Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland-Nelson and this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest today is Lidya Osadchey, Chief Executive Officer of Escape Family Resource Center; Lidya, welcome to The BusinessMakers.
Lidya: Thank you very much Leisa.
Leisa: Tell us about Escape Family Resource Center.
Lidya: Escape Family Resource Center was founded in 1983 by the Exchange Club’s local chapters for one purpose, to educate families in crisis to prevent child abuse and neglect before a child is hurt and this is our superb uniqueness in this community.
Leisa: Before a child is hurt, I want to know just a teeny bit more about that.
Lidya: What it means is that we share our concern for children with many, many colleagues. Most of them work on rehabilitation of trauma and violence and pain to the children, Escape Family Resource Center is the only organization that looks at all the risk factors that affect the family – the poorest, the immigrants, the separated families with children with disabilities – and we go into 90 sites to give our program. So this is our uniqueness; that we work with the most affected before children are taken away and with the entire family.
Lidya: And in English and in Spanish.
Leisa: And I detect an accent from you as well so I have a feeling that, um, this may not have been what you dreamed of doing when you were a child; tell us about your childhood and how you got all the way to Escape Family Resource Center.
Lidya: Thank you, I do have my accent. I think everybody here has an accent.
Leisa: We do, I worked hard to get rid of mine but it won’t go away.
Lidya: I was born and educated in the former Soviet Union in Moscow and I came here in 1977 during détente. Um, my – when I was growing up I certainly dreamt about saving the world. I thought I would work in the United Nations and imagine, behind the iron curtain I already dreamt being out of it, so that is – it just occurred to me even then at 6 and 7 I wanted to be out of it. I never felt that that was my country. So in 1977, um, a lot of Jewish people fled the Soviet Union to come to free country, whether it would be America, Canada, Australia, Israel, uh, to reunify with families who were dispersed during Holocaust and we ended up being in Houston and the Houston Jewish community, um adopted us and that’s the first time I ever encountered volunteerism from the soul, from the heart, from the commitment of the amazing Jewish tradition. I’ve never, um, met anybody in the Soviet Union growing up doing something because this is – this is part of your tradition.
We were forced to volunteer in the Soviet Union; when you live in a dictatorial regime you are forced – I believe – to believe in, you are forced to – to do what the government tells you to do.
So being out of that system where you can really flourish according to your abilities and according to your desire and zeal, this was tremendous gift that, I gave myself because it was an adventure to be able to leave the Soviet Union. We were refused originally. So it wasn’t easy at all, we were threatened with, uh, losing a lot of even the leftover freedoms but we finally – my mother and I came, my brother joined us a year later. And the first thing, Leisa, the first thing that I experienced here is the openness of people to help. In other words, wherever I went people were eager to answer questions. In 2 months I took my SAT and TOEFL tests, got into Rice with full scholarship. They waived my residency; you have to live here for a year to get a scholarship, imagine, uh, that done anywhere else.
Leisa: Any idea why they did that or they just did it?
Lidya: They just did it. They wanted me because I remember the call that I received from the Director of Admissions saying that I was admitted and I said unfortunately I can’t start in August because my residency, um, starts in October and they said let me call you back. And they said we waived it, come and start and I finished it in 2 ½ years. Again, where else – where even in America; only in Texas. I’m very partial to Houston, very partial to (
Leisa: we feel strongly about that too) Texas because – very strongly because on every turn if there is zeal, if there is wanting to work hard, people open up their hearts and want to help and I’ve never experienced it anywhere else, um, in the world and certainly in – in our wonderful Unites States; it’s just here in Houston.
Leisa: So tell us about your career path and some of the experiences you’ve had along the way to getting to Escape.
Lidya: So after Rice University, um, having a degree in Anthropology and wanting to help American businessmen do business in Far East and Middle, um, East we encountered great recession and the first jobs that were cut off were the Public Relations and, uh, Archeologists and Anthropologists and all this – all the soft professions and I found myself, um, not being able to find a job. With Moscow University education, with Rice University education I was accepted at Sakowitz Management Program in Fine Children Department and 6 months later I left and, um, and started graduate school and started my own PR business, um, and teaching in Synagogues and churches Comparative Religion and raising a family. All the time participating as a volunteer in various, um, human rights organizations and of course raising funds and learning in the Jewish community that was superbly important to me, and that’s where you learn a lot of leadership.
You learn not only when you work with somebody, but when participate in volunteer activities.
I think my first leadership outside of my growing up in the Soviet Union where I was the President of the class and President of, uh, the class at the university – uh, high school and university – was learning how to work with the volunteers. And, um, in 1989 when the first board of the Holocaust Museum in Houston was formed I was invited to join the board. It was very, very important for me to – to make that a reality to build a holocaust museum for one reason; growing up in the Soviet Union the truth about the murder of the Jewish people was hidden from us. We never knew it.
When I learned about it in the first 2 weeks of coming to America I was so distraught I lost my voice for 2 weeks. I read Mila 18, that was my first introduction to the horrors, seriously. And so when the project was in the dream stage I thought to myself we need to make it happen, really happen, no matter what; it’s our responsibility not only to the families whom we lost, but to our children and grandchildren. You have to know the history of the 20th century; you have to know that despites exists and that evil exists and you more importantly have to know that they were righteous people who have sacrificed everything to make things right to save people.
Leisa: So that was a real exercise in entrepreneurship? I mean it was an idea I think like with a few board members and you had to put it all together and raise the money to do it in a very short amount of time I know. I mean with not exactly a bunch of people who wanted to support you, so you’ve had to use every business skill there is. I mean not just persuasive skills but – but management skills.
Lidya: Learning to work with very passionate, figuring out how to make the best presentation. Figuring out how to make this idea a reality, you had to have a business approach to that; meaning what is the benefit to this community, right? It’s – it’s – it’s a soft benefit but it’s the – the sort of blue chip benefit; you have to invest in it, you have to educate. So having the Board of Directors who were all captains of different industries, we learned a lot of course from each other.
Leisa: Yes, it’s a real who’s who that original board of directors, as is the Board of Directors today. You know, we have some extraordinary Houstonians who are Holocaust survivors and you were telling me a story earlier about one of them in particular whom I admire tremendously, Bill Morgan. Would you share that story with our audience?
Lidya: Oh absolutely. Mr. Morgan came here when he was still in his either teens or maybe early 20s after the war. He was the only one who survived in Poland by hiding and he was the only one who took a chance to run away before the – the family was rounded by the Nazis. And, um, he’s, um, he’s built, uh, a business here, he’s – he raised a family, he’s been involved in – in many activities, civil and – and of course Jewish tradition ???? and supporting a lot of people and, um, he’s – he’s given generously to our project. As a matter of fact it’s named after the Morgan family. And once I remember being invited to a radio interview with him and, um, the interviewer asked Mr. Morgan what an extraordinary story; you survived, you build a family, you build a fortune, um, what are your biggest achievements? Share with us. And he said outside of raising my children and having a wonderful family it’s giving thousands of people their jobs; their sustenance, their purpose, their pride.
This is what I am proud of; that I came to this country with only losses, and was able to give back to this country and to thousands of people what they need most is their pride in who they are. Jobs, education family stability; it stays with me 20 years later.
Leisa: What an incredible story about Bill Morgan and what an incredible story about America and the Holocaust Museum. What I’m wondering now is did you go from the Holocaust Museum directly to Escape Family Resource Center?
Lidya: No, no, no. Then there was, uh – uh, Texas Women’s University. Actually, interestingly enough I – I, uh joined – started Graduate School and I was only looking for a part time job and there was one advertised for the Research Administrator at the Texas Women’s University. And I went to interview with Dr. Hannahmon, she was the Director at that time, and she hired me. When I took the job, and I looked at people who applied for this job, I was surprised that she elected me; they were PhDs, they were Directors of bug research centers. I asked her what was it and her feedback was amazing. She said you were innovative; you knew nothing about this office but you were coming up with ideas.
So in other words, social entrepreneur, you just have to really want it and you have to constantly be thinking what can I do? What I also told her is before I went for an interview I learned everything there was about – in theory – about what the office of research does. 6 weeks later she was gone to another profession and she left me in charge of the entire office. Now, I was never trained to do that but we did it and in 3 years we did phenomenal work in, uh, The Medical Center and we raised the most. And – and from then on, um, the divorce happened and I was in the midst of, um, graduate school and for a year after the divorce I decided to spend on really taking care of my children and figuring out what I want to do and what impact I need to make, not only for myself, for community, for my children and just the – the existential matters, uh, were really surviving.
So I thought you know what, I’m going to volunteer for a non-profit organization, I’m not going to work for them anymore. I need to find a job that – that would be lucrative enough for me to live on. And it so happened that a friend of mine, um, mentioned Escape Family Resource Center that they were looking for a, um, CEO and I said to her never again and she kept on pushing me. And so just to get her off my back Leisa I faxed a resume there – you know the time of faxes?
Lidya: Even without a cover letter. I mean who would think – who would do that today, right? Never.
Lidya: And 20 minutes later I got a call and an invitation for, um, an interview. And what ensued was 7 months of interviews with every board member, essay writing contests, psychological profiling, meeting with the staff – which by the way ranked me third out of 3 – and then…
Leisa: Oh they must have been thrilled when you got it the job.
Lidya: Exactly. Right.
Leisa: And found that out that on top of it all.
Lidya: Right, right. And then meeting with the entire, uh, search committee and when they offered me a job I was enthralled, this was something I wanted to do. I was completely hooked up with a mission because there is a direct correlation between the work I did with the Holocaust Museum Leisa and child abuse prevention. Um, Dr. Miller, in 20 years of her research, showed that the three worst dictators of the 20th century, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Hitler, were bitterly abused as children; bitterly, bitterly, bitterly, um, viscously. So what can we do to prevent that from happening? We need to help parents learn skills; how to negotiate through conflict and agony without ever resorting to violence and that’s what we’re doing.
Leisa: I mean, to say that I’m impressed; I mean your journey has just been phenomenal, um, the entire extent of it but sitting here today and looking back on 37 years, tell us, just capsulize the difference between the country you came from as you knew it and the country that you live in today.
Lidya: Very stark, uh, difference between the Soviet Union and where I grew up where as a Jewish person my life was filled with barriers and obstacles. There’s only so much you can do, there are only those universities you can go, it didn’t matter what abilities and merits you had, it was who you knew and where you can get through. And seriously, this is how we lived. We lived in Moscow which was the most affluent city. And coming to America I didn’t know anybody; I didn’t know anyone. I – I could prove myself with my passion, with my knowledge, wanting to constantly learn and being the best at what I needed to be. This is the biggest difference, in America – where else I don’t know – you can be who you want to be and who your abilities allow you to be and pursue your passions and interests; there – there’s no stopping.
Not everybody will be a CEO, not everybody’s going to be a director or manager, but whomever you want to be and wherever your abilities can take you, you can be if you choose to work hard and if you choose to be really, um, loyal and dedicated to that, no matter what the environment tells you. So, um, being able to work, being able to give jobs to others, being able to mentor, being able to raise my 3 children here, is – this is – and doing it – definitely I didn’t do it all by myself. I was fortunate that I had great teachers and people who were open to sharing and learning with me, right? That makes a difference only in America.
Leisa: This is truly the land of opportunity and – and you shared with me earlier that in 15 years you’ve grown Escape by 3,000%.
Lidya: Yes we did.
Lidya: Thank you so much.
Leisa: And thank you for being with us today.
Lidya: Thank you Leisa, appreciate it.
Leisa: That concludes my interview with Lidya Osadchey, the Chief Executive Office of Escape Family Resource Center. This is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
brought to you by