by selling dairy products and chickens raised on their farm.
When Judge Curtis Wilbur, the presiding judge in Los Angeles Juvenile Court, was handling juvenile cases in Superior Court, he faced the dilemma of deciding where to place delinquent or orphaned boys. At that time, a reform school was the only place available, but in many cases it was not an adequate alternative. Judge Wilbur felt a home for boys was needed, and under his leadership the Strickland Home for Boys was incorporated on April 13, 1914.
In the early 1920s, the Home and local Optimist Clubs began discussing working together. Increasing interest and important financial support from the Los Angeles Optimist Club resulted in changing the name to the Optimist Boys’ Home and Ranch Inc. in 1934 when it was in fact incorporated as a 501-C-3. During the 40s and 50s, a dining room, kitchen, administration building, chapel, gymnasium and additional dorms were built.
During the 60s and 70s, because many of the youngsters in care were victims of divorce, abuse and neglect, it was determined there was a need for a more structured treatment and educational program. Classes were established on grounds for students having difficulties with the local school setting. In 1972, the Home began a major capital project; its own high school to provide classrooms and vocational training for its youngsters. The Campus program expanded to accommodate 87 boys during this period.
In 1974 the Home undertook the development of our first Group Home. Today the Home operates a total of four group homes, located in Los Angeles County. Two of the homes house boys and in response to a growing need, two accommodate girls.
Specialized educational services were provided for all students and in 1990, the home implemented its own Non-Public School program replacing the school that was operated by the County.
An expansion to the campus facilities was completed in 1991, with the opening of the Haldeman Youth Counseling Center. This structure housed a special day program as well as the business office, computer operations, fund development and personnel offices.
In 1992, the agency opened a new Foster Family Agency program in order to respond to the growing need to individually place abused children in foster homes. Staff provides the foster families in our program with the support and technical assistance to fulfill the responsibility of helping these foster children who range in age from newborn to 21 years.
In the fall of 1996, our gymnasium was upgraded and renovated. Since its completion, many school ceremonies, recreational and campus activities have been conducted in this safe and completely refurbished facility.
In 1997 an Independent Living program was initiated. This necessary element provides continued assistance and support for graduates of the Home while they are continuing their education and becoming working members of the community. Two years later, another campus improvement was the upgrading and renovation of a 3-bedroom house on campus for use as an Independent Living Unit for an additional six residents.
In March 1999 we received an Adoptions License. This has enabled us to help children in our foster homes to be placed in permanent homes through the adoptions process.
In 1999 the agency contracted with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in order to provide Day-Rehabilitation services to our campus residents. This allowed for the addition of several services after school hours and on weekends. These services include Music Therapy, Movement Therapy, Art Therapy, Substance Abuse programs, Specialized Group Therapies, Recreation Therapy and an expansion of services to families. Our d.b.a. in fact was changed to Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services.
This latest expansion led to a severe space problem and therefore we began a Capital Campaign in the spring of 2001 in order to construct a new 23,000 square foot “Youth Learning Center” on our main campus. The building opened in September 2005 and is named The Everychild Youth Learning Center, after the foundation that gave the lead gift.
In 2001 we expanded the aforementioned mental health contract in order to begin an Aftercare Program allowing us to assist graduates with reintegration into the community. In addition, we began to offer Mental Health Services to those placed in our Foster Family Program and to detainees of Barry J. Nidorff Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. That same year the agency became nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation (C.O.A.) based in New York City. Only the nation’s premiere agencies are COA accredited.
The fall of 2002 marked the beginning of our Community Mental Health program allowing us to offer Mental Health Services to Medi-Cal eligible children of L.A. County who are not otherwise associated with any of our programs.
In 2006 we celebrated our 100th anniversary.
In 2007, we expanded our contract with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health once again to offer specialized programs to young people in the Palmdale/Lancaster area in order to divert them from residential care. This is a Full Service Partnership (FSP) that is funded through the passage of the State’s Mental Health Services Act, a result of voters approving Proposition 63 in 2006.
The year 2007 also marked the beginning of a Family Finding Program for our residential and foster care youth who do not have parents available to them for a variety of reasons. That year we also expanded our Mentoring Program in an effort to eventually help more young people in residential care have their own mentors.
In 2010 we began using Evidenced Based Practices in many of our mental health programs.
A “Placement Assessment Center” (PAC) unit was added to our campus program in 2012. This unit is designed to evaluate probation minors from LA County Probation to determine their future treatment needs. That same year Optimist became part of a partnership with LA County in offering a specialized program for victims of sexual trafficking (CSEC). In addition the agency added Whole Foster Family Care to our foster care program enabling us to admit pregnant or parenting teens to our population.
A Pet Therapy program was added in 2012 for residents of our campus and group homes.
Optimist Charter School opened in September of 2013. This is a special charter school designed primarily to serve probation and foster youth. The Los Angeles County Office of Education authorized this new venture and serve as our partners in its operation. With this new addition to our program, Optimist had become the first agency serving probation youth to have both a Charter School and a non-public school on a single campus to be able to meet all the varying educational needs of probation and foster youth. However in 2015 changes in the referral system as well as lower numbers led to the closing of the non-public school. The Charter School was expanded to accept girls from one of our sister agencies in Hollywood.
The Foster Family and Adoptions program was chosen as a pilot agency to provide foster homes to L.A. County Probation minors in 2015 and we placed their first young man into one of our foster homes.
In 2015 we installed artificial turf on our athletic field.
2016 marked a major expansion year for the agency. After a lengthy due diligence process the boards of directors of both Optimist and Pacific Lodge Youth Services of Woodland Hills decided to merge as one organization. The official merger was completed in February 2017. OYHFS operates Pacific Lodge as a division of our agency. This made us the largest residential all probation provider in the state of California.
On August 1, 2017 OYHFS became the first Los Angeles County agency to be provisionally licensed as an STRTP (Short Term Residential Treatment Program) a new license category that replaces former Group Homes. All group homes in the State were required to convert to this new licensing category by December 31, 2018 or they will no longer be able to contract for services. Given that two of the major requirements for this new system are that agencies must be nationally accredited and have contracts with their local County Department of
Mental Health, Optimist was well prepared as we achieved those two milestones 18 years before this requirement was made effective.
In April of 2018 we received our Mental Health Program Approval for our STRTP, again becoming the first in the state to achieve this.
November 1, 2018 marked the date of Optimist receiving its full permanent licenses for all our STRTP’s, and yes, we became the first in the state to accomplish this.
Our Charter School was re-authorized for another five years of operation in 2018.
The adjustment to the new STRTP system continued throughout 2019. This included the introduction of formal training for all staff at all levels in Trauma Informed Care which moves us from thinking about consequences to focusing on relationships and communication. The complete transition will take time.
At the same time we faced the need to reduce our population as fewer children were being sent to agencies such as ours, though it is anticipated that this will change in the next few years. We also made the decision to change our Pacific Lodge campus to a girl’s facility as the county expressed a need for more female placements. This includes a Temporary Shelter Care Facility (TSCF) for adolescent girls which will open in 2020.
In the summer of 2020 our Charter School was closed due to both low enrollment as well as the fact that having all STRTP students together in the same educational environment is not the best situation to enhance learning.
We at Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services are proud of our rich heritage and commitment to serving youth. With the help of charitable friends, we have been able to meet the ever-changing needs of the community for over a century. With your continued support, we aspire to continue to “build productive lives” as we expand our programs to serve even more youth and families.
Optimist Youth Homes
& Family Services
6957 N. Figueroa St. Box 41-1076 Los Angeles, CA 90041-1076
Telephone: (323) 443-3175
Thank You for all your support!