If no good deed goes unpunished, then Mark Klaus is in for a heck of a night.
Klaus, President and CEO of El Cajon, CA-based Home of Guiding Hands (HGH), is being recognized for his decade-plus work leading the organization as honorary subject/victim of a charity roast held on Saturday, June 12. The evening, a Treasure Island-themed fundraiser, is being held at Singing Hills Golf Resort in El Cajon, and the outdoor, socially-distanced occasions included a three-course dinner and no shortage of laughs dished-up at Klaus’s expense.
In the days’ preceding the roast, Klaus admitted a few jitters.
“To be honest . . . yeah, a little bit nervous,” laughed Klaus. “There are some fears of the unknown. I like to have my hands in everything. My team has shared almost nothing with me regarding the event. I do have a suspicion on a few of the roasters, as I’ve seen some people come into the office lately who usually wouldn’t be here. But, it’s gonna’ be a great event, a lot of good fun.”
The apt recognition for Klaus doubly-serves as acknowledgment for the continued reach the organization has achieved. Founded in 1961, HGH has grown to into one of San Diego County’s largest providers of services and programs, now reaching 4,000 infants, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities, along with providing assistance to their families.
“The mission is to better the lives of those whom we serve; that really is our guiding principal for all of our decision, both as a Board and for our community,” explained Klaus. “Ours is a person-focused vision, adding in services and supports to better meet the needs. For me, that means working to meet un-met needs. Looking at the growth since I’ve been here, it has really been focused on the area of ‘community-based’ services, versus residential-based services. And it’s not so much about HGH just getting larger, but rather meeting the needs of residents in San Diego and Imperial Counties.”
Known for his work in championing hands-on staff and working with state legislators to ensure continued funding and adequate wages, Klaus has also guided HGH to enhanced “respite services” for the families of those with disabilities, with the organization providing more than 156,000 such hours in 2020 alone.
“And people often ask, ‘Respite services, what does that mean?’ and I’ll say that my wife and I have two daughters and, when they were younger, if we needed a break, we’d call the girl next door and she’d come over and babysit for a few hours,” continued Klaus. “Whereas, families that have individuals with a developmental disability, a babysitter really isn’t an option; a trained care giver is needed. So, I like to think that the respites services are a particularly-valuable service we provide, to give families a little break. Sometimes, we all need a little break.”
Amid the peak-months of pandemic, the President and CEO led the organization and its residents with aplomb, working closely with California legislators, according to HGH, “to safely deliver services to vulnerable residents, offered rides to vaccination clinics and gave rural residents Wi-Fi hot spots to use in virtual therapy.”
Such navigation amid uncertainty, led to earnest, pre-roast praise from state leadership. In a video prepared for the June 12 event, California Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins, (D-San Diego), said of Klaus:
“Mark’s service to others is truly a reflection of his commitment to improving the lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable and valuable citizens. When I think of Mark, I think of a leader who focuses on the opportunities rather than the struggle. He’s a collaborator and a problem solver.”
Hearing of Atkins’ praise, Klaus replied:
“The health, safety and wellness of the individuals we support, along with the staff in our communities, needed to remain our top priorities. During the peak of COVID, we needed to retain as much staff as possible, and the State of California stepped up with emergency payments; as long as staff were kept, and kept engaged, then reimbursements continued.”
With over four decades in the industry, Klaus is steered by the words on his office wall.
“I look at everything as an opportunity, and we continue to focus on the positives. I spend a lot of my time being that optimist, looking at options and alternatives,” he said. “One of the quotes I have in my office is from W. Edward Deming, whose best known for his work as an American consultant in Japan after WWII, and the quote reads, ‘It’s not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.’ And I think those are the words I kind of live by – we need to always look at opportunities to change, to better meet the needs of our communities, and to be optimistic in how we do that.”
Following past charity event themes including “Great Gatsby,” “Superheroes,” and “Western Night,” the recognition of Klaus featured lives roasters including El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and philanthropist Dave Walker, along with several video roasts; Isaac Blumberg served as emcee and, in the days’ before the event, Klaus expressed great enthusiasm for having family in attendance (specifying he hadn’t seen his mother or brothers in the past year across the pandemic timeline).
Readying for the ribbing, Klaus prepped for some self-deprecation.
“I tend to be very hands-on; and though I’m not a micro-manager, I think that I tend to send follow-ups even more than I like,” smiled the CEO. “My staff jokes that I send a lot of task reminders, to the effect of, ‘Please update,’ or ‘Where are we on this?'”
As the roast night grew near, Klaus expressed the importance of balancing jest with earnestness.
“I guess what I’ve learned about this industry – or, really, any industry – is that we need to take time to laugh,” Klaus concluded. “Yes, what we do here is very serious, but if we can’t take time to laugh and laugh at ourselves, it makes the job even tougher.”
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