Haydée Cuza, who helped establish the California Youth Connection (CYC) advocacy group in 1988 and became its executive director in 2016, resigned Monday night, less than a week after she laid off most of her staff in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The group’s board of directors learned of her decision to lay off 10 of 17 staff members after they were let go amidst a statewide shutdown and skyrocketing unemployment.
In an email sent to an internal list serve after 7 p.m. Monday, the board stated it was “saddened to witness the deep concern and hardship that has resulted from the layoff notices.” Members noted Cuza’s three years of service as director for the prominent youth advocacy group, adding: “The board wishes her the best in her new endeavors. The board will act quickly to appoint an external interim executive director.”
Sean Hughes, a former policy director and board member for CYC, joined other advocates calling Cuza’s resignation “the first important step in a protracted process of healing that will need to be done at CYC.”
Hughes and others said that work is only just beginning, “from bringing the staff back, to rebuilding trust with the membership, to hiring new leadership. If any organization can emerge from this turmoil stronger, it is CYC,” Hughes said.
The board’s statement also indicated the board was not happy with Cuza’s decision to lay off a staff that is comprised mostly of current and former foster youth, at a time when it would be virtually impossible for any of them to find work anywhere else.
“It is always deeply concerning to reduce employment, in particular during a national crisis,” said the statement. “We are in the process of reviewing the staff reduction and we plan to take action to address our findings, first with those impacted, in the coming days.”
Cuza had let go of two staff members in late February, and laid off eight more last week. She told The Chronicle of Social Change last Thursday that the cuts were related not to financial problems, but a desire to re-imagine the organization.
“I am aware of the pain being expressed in the community and hold that reality as we navigate through this,” Cuza stated, saying that CYC would take an intentional pause to restructure our operations during this global health emergency.” A post on the organization’s Facebook page trumpeted the forthcoming appearance of “CYC 3.0.”
But as news of the layoffs spread among the Bay Area-based nonprofit’s many partners and funders, a petition was launched on the website Change.org calling for Cuza’s termination. Board chair Marissa Guerrero, asked by The Chronicle last week about the layoffs, said the board was “still gathering information about the situation.”
On Thursday night, the board held an emergency meeting to discuss the week’s events. It made no public comment until today’s announcement of Cuza’s resignation, which came at 7 p.m.
CYC was founded in 1988 as an all-volunteer group of current and former foster youth, including Cuza, who was 16 at the time.
In 2016, Cuza returned to CYC as executive director, after working more than 15 years in nonprofit advocacy groups serving children and young adults who have experienced foster care, mental health, criminalization and homelessness. Prior to coming to CYC, she served as the executive director of the Bay Area nonprofit groups Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery, and Youth in Mind, which specializes in empowering youth with mental health needs to advocate for themselves.
John Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.