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Teresa Alexander and Joanne Taylor

A home to heal Idaho's children


Teresa Alexander always wanted to be an interior decorator. But now, as chief executive officer of the Children's Home Society of Idaho, decorating is only a hobby.

"I'm always fixing things up," said Alexander, sitting in her Warm Springs Avenue office with the society's development manager, Joanne Taylor.

Alexander was asked to "fix things up" when she took the CEO position in March 2010.

"They were looking for somebody to come along and, quite frankly, ensure financial stability," said Alexander.

A year later, Taylor came on board to oversee development, including the society's new fund-raising campaign to assist families that can't afford services for their children.

Are you a native Idahoan?

Alexander: I am. Third-generation. I'm the oldest of four daughters. When I was 6 years old, our mother died. My father was left in a bit of a dilemma of what to do with four little girls, two in diapers. We were actually visited by people from the Children's Home, when it was an orphanage. One day, my Dad said, "No, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to separate these girls." He set out to be a single parent and eventually married my stepmother.

How difficult were those years?

Alexander: You don't ever get over it.

You know that there are a number of people in this community who still believe that this building is a home for children.

Alexander: In the mid 1960s, the federal government decided that children were better cared for by the foster-care system rather than orphanages. The last child matriculated through this building in 1968.

Today we're focused on the things we do really well, which is counseling and therapeutic services. We have been in this location for over a century, caring for Idaho children. My No. 1 mission is to make sure that we're here for the next 100 years.

If we were to consider your revenue as a pie, how big a slice would be Medicaid reimbursement?

Alexander: Of our counseling services, it's about 50 percent. But our psychosocial rehabilitation services are 100 percent.

Taylor: So it averages out to about 80 to 85 percent.

How many children walk though your doors on a regular basis?

Taylor: We're serving an average of 90 children per day. But so many of our clients can't provide the insurance co-payment. So we'll probably write off as much as $1 million this year.

How do you manage that?

Taylor: We have something called our Community Sponsorship Program. That's a pot of money to help subsidize the services for children whose families can't afford to pay the bill.

Do you have children on waiting lists?

Alexander: We recently hired clinicians with variable schedules. So now we're providing services most evenings and on Saturdays, too.

Certain heinous cases of neglect or abuse gain an inordinate amount of notoriety. Do you follow those events in the news any differently than most people?

Alexander: A lot of times, I say to myself, "Thank God we're here to provide a place for children to go and heal."

Did you follow the recent trial of Robert Manwill's mother and her boyfriend?

Alexander: I did. I have to tell you that I used to babysit Jimmy Kerns (Boise's recently retired deputy police chief), who was very much responsible for investigating that case. I was so proud of him, but I was also very heartbroken for the circumstances.

What is Christmas like here?

Alexander: We'll have a party, where the kids can receive a Christmas stocking and say hello to Santa.

While we were talking, someone put a large box over in the corner of your office. What's in there?

Alexander: It looks like teddy bears.

Taylor: I'm sure it's for Christmas.

So it's not unusual for you to get a box of teddy bears?

Alexander: Don't you?