OAKLAND -- When Rebecca McWade took an orphaned child into her West Oakland home in 1883, she sowed the seeds for an organization that has advocated for thousands of abandoned, abused and at-risk children for 130 years.
Lincoln Child Center will host a "130 Years of History Gala" at Piedmont's landmark Grey Gables home on Oct. 20, when U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and the Children's Defense Fund will be honored with the center's "Building Futures" award.
The center will also celebrate the relocation from its longtime Lincoln Avenue home in the Oakland hills to a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and office space on 14th Street in West Oakland.
"LCC is one of only a handful of nonprofits in Northern California with a history that dates back to the 1800s," said CEO Christine Stoner-Mertz. "The organization's ability to transform itself over and over again as children's and families' needs have changed is extraordinary."
She said the organization's longevity speaks to the community's support for its work over more than a century.
"The thousands of people in Alameda and Contra Costa who have volunteered, donated or worked at LCC have all been responsible for this organization's success," she said.
In 1889, using money donated by Oakland's Crocker family, McWade was able to open the first racially integrated orphanage in Northern California, called the West Oakland Home for Foundling and Orphaned Children. By 1911, more than 80 children lived at the home. However, after a fire at the orphanage in 1925, the building was condemned.
Again, wealthy families stepped in to help and the orphanage was able to buy the Lincoln Avenue property in the Oakland hills. By 1930, children were living at the new residence that was later named Lincoln Child Center.
Over the years, the center's focus has shifted from residential care to working with children in their families and communities.
"This new direction is consistent with research that supports the importance of attachment of children to their families," Stoner-Mertz said. "Rather than trying to 'fix' children by separating them from family, we are working to bring services to the families in their homes and to the children at school."
LCC's services include Conyes Day Academy, which has 48 students with behavioral challenges who can't attend public school.
The center's "Kinship" program is the wave of the future in many communities, Stoner-Mertz said.
"It keeps children with their families by helping relatives who are raising a family member's children, thereby keeping kids out of foster care or group homes," she said.
"HOPE" provides school-based mental health services, while "School Engagement" -- in conjunction with the Alameda County Superior Court -- addresses student truancy.
"This movement toward providing community-based programs led to closing our residential program in order to focus on expanding services where children live," Stoner-Mertz said.
Eighteen-year-old LaTrail White was accepted into LCC's CEO Youth program when he was a 16-year-old student at Fremont High School in Oakland.
"CEO Youth (Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Youth) focuses on youth between the ages of 14 and 19 who are having problems with school attendance," Stoner-Mertz said.
The students get to experience the business world and also mentor younger kids. They also get a stipend.
"We learned how to carry ourselves in the business world and how to network," White said. "We created a business plan about what we wanted to accomplish with students when we went into the schools."
He said he had to attend school regularly in order to get his paycheck from LCC.
"That motivated me big time," said White, a star football player who now attends Contra Costa College and is also an intern in the facilities department at LCC.
White saw the results of his work in the students that he helped motivate.
"One 'D' student ended the semester with a 2.8 G.P.A. which made him eligible to play sports in high school," White said. "As he saw how I was trying to help him, he started to help himself."
Stoner-Mertz sees the relocation of Lincoln Child Center to West Oakland as a return to its roots. She wants the center not only to provide programs for families, but also be a hub for the whole West Oakland community.
"We hope to have kitchen facilities, training rooms, a computer lab, a multipurpose space for sports activities and large gatherings and an outdoor garden," Stoner-Mertz said. "Maybe even medical and dental care on-site."
Renovation on the warehouse space is slated to begin this month and should be completed by mid-2014.
LaTrail White said he likes what CEO Youth did for him and wants to continue helping others.
"I want to become an entrepreneur and set up something similar to Lincoln Child Center," White said. "A whole lot of youth are getting shot over money because they don't have job options."
He said crime and violence could be reduced in Oakland through programs like CEO Youth.
"I'd like to see kids of all races and color stay in school and have the opportunity to link up with different companies that can get them jobs," White said.
Stoner-Mertz said that, while Lincoln Child Center has changed over 130 years, its philosophy has not.
"We are committed to ensuring that all children grow up safe, healthy and with the opportunity to have a fulfilling life," she said.
What: "130 Years of History Gala" with cocktail hour, live auction, gourmet sit-down dinner, live entertainment and a walk through Lincoln Child Center's history.
When: 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 20
Where: Grey Gables, 300 Hillside Ave., Piedmont
Tickets: $130; purchase by Oct. 13
Information: https://donate.lincolnchildcenter.org/gala-130 or contact Katherine Enad at 510-482-6644 or email email@example.com