According to Foster Care Counts, 22,000 children in Los Angeles County are currently in foster care, and more than 38% of adults in the county are experiencing economic hardship that can create a disruption in a parental household.
Since 1908, Vista Del Mar Children & Family Services (VDM) have been combatting these statistics by providing a range of exceptional programs in education, autism, adoption, residential care, prevention, and early intervention.
Originally founded as The Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California, VDM has diversified their programs, staff, and mission to tailor to the community they inhabit. With a strong commitment to equity, the organization takes great pride in servicing the most vulnerable and those who have faced multi-generational inequities. Their nationally recognized clinical programs have been awarded a Gold Seal by the Joint Commission, the highest level of accreditation possible for ages 0-22.
VDM educational facilities are fully accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and graduate degree programs are recognized around the world for the high quality of its instruction. VDM is a national role model in providing these specialized services and therapeutic treatments for children and is one of Los Angeles’ most prominent resources for children on the Autism spectrum.
In addition to the many programs and services they offer, VDM commemorates families, individuals, children, staff, founders, and donors at their campus.
Tommy’s Field at VDM honors Tommy Mark, a 12-year-old youth who passed away in his sleep days before his birthday in 2018.
Tommy’s mother, Nikki Mark, had the idea to give back to her community and expressed to her son her thoughts on refurbishing a soccer field. “I told him I was thinking of doing something for the community and building a field to refurbish an existing dirt one,” she said. Tommy agreed and encouraged his mother, and three days later he transitioned.
Tommy Mark was passionate about all sports, especially soccer. Tommy’s Field at Vista Del Mar is a joyful and therapeutic program-focused space uniting Vista’s children of all circumstances and abilities, support staff, teachers, mentors, volunteers, and leadership.
The field is designed to be shared with the compassionate community of local partners and organizations focused on nourishing and serving L.A. children and families in need, as Vista has done for over 100 years, providing help, hope, home, and healing.
On Tuesday, August 22, the West L.A. field opened and hosted various activities for the youth sports teams created for Vista’s residents and community. Located in the center of Vista’s18-acre verdant campus on Motor Avenue, the brand new, full size, multipurpose sports field with lights is a gift through Vista’s Premiere Philanthropy program from Nikki and Doug Mark, Tommy’s parents, and founders of the TM23 Foundation.
TM23’s mission is to create flourishing open-air spaces and programming that embrace diversity, equality, and inclusivity, inspire children to play, to pursue their dreams and to positively impact the community. These goals perfectly align with VDM’s steadfast values and mission. This is the second field that the Mark family’s Foundation has gifted the City of Los Angeles.
Michigan native Lena Wilson moved to Los Angeles in 2019 after accepting the role of CEO at VDM with more than enough credentials for the position. At the age of 18, Wilson was a youth specialist working with children in foster care in her community. Through acts of kind service, Wilson took after her father who was a pastor, and naturally found herself assisting other families with food and shelter.
She graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in Psychology and became a foster care case manager to make more impactful systematic changes. Wilson noticed an alarming number of Black children being removed from their families and parents weren’t receiving proper legal help to keep their households together.
She enrolled in law school and became the executive director at Lutheran Adoption Services where she was able to write and implement policy and legislative changes regarding adoption. Culminating her time in Michigan, Wilson became vice president of the Children and Families Division of Samaritas. To continue to advance and make an impact across the country, Wilson interviewed for the CEO position of VDM and was hired a year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wilson is an inspiring leader who created this opportunity that will optimize the lives of Vista’s children of all abilities including those who’ve been abused, abandoned, who are in foster and adoptive care, some living with autism. Her goals are to shine light on the programs and services that uplift their beloved care community, whose voices often are unseen and unheard.
Creating this opportunity for the children and community by means of the Premiere Philanthropy program, which enables a donor to create a program or service for Vista’s care community, reflects their passions and sense of purpose which will uplift the lives of Vista’s children.
Within four years, Wilson has assisted in opening the second Tommy’s Field, cultivated the Premiere Philanthropy program, developed, and dispersed their new mobile crisis team, introduced a new performing arts component to the VDM campus, and will begin advocacy services for abused and commercially exploited youth beginning October 1.
Within the next 10-15 years, Wilson plans to continue VDM’s vision to expand and touch the lives of as many families as possible by structing a substance abuse residential and intensive outpatient program.
Once a Vista Family, always a Vista Family. Learn more about Vista Del Mar’s Children & Family Services and resources online at Vista Del Mar – Child and Family Services.