GIFF Talks with Family Centers

By: Claudia Citrin and Alicia Pipher

Family Centers has been serving the lower Fairfield County Community since 1891. It is a trusted provider of health, education and human service programs in our area. In 2021, Greenwich International Film Festival was proud to present a $10,000 Community Impact Award to this deserving organization. Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with CEO Bob Arnold, who has been at the helm of Family Centers for over forty years. Under his leadership, Family Centers has expanded into a multi-service operation that offers vital help to people in many ways.

Please tell us about your background and career process that brought you to Family Centers.

I’ve been working at Family Centers for a long time. My career in mental health started when I began working at an in-patient mental health facility in Westport. I worked in direct services right out of college and then I managed a group of mental health workers. From there, I went to Columbia University’s School of Social Work to get my masters. My first year of internship was in Westchester County. I completed my second year of my internship here at Family Centers. I worked in family oriented services and group work. When my internship ended, I was hired as a clinical social worker and I worked for 4 years in that position. I also had previous management experience from the hospital that I worked at and it was an area that interested me. I became Family Centers CEO at a much younger age than I ever thought possible. The woman who was running the organization at the time was retiring. I remember applying for the position and thinking if it didn’t work out I’d wait and find another situation but I got the job. In 1982, I became CEO and it’s been many years and a long wonderful journey ever since. We were a small organization that grew organically by adding our own programs. In the process, since the mid-nineties, we’ve had ten mergers and acquisitions, so we’re a little bit atypical from any other organization in the nonprofit field.

When people come to Family Centers are they usually seeking help for one specific need?

Organizations like this are really a conduit to deliver the types of help and the types of solutions that people need. We don’t believe in the siloed approach which requires a person to seek help from many different organizations. If you have a solid platform and people who are capable of understanding the holistic approach like we do, you can plug many different programs and agencies into a bigger platform that can interact with each other. Not only does this create great efficiency in the delivery of human and health services, it also reduces the cost of operations to an efficient core while still delivering many different types of services. It really saves the community a lot of charitable dollars because instead of having to keep a bunch of smaller organizations afloat, the community can invest in a place where people can find help through a variety of services such as the ones we provide. Also, what’s even better than saving the community money is that when an organization becomes a really efficient delivery system and multiple programs work together, this interaction offers support for different issues someone may be struggling with. For instance, when kids go to our School Based Health Centers for mental health needs, they often mention physical symptoms they may have had for a long time. When this happens they are brought right to the attention of one of our nurse practitioners to be checked out.

Interconnectedness is key at Family Centers. Everybody who works here, whether they work in early childhood, at Stamford CARES with HIV/AIDS clients, in our school clinics, or in public housing doing resident service work, they all have our other services added to their lens. The support our clients find from the interconnection between our services builds their trust in us. This goes hand in hand with our customer service approach which is that we want every person to feel safe, respected and to know that they are an important customer.

What programs are the largest and fill the greatest need in the community?

In terms of volume, two of the largest programs we run at Family Centers are through our services for mental health and primary healthcare. Across our sites, we provide approximately twenty to twenty five thousand mental health sessions a year. There is a mental health crisis right now across all age groups. If you break out the school-based primary health centers we have, that’s also a very large category because we not only see kids in our clinics when they’re sick, we also provide preventive care. In Stamford middle and high schools, we provide mental health as well as primary healthcare. Kids can even get their annual school physicals at our health centers. At Westhill High School we also have a dental clinic where all kids enrolled in our health centers can see a dentist. On site at Greenwich High School, we have mental health services available.

We also run an afterschool program at New Lebanon, Hamilton Avenue and Julian Curtis Elementary schools in Greenwich, called, Family First in Education where we work with the administrative staff and teaching teams who identify students that need extra academic enhancements outside of school. It’s a wonderful program. Everything is tailored to the child’s needs. Each child has an independent education plan and tutors who communicate with the child’s teacher. We see great results because as we work with these kids they’re academic performance rises very steadily and they generally end up not only meeting their peer expectation levels but exceeding them.

Another service we provide is early education here in Greenwich for three to five year olds. We give out approximately two and a half million dollars a year to families who are in need of tuition assistance. Some of our preK students are from single parent households or their mothers and fathers are working two to three jobs just to make ends meet.

How many locations does Family Centers operate?

We have sixty sites. Twenty-one of them are licensed facilities to deliver health care or education services. Our three primary locations are the one here in Greenwich, our site in Stamford and the Center for HOPE in Darien. At all of our sites there is at least one Family Centers professional stationed who works out of it. This includes a lot of public housing communities in Stamford and Greenwich, all of the schools where we have school based health centers and all of the community based sites in which we co-locate. It’s important to recognize that when you decentralize yourself like we have you put yourself out into the community where the people who most need your services are as opposed to telling everyone if you want our services you have to come to us.

What have you found helpful in your role as CEO?

So many things have been helpful to me. One, is that we have some of the most extraordinary professionals who come to work here not because it’s the place where they can make the most money in their field but because they’re attracted to our mission. Our mission of helping everyone and treating all people with respect and dignity and making sure that everybody has access to the kinds of services and tools that will help them and their families achieve their own individual potential. Mission driven people who come to work here have been enormously helpful to me.

The other thing that’s been helpful is that we are in the middle of a very caring community. We have a lot of people in our community who really want others to succeed and have the means to contribute to that both in terms of dollars and time. We have more than 500 volunteers, and they are wonderful. For instance, the volunteers who participate in our Literacy Volunteers program give their time to help others learn the English language, which opens doors to many things that they didn’t have before. Also, every year when a class is ready to graduate, the literacy team does an incredible job putting together a book of writing samples from each person who is graduating. Everyone feels pretty proud that something they wrote has now been published in English.The graduation celebration is a real feel-good night. People have a lot of pride after having worked really hard to achieve something. Acquiring a new language in a short period of time is not easy.

And, by the way, GIFF was the first organization to help us with Literacy Volunteers by giving us a grant and securing a publicity opportunity on the show, “GIVE,” during which Mark Teixeira (former professional baseball player and GIFF Board member) visited a class.

What are some of the goals for Family Centers?

First and foremost, to always be a trusted resource for anybody in the community that needs us. The way you become a trusted resource is that you do the best work you can for each person and deliver what you say you are going to deliver to everyone who walks through your door. We really want to give people the tools they need to succeed on their own. We’re here to help them achieve their goals, not ones that we have for them. Sometimes people don’t articulate them at first but if you ask they will tell you. Listening is a really big part of it too.

Please share with us some of your favorite experiences or stories about Family Centers.

I have a lot of favorite stories about Family Centers. Some favorites that come to mind are from around the time COVID hit. We had to shut down everything including our health care centers and our preschools. Very quickly, our preK teachers began to communicate with their kids online and sent lesson plans home to parents. Our teachers wanted to ensure that their students didn’t slide backwards academically or developmentally so they prepared all kinds of things for their families. They also made drive-by visits to their students’ homes so they would get to see their teachers and be reassured they would eventually be coming back to school. What our teachers did for their students was wonderful and impactful.

My other favorite story from that time is since we couldn’t have any clients coming in for months, the healthcare team at our Palmers Hill Road location in Stamford converted the location into a drive-thru testing site where we offered testing to the community until the demand decreased as at-home testing became available. As soon as vaccines came out, we were one of three providers in Greenwich that opened a vaccination station. From morning until night, we gave out vaccinations. It was so powerful because people were desperate to get vaccinated.

These stories remind us of how resilient we all are but especially highlight our team’s proactive efforts. They just jumped right in and did whatever it took to deal with all of the unknowns that COVID confronted us with that none of us had ever faced before. The way our staff responded during a time of crisis just exemplifies how exceptional they are.

How do you envision Family Centers in the future?

Family Centers is on a great trajectory right now. It’s working in these separate but interconnected industries and expanding in a meaningful way. It’s never been an organization that tries to be all things to all people, trying to do more than it can do. We are calculating in terms of how we add on and when we can do it but we also end up taking leaps. We’re about to take over two clinics from Greenwich Hospital and Yale New Haven Health, a pediatric community clinic and a primary care clinic for adults. It’s scheduled to happen this summer and it will more than double our primary healthcare practice and make more services available for people who are uninsured and underinsured. It’s a big leap but a very logical one because it’s in an area we are already operating in.

I’d like to see Family Centers continue to head in the direction that it’s going, which is to be a comprehensive multi-service organization that delivers the best services that it can to everybody in the community who needs these kinds of services. Some people have opportunities to go to private practices and concierge services, etc., but for those who don’t we want to give them a top notch experience whether it’s in learning a language or getting good health care.

During our talk with Bob Arnold, Family Centers Chief Advancement Officer, Bill Brucker stopped by. We asked Bill the following;

How can people get involved at Family Centers?

There are a number of ways that people can get involved. We have about three hundred staff members that provide our services and run our holistic network of care but we couldn’t do it without the support of the community. We’re lucky to live in an area where we have such abundant resources, not only financially, but we have a tremendously talented volunteer team. They are people with a number of different skill sets that they are very willing to share with community organizations like ours.

We are very fortunate to have approximately five to six hundred volunteers that assist us on a yearly basis. The support of our volunteers makes our job as providers happen. We have folks who volunteer in programs such as our Family First in Education program and in our job skills readiness classes. We also have volunteers who offer support at our Den for Grieving Kids program that help children and families who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Student volunteers from private and public schools that we regularly work with assist on a number of projects and every year we have a group of senior interns from Greenwich High School who work in a variety of areas in our organization. We have a really great connection with the local schools and the young people in the community are very driven, very smart and very creative.

People who volunteer here also often want to support us financially, which is very important because without the support of our donors, grantmakers and foundation partners, we couldn’t do this work. Our website is loaded with lots of volunteer opportunities and people can also give online. I’m happy to meet and chat with anyone about our programs who is interested in volunteering. It’s definitely time well spent and community support is vital to our organization.

Many thanks to Bob Arnold and Bill Brucker for taking the time to speak with us and for all of their dedication, vision and hard work. The impact of the staff, volunteers and financial supporters of Family Centers is vital to our community and we are grateful for all the positive change they continue to provide. For more information on Family Centers and about how to get involved, please visit,





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