Back in the 1960s, Heart of the Valley’s Executive Director Glenda Cresap, a politically savvy teenager at the time, would pile her three very different grandmothers into her American Rambler and cruise the streets of Los Angeles. Even at her young age, Cresap valued the knowledge and experience seniors had to offer, eventually studying gerontology at Ventura Community College and San Jose State University, with the plan of going into senior law.
However, 25 years ago, before she could enroll in law school, Cresap was sitting at a PTA meeting when she was given a life-changing opportunity. The newly formed Heart of the Valley, SERVICES FOR SENIORS, INC. was floundering, having gone through three directors in three years. The non-profit needed strong leadership, and Cresap was given the chance to help the organization flourish.
Thinking she could manage both school and a job – the executive director position was only part-time – Cresap accepted and began working for HOV on Jan. 22, 1990. But, before she knew it, her 10-hour a week job, became 20, and eventually – and happily – it overtook her life.
“At the beginning, Heart of the Valley was really open to me,” said Cresap. “I could do anything I wanted to with Heart of the Valley. I had a very supportive board. They were all the founding members. Once they imparted their vision to me, then it was up to me to do something with that.”
With the goal of keeping seniors healthy and living independently at home, HOV provides services ranging from friendly phone calls to yard work, but most clients call with requests for transportation to doctor appointments. One of the most interesting aspects about the organization is that it serves seniors based on need – not income. While 75 percent of its current clients are living at or below the poverty level, any senior in HOV’s service area can receive assistance.
“We’re so much more than just an agency that helps you get a ride or do your yard work or help around the house,” said Cresap. “We’re also speaking to the spirit. We’re educating. We’re updating. We’re informing. We’re comforting. We’re taking time to listen, and we love them. It’s just that simple. At Heart of the Valley you’re cared for. Heart is there for a reason. I think that’s what people respond to. That’s certainly what I responded to and why I’m here. I see the heart in the agency and I keep the heart in the agency. When you talk about my strategy [when I took this job], that was my biggest one: Let’s really care. This is my grandma; my mother; my sister. This is a person who needs just a little bit of help.”
When Cresap began her tenure, HOV had only two volunteers and five clients, but that quickly changed as she started recruiting her family and friends to help, growing the organization in a very grassroots way. Many of Cresap’s former bosses also became volunteers, with some still volunteering today or using the services instead of providing them. And now, as the calendar turns on Cresap’s 25th year as executive director, HOV has 500 clients and over 200 volunteers.
Even though many executive directors would welcome the quarter-century marker as an invitation to retire, Cresap is taking the milestone in stride, with no plan to leave her position. In fact, she’s already setting immediate goals that include promoting the organization’s new Vets Driving Vets (veterans driving veterans), In A Pinch (same day service) and Night Riders (evening transportation) programs.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It’s my mission. I always have felt that I was brought here for a reason … If I wasn’t enjoying it – if I wasn’t feeling like I had something to offer [the seniors] and if I didn’t feel like Heart of the Valley had something to offer them, I would be retired by now. But when you love your job, it’s not work.”