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Ohio Township-based Family Guidance CEO follows mission, lifts at-risk youth

Kristina Serafini
| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Brian Johansson moved to the Pittsburgh region, he looked for a job that would mesh with his and his wife, Peggy's, mission of helping others.

He found it in Family Guidance, an Ohio Township faith-based organization that focuses on strengthening families and working with at-risk youth.

Johansson, hired in July as the president and CEO, hopes his experiences working with those in need will help Family Guidance continue to grow as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Johansson spent 20 years at The Bowery Mission, which provides aid to the homeless and impoverished in his hometown, New York City.

He worked in project management until the early 1990s, when he and his wife said they felt a calling to reach out to the homeless.

Once at The Bowery Mission, Johansson progressed from site director to executive director.

When the couple's daughter went off to college, they decided to move into The Bowery Mission, eating dinner with the homeless each evening and often inviting them to their apartment upstairs for social gatherings.

“It was a real time of remembering why we do what we do,” Johansson said of their stay.

“My wife would tell you that was the greatest experience of our married life.”

The couple decided to move to Pittsburgh — Peggy Johansson's hometown — when she began to have health issues and wanted to be closer to her family.

Though Johansson said adjusting to a new city has been challenging at times, he's enjoying his work at Family Guidance and has been looking for ways for the organization to drum up additional revenue to offset program costs.

Family Guidance is planning a new dining hall at its Promise Camp, a 120-acre camp near Raccoon Creek State Park. The organization hopes to complete the dining hall by fall, and market the camp to youth groups, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and other organizations for year-round use.

Promise Camp is the site of a summer camp for at-risk children ages 7-12.

“We want to be able to say to these kids, ‘You're worth enough to give you a camp that is world-class,'” Johansson said.

This year, Family Guidance also plans a two-week session of adventure-based programming such as hiking, canoeing and more for older kids.

Though the cost to families is only $25 per child to attend the camp, the cost to the organization is around $400 to $500 per child, said Family Guidance Director of Development Susan LeCornu.

She said they rely on donors, events and nonprofit organizations to offset the cost.

Promise Camp counselors must undergo an extensive application process.

“We're looking for the best counselors possible. We're not just looking for someone looking for a summer job,” Johansson said, adding that 60 to 70 percent of applicants are rejected.

“We're looking for individuals who can be role models for these kids and who will love these kids,” Johansson said, adding that many celebrities and other people children look up to are not good role models.

Family Guidance, which originally was called Youth Guidance, was founded in 1964 by the Rev. James Leckie in an effort to help at-risk children.

In the organization's early days, many children were referred to Leckie by Maurice B. Cohill Jr., then a Juvenile Court judge in Allegheny County, who was determined to help children who came to his courtroom who weren't “bad enough” for a detention center, but needed direction.

LeCornu said the organization currently has about 200 mentors. Each mentor typically takes on one child, and there are about 200 children on the waiting list, she said.

Children typically are referred to Family Guidance by schools, churches, single parents and nonprofit organizations. Mentors go through an extensive screening process.

Family Guidance also offers a marriage and family strengthening program called TWOgether Pittsburgh, which has, in the last seven years, served 10,000 people.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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