By Joel Hall
Since 1962, before the start of the Clayton County Community Services Authority, Clayton County Family Care, Inc., has served as a safety net for families struggling to pay rent and utility bills. Earlier this month, the organization acquired a new executive director, who board members hope can lead the organization into the future.
Janna Szeto, former executive director of the Atlanta Center for Working Families, took over as executive director of Clayton County Family Care on April 12. Her appointment replaces David Enniss, who left the nonprofit organization in March of this year.
A Clayton County native, Szeto comes to the organization with more than 12 years of experience leading and fund-raising for nonprofits. In addition to her previous position with the Center for Working Families, the Jonesboro High School graduate has served on the staff of the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, the Georgia Transplant Foundation, and Women's Sports Foundation.
Szeto said her previous work with the Center for Working Families included helping people with computer training, financial literacy, home-ownership training, and other skills to allow people to support their families. She said she believes the experience will apply to Clayton County Family Care, which provides rent, mortgage, water, power, and prescription assistance to needy individuals.
"They're [the Center for Working Families] an asset-building and entrepreneurial program for the City of Atlanta," Szeto said. "There are some definite similarities to the work. It was kind of a one-stop shop for family services, kind of what Clayton County Family Care and the Community Services Authority try to do together."
Started in 1952 by E.W. Oliver as the Clayton County Community Chest, Inc., the name was changed to Clayton County Family Care, Inc., in 1962 -- three years prior to the establishment of the Community Services Authority.
The present-day office of Clayton County Family Care sits inside the Clayton County Community Services Authority building, located at 1000 Main Street in Forest Park. Szeto said the separate organizations work together to refer people to needed services.
Szeto, a Decatur resident, said her deep community ties prompted her to come back to work in the Southern Crescent. Her grandfather, J.L. Baker, was a long-time employee of the Clayton County Water Authority and her father, State Rep. Glenn Baker (D-Jonesboro), currently serves as the representative of House District 78, which covers parts of east Clayton and west Henry counties.
"I come from a long lineage of people who are tied to this community, so it was important for me to come back and assist," Szeto said. "We have a real need in this community. It [the position of executive director] was an opportunity to lead an organization and shape how these critical services are provided to the community."
Szeto said that over the next few months, she would like to work to cement the organization's ties with local groups that assist with funding and referrals. She said she would also like to increase Clayton County Family Care's visibility in the community. She took steps to do so on Monday, by increasing its board from eight members to 11 members.
Clayton County Family Care Board Chairperson Marie Barber said Szeto's compassion and experience "brings on board what we are looking for to bring this organization in a new direction."
"Janna brings a strong background of nonprofit management that will support the reestablishment of this vital organization's presence in the community, and help to build strategic partnerships with agencies and donors as well as an organizational strategic plan that will positively impact the residents of this community who need our services the most," Barber said.
Clayton County Community Services Authority Executive Director and Clayton County Family Care Board Member Charles W. Grant said he believes Szeto is "ready-made" for the position.
"It's a combined effort to be sure that we have emergency assistance to address the concerns of the community," Grant said. "We feel very fortunate we are able to get somebody with that kind of experience and somebody with that kind of passion."
Szeto said the organization is currently working on fund-raising projects and offering volunteer opportunities. Clayton County Family Care can be reached at (404) 366-5527.