Q & A with Brian McKee

CEO of House of the Good Shepherd talks about foster care provided by the nonprofit, which turns 150 this year

By David Podos

Brian McKee is the CEO of the House of the Good Shepherd. HGS has a staff of 371 and a budget of $28 million. Funding primarily comes from local and state governments. They also receive direct private donations, as well as money from several fundraising events.

Q: Prior to your CEO position do you have any other experiences working for nonprofits?
A: Yes. The majority of my work was done in CNY. I was in government for 15 years in child welfare and juvenile justice. I also worked for Elmcrest Children’s Center in Syracuse, where I was the associate executive director. After that I spent about three years at Liberty Resources, a behavioral health organization, and then came here to the HGS as their chief executive officer.

Q: The House of the Good Shepherd is celebrating 150 years of service this year. How did the HGS begin?
A: Well it was actually the brain child of a group of Episcopalian women living in Utica who had gotten together and decided to develop a place for neglected, friendless and destitute children — that was in 1872. Of course, there were many people along the way who contributed to its success and longevity which brings us up to our present 150th anniversary. Like any organization in its infancy, it needed help both financially as well as non-financial help, which is critical. The Proctor family who had a deep and long history here in Utica was instrumental in supporting HGS with financial support.

Q: Explain in a little more detail, who your clientele is and has that changed over the years?
A: What is interesting is this, who we serve has not changed. The way we serve them has changed. So these are kids that are typically from poor families. The kids often go without so we shore up what is missing in the kids’ life. So back in the orphanage days, what was different about us that wasn’t necessarily true about all the other orphanages, we were always seen as a temporary shelter. It was a sanctuary for the children to come to for a moment in time whatever the situation was that brought them to us. So we know that if a kid spends, say four, five, six, years or more in an institutional setting that setting becomes their lives and those kids adapted to that way of living. In many ways, that was not a bad place to be considering the situation that many of them where in prior to coming to us. But what the kids really needed was a family environment, so we began a foster care program back in the 1950s and now the average length of time our kids spend on the HGS campus is usually less than eight months. In reality, there are still kids who need more intensive institutional care for longer periods of time and we do provide that level of care. But a foster care environment is so much better if they are not able to return to their biological family.

Q: What are the main services that you provide?
A: As mentioned, our foster care program helps children who are currently unable to live with their birth parents. Most children require short-term care while their families receive services and work toward reunification. A primary goal of our foster care program is to take the necessary steps to reunite children with their birth families whenever possible. Our therapeutic care consists of counseling, respite, case management, 24/7 on-call crisis response, psychiatric and psychological consultation. Along with physical health coordination and assessment and treatment planning and weekly home visits by our case planners.

Q: Can you talk a bit about your fundraiser events?
A: Sure. We have two major fundraising events. Our first one is a golf tournament that we put on at the Yahnundasis Golf Club located in New Hartford. That is held in June. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, we had to scratch the golf tournament for the past two years. But people [sponsors] donated anyways and we ended up raising approximate $110,000 for each of the two years. Once we backed out our expenses, we netted about $70,000 for each year. This year we are very excited because the event will be live.

Our second major fundraiser is a wine and cheese event that is usually held in either September or October. This year it will be a gala to celebrate our 150th year anniversary. We don’t have one singular place where we hold it but rather we float each year to different venues, past hosts are the Fort Schuyler Club in Utica, Hotel Utica as well as the Yahnundasis Golf Club. People can go onto our website to receive more information on these fundraisers as well as other events we hold throughout the year.

The House of the Good Shepherd Administrative offices can be reached at 315-235-7780. Visit www.hgs-utica.com.