Patrick Ellis was at a crossroads, his future hanging in the balance. Having been expelled from San Benito High School and San Andreas Continuation School, Ellis ended up at Pinnacle Court Community School during his sophomore year. Ellis, who is the executive director of the Chamberlain’s Children Center, says being at Pinnacle was pretty much his last chance to turn things around.
Fortunately for the 37-year-old Ellis, he had some quality educators wanting to making a difference in his troubled life. The most impactful person in Ellis’ life, Kip Ward, who was a teacher at Pinnacle, took Ellis under his wing. Through dozens of conversations, Ward showed that he truly cared about Ellis and what he was going through.
“When I first met Kip, he took the time to listen and work through some of the issues I was going through,” says Ellis. “He was always there for me, and showed up with a consistent and positive attitude about how things worked. I had never met a teacher quite like him before—someone who was so relatable and seemed to understand what is going on in students’ lives. Within a short amount of time, I was able to feel motivated to do well and began to feel better about myself and my past.”
As a result, Ellis wound up returning to and graduating from San Andreas in 1998. Ellis also credited then-Pinnacle Principal Tim Foley and teacher Frank Perez for building positive relationships with him, an impact that still reverberates today.
“Those three people made a huge difference for me,” Ellis says. “They were able to show me how powerful relationships can be to help a child pull out of a spiral. They helped me to have hope and realize my potential—something I was really needing at the time.”
So perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that Ellis wound up being the executive director at Chamberlain’s Children Center, a renowned and critically acclaimed organization, which uses a holistic approach to empower at-risk children to move forward in their lives and develop skills that lean them toward self-sufficiency.
A state licensed and nationally accredited facility, Chamberlain’s Children Center uses therapy, case management, schooling and residential treatment to give kids and teens all the tools they need to eventually become independent and thrive. Even though Ellis didn’t go through Chamberlain’s, his situation as a teenager isn’t that much different than many of the kids and teens who are staying at Chamberlain’s today.
That is why Ellis is so passionate about what Chamberlain’s Children Center represents and the impact they have made, in Hollister and beyond. Chamberlain’s receives and takes in a number of children referrals from social service agencies in San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Joaquin counties.
“Chamberlain’s has long stood for promoting positive relationships for children who need it the most,” he says. “We’re working with one of the most vulnerable population in the country, and in each troubled child’s life the one common thing in them building resiliency is they’ve had positive mentors and role models and trusting individuals in their lives. That has long been a focus of what Chamberlain’s stands for.”
With the exception of a brief stint in Southern California, Ellis has worked at Chamberlain’s since he was 20, starting as a child work trainee.
“I worked with youth and was absolutely blown away that I was getting paid to build relationships with kids,” he says. “It was really an eye opening experience for me, and helped me realize what I wanted to do for a living and the passion I had for the community. It was about giving back to kids who need much more than what the community can typically offer them.”
After a couple of years at his initial position, Ellis was promoted to after school program coordinator before being named the program coordinator. When former executive director Robert Freiri left for a job in San Mateo near the end of 2016, Ellis was named the interim executive director. He served in that role before the interim tag was removed in the first week of April.
What makes Chamberlain’s unique and effective, Ellis says, is that it’s not uncommon for employees to spend time off the clock to attend key milestone moments of the children they’ve mentored or worked with.
“In one instance, we had children who were interested in learning more about faith,” he says. “A few of them decided to get baptized, and so we sent out a mailer to all the staff letting them know it was happening. We had a large number show up on their own time, just like a parent would. It’s about building trust and relationships, and proving to kids that adults can be trusted and there are many good people in this world who care about them.”