In their first change of leadership in more than 20 years, the Bakersfield Homeless Center and the Alliance Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault are getting a new CEO.
Bethany Services Inc., the nonprofit that runs both organizations, on Monday announced Lauren Skidmore will replace Louis Gill as chief executive on Oct. 4.
The change comes as city and county leaders place an increasing emphasis on homelessness, and locally the number of people with no home of their own appears to be rising.
Skidmore has spent the last five years as district director for Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield. She takes over for Gill, who has decided to pursue a change in career after 21 years in his current position.
“Obviously homelessness is one of the top issues facing our county and our state,” Skidmore said in a phone interview with The Californian. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done and I am really looking to get my hands dirty and dive deep into the topic.”
Skidmore has a long history in Kern County and with Bethany Services specifically. She grew up as a fifth-generation cattle rancher and was the director of Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government prior to working for Fong.
Currently, she serves on the boards of the Bakersfield College Foundation, the Kern County Planning Committee and the Kern County Employee Retirement Association.
Bethany External Affairs Manager Cindy Lyday described Skidmore as the person the homeless center and alliance would turn to in times of need.
“She’s always been our go-to,” Lyday said. “At this point, when Louis decided to step down after 21 years of dedicated service, we needed someone who was ready to take us to that next level.”
Gill, who is slated to step down Sept. 30, oversaw the transformation of Bethany Services from a nonprofit with 15 employees and a budget of less than $1 million to one that employs over 200 and commands a $16 million budget.
"It’s always hard to lose a fantastic leader but we are confident and excited for the next chapter," Board Chairwoman Michelle Oxford wrote in an email to The Californian. "We are fortunate to have a very seasoned leadership team in place in our organizations. Many (managers) have over a decade of experience. They are ready and excited to work with Lauren towards a bright future."
The CEO change is happening at a time when the Homeless Center is once again attempting to expand. The California High Speed Rail Authority has agreed to purchase the Homeless Center’s property, and the center will use the funds to relocate.
Although a new location has not yet been announced, Homeless Center officials hope to expand their menu of services at the new site.
“We have a very good leader coming in,” Gill said. “Lauren is very astute, incredibly capable, with unusually complete community connections. She is very well-placed to help the organization chart a path toward successfully serving people.”
The Bakersfield Homeless Center provides a multitude of services, including emergency shelter, to women, children and families across the city. Typically, the shelter houses 100 children per night. The Alliance Against Family Violence aims to stop domestic violence and sexual assault by ensuring safety and expert help to those fleeing dangerous situations.
The two institutions have risen to prominence in Kern County for the unique role they play in the social safety net.
“I hope to bring a new perspective. I hope to look at the way we do things and try to remove barriers for staff to be more successful, for us to remove barriers for clients to get the services they need,” Skidmore said. “Success will look like housing, and providing hope, for women and children in our community. It will be simply seeing a smile on someone’s face when they have spent days, weeks or months without any hope.”