Center for Youth Wellness

Center for Youth Wellness announces new CEO, board chair and expanded model for healing families and communities facing childhood trauma

The Center for Youth Wellness is excited to announce its new CEO and chair of the board, who will lead the organization in its mission to prevent and heal the impact of severe adversity and toxic stress on children and their families.

The board of the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) has chosen former healthcare executive James (Jim) H. Hickman as CYW’s CEO. Child advocate and attorney Mary Kelly Persyn of New Teacher Center is the new board chair of the nonprofit, which is based in the historic Bayview – Hunters Point district of San Francisco.

“CYW is undergoing a big change as it moves from focusing primarily on getting doctors to do ACEs screening to partnering with our communities to evolve how we approach Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress,” Hickman said. “We will leverage the incredible accomplishments of CYW under its founder Dr. Nadine Burke Harris to advance an ambitious agenda for children’s health and community transformation in California.”

Hickman, who served as the Center’s interim CEO following Dr. Burke Harris’s January appointment as California’s Surgeon General, is a senior executive with more than twenty-five years of health care experience in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors. Past leadership roles include CEO of Sutter Health’s Better Health East Bay and Bay Area Regional Director of Blue Cross of California’s (now Anthem) State Sponsored Programs. Hickman is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Provider’s National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs. He is an active volunteer and advisor to policymakers, foundations, and innovators. 

Mary Kelly Persyn, a longtime supporter of CYW and board member since 2015, will succeed Mary Pang as CYW’s new chair of the board. 

“Because of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, ACEs, toxic stress, and the power of resilience are now commonly understood by the people across my networks: lawyers, social workers, teachers, and policymakers. I’m immensely grateful for that,” said Persyn. “CYW is ready to take our child trauma expertise and our screening and intervention model on the road, and into the state Capitol and the halls of Congress. Through our powerful coalition, the California Campaign to Counter Childhood Adversity (4CA), we will use our expertise and our voice to advocate for legislation in California and nationally to get children the care and support they need to thrive.” Persyn serves as Senior Director of Legal & Strategy at New Teacher Center, a member of the EmbraceRace national advisory board, and board member of the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society. She is currently engaged in significant legal and legislative advocacy on behalf of migrant children in United States custody, focusing on the toxic stress impact of their flight from danger and subsequent detention.

CYW’s Next Chapter

“Our goal is simple: to build capacity for ACEs screening and treatment and remove barriers to care,” Hickman wrote in a recent op-ed. “How does this happen? CYW begins by doing research to deeply understand a community — its needs, demographics, key influencers, and potential barriers to trauma screening and treatment. In the most important part of our process, we then partner with the community’s key stakeholders in three ecosystems (providers, parents/caregivers, and community-based organizations). The key is in our bottom-up approach.”

This approach has seen good results in Fresno and other communities CYW has worked with, he added.

“It’s been a great joy to work with the Center for Youth Wellness here in Fresno,” says Artie Padilla, executive director of Every Neighborhood Partnership, which, along with the Fresno County Trauma & Resilience Network, partnered with CYW there. “Its methodology is in perfect alignment with our organization’s focus on using the assets of the very community we wish to serve. This type of cross-city collaborative partnership is a great example of leveraging both human and intellectual capital for the health of both communities.”

Please join us in welcoming CYW’s CEO Jim Hickman and new board chair Mary Kelly Persyn; their recent writings on toxic stress, CYW’s new model, the detainment and family separation policy of the Trump Administration, and other issues can be found in STAT (the Boston Globe), the New York Daily News, Medium, ACEs Connection, and other publications. 

CYW offers its profound thanks to outgoing board chair Mary Pang and the board for their dedicated work during CYW’s transition, as well as all of our partners, funders, and friends for your commitment to our mission and continued support.

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Center for Youth Wellness is not a crisis center. Those experiencing urgent medical or psychiatric concerns should dial 911 or their local emergency agency for assistance. We are unable to respond to messages requesting referrals, treatment or clinical consultations from individuals who are not our patients.