The new executive director of Hanna Boys Center is far from his native New York, but Brian Farragher, continuing a 30-year career dedicated to child welfare, is right at home with the mission of supporting troubled and at-risk boys.
“The work I’ve done with kids has always been grounded in the notion of, it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what’s happened to you,” said Farragher, 56. “Our job is to help kids rewrite these scripts of their lives and restore a sense of belief and hope.”
Farragher, holder of master’s degrees in both social work and business administration, wound up his affairs on the opposite coast and arrived at Hanna in mid-June, accompanied by his wife of 28 years, Anne.
He becomes the fourth executive director in Hanna’s nearly 70-year history. “They are extraordinary kids, “ he said, “and this is extraordinary work.”
Farragher accepted the job in April, and completed the move to Sonoma this month. Coincidentally, he was already familiar with Hanna after having driven by it when visiting Sonoma with his wife to celebrate the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary in 2011.
“I had never heard of Hanna before then, but I’m always intrigued by residential programs, so I Googled it when I got home to learn more,” he says. At the time, he was nearing the end of what would be a 27-year tenure at the Andrus Children’s Center in Yonkers, where he began as a program director and went on to be named executive vice president and chief operating officer. By the end of his tenure, he was overseeing all agency programs, facility operations and human resources, which included 400 staff members, 14 program sites, and an annual budget of over $31 million.
So smitten was the couple with Sonoma on that original anniversary visit that they returned last year simply to enjoy the area once again. Then, launching a job search early in 2014, Farragher was encouraged by associates to first consult the job postings on the Alliance of Children and Families website, and the Hanna position was one of the first ones he came across.
Shortly after seeing the job posting Farragher contacted a colleague who, it turned out, had just been contacted by the executive search firm conducting Hanna’s search for a new director. She gave Farragher contact information for the firm, discussions commenced, and the rest of it is now Hanna’s future history in the making.
“What impressed me in the beginning was the site itself,” Farragher said of his initial visits to Hanna. “The physical appearance here suggested a deep respect for the kids. It was evident that people had invested a lot in them.
Also important and welcome, he said, is a sense that Hanna is poised for meaningful discussion on new strategic directions. “I think there are questions about how Hanna might have an even broader impact on the lives of children, families and the broader community,” he said “It’s such a good solid program, so now the question becomes, ‘What’s next?’ That prospect is very appealing.”
Farragher has some familiarity with the emotional terrain many Hanna boys encounter. When he was just six months old, his father, a police officer, was killed in a traffic accident. His mother, 25 at the time and with three young children to raise, never remarried, though she was assisted greatly by the family’s connections to parish and community.
“I grew up in a tight-knit, working class community in Rockaway Beach, a spit of land about four blocks wide in Queens that extends out into the Atlantic. It was a time and place where people really took care of each other,” he recalled. “I was fatherless but had many father figures. I had an uncle who took a very active interest in my siblings and me, and I can remember going to my first baseball game, a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, with my parish priest. I also had lots of neighbors, coaches and teachers who took me under their wing and believed in me.”
He senses much the same environment at Hanna. “Lots of people support this place either with their time or money or interest. When I came out to attend the ‘Evening with the All-Stars’ gala, I must have had 20 people come up to me to say, ‘Call me when you get settled, come for dinner, let me introduce you to people who can help.’ The level of support here is very significant. I am looking forward to working with everyone to make Hanna an even more amazing organization.”
Brian and Anne Farragher’s two grown children, 25-year-old Katie and 23-year-old Brian, will remain in the East, but they already have plans to visit their parents at their new home in Sonoma.