November 23, 2002 - The Bakersfield Californian: Venezuela RPCV Steve Schilling runs $30M non-profit Clinica Sierra Vista

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 11 November 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: November 23, 2002 - The Bakersfield Californian: Venezuela RPCV Steve Schilling runs $30M non-profit Clinica Sierra Vista

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, November 24, 2002 - 1:02 pm: Edit Post

Venezuela RPCV Steve Schilling runs $30M non-profit Clinica Sierra Vista

Read and comment on this story from The Bakersfield Californian on RPCV Steve Schilling who returned from service in the Peace Corps in Venezuela in 1973 and spent the next 24 years turning the Clinica Sierra Vista into a $30 Million non-profit that serves more than 100,000 patients a year and employs more 500 workers.

Schilling only took the job as a way to get a foothold back in the United States after the Peace Corps. And he only intended to stay a year, tops. Despite his initial vow to leave in a year, Schilling has stayed in Kern County and spearheaded Clinica's growth into a multifaceted organization that has gone far beyond its farmworker health clinic roots. Its other services now include dental, behavioral health, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy prevention, and migrant and homeless care.

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Man turned short stint into nonprofit empire*

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Man turned short stint into nonprofit empire

By OLIVIA REYES GARCIA, Californian staff writer


Saturday November 23, 2002, 10:37:22 PM

It was just supposed to be a place holder.

A job for the time being until something better came along -- and the sooner the better.

But a few years into it, Steve Schilling began to feel that his life and the success of this "place holder" job had become hopelessly entangled.

These days, Schilling's name and Clinica Sierra Vista, the organization he's shepherded for the last 24 years, are indeed almost interchangeable.

Under his direction, Clinica has become one of Kern County's largest health clinics for the poor.

Its programs exist in just about every town in Kern. It commands a more than $30 million budget, serves more than 100,000 patients a year and employs more 500 workers.

That's a very far cry from where it was in 1973 when Schilling, a Bay-area native just back from a stint in Venezuela working for the Peace Corps, first came on board.

Clinica, then called Clinica de Los Campesinos, or Farmworkers Clinic, had a $200,000 annual budget, served about 3,000 people and it was on the verge of being shut down. It was started in 1971 and ran one program from a rented storefront in Weedpatch.

By 1973, it was being investigated by the FBI, the state labor commissioner and other government agencies and was in serious danger of losing its federal funding.

"When I got there, the place was a mess," said Schilling.

From disaster to empire

Actually, Clinica's troubles helped Schilling get in the door in the first place.

He signed on as the business manager after the government had stepped in and fired his predecessor.

"It was a disaster," Schilling said of the clinic. "It had done very little. It did not comply with the expectations for what the federal government had given them some money. It had misbehaved dramatically as a nonprofit."

Schilling only took the job as a way to get a foothold back in the United States after the Peace Corps.

And he only intended to stay a year, tops.

But somewhere along the way things changed as he was called on to right the listing organization.

"I had a belief, right or wrong, that the success or failure of that organization will be inextricably linked to me and, therefore, I was pretty strongly driven to try to make it work, to build it and to make it succeed."

The 55-year-old Schilling ascended to chief executive officer five years after he started, and has remained in that position ever since.

"I don't think a lot of people say, 'Oh Bakersfield, I want to go there, grow up there and go to work,'" he said. "I think that when they have been here for a while is when they grow to appreciate it and enjoy what it's like to live here."

Despite his initial vow to leave in a year, Schilling has stayed in Kern County and spearheaded Clinica's growth into a multifaceted organization that has gone far beyond its farmworker health clinic roots.

Its other services now include dental, behavioral health, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy prevention, and migrant and homeless care.

The growing empire has evolved into a large business in the county.

"Running a nonprofit corporation, building it as we have over the years, is a very demanding project," Schilling said. "You cannot afford to make mistakes. You cannot afford to waste time or money."

Directors of other nonprofits praise Schilling's handling of Clinica over the last two decades.

"It wouldn't be possible without someone like Steve and his passion for wanting things to be better," said Mike Sullivan, a chief executive officer at the nonprofit health organization Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced. The two have known each other 25 years.

Sullivan remembered hearing about Clinica's troubles in the mid-70s and he remembers how Schilling didn't walk away.

"I love him for his emotion, his passion, his willingness to say what he thinks as it is," Sullivan said. "He is a very emotional guy. Sometimes I get a little concerned that his emotion and passion may get the best of him.

"He believes so much in these principles -- justice, equality and fairness."

That passion and commitment toward his work have come at a price, however.

"If I have a regret, I have the regret that some of what I have done professionally and in the community has taken me away from spending time that I should had spent with them," Schilling said, referring to his two daughters from his first and current marriage.

He was reminded of how deep those sacrifices can be at the funeral for the late Supervisor Ken Peterson where friends and relatives described the supervisor's dedication to his family.

"I sat there in that chair and I kind of thought, 'You know, I don't do that very much,'" Schilling said. "It made me feel when people of that age die, and since I am about that same age as he was, you begin to think, 'My goodness, what would they say about me if I die?'"

Making up for lost time

But his daughters both defended their dad and his focus on Clinica.

His oldest, Chrissy Schilling, 24, recalled Christmases dressed as an elf going with her father, who would dress up as Santa Claus, to deliver toys to children in clinics and homeless shelters.

Far from feeling ignored, she said it made her feel included and gave her a greater appreciation for her own life.

"I just always thought what he did was good," she said. "It taught me that there's other people besides the kids who live in the golf course. It made me more comfortable (around different people). Going out to Lamont was never a problem for me. Some friends would probably be petrified to drive through the area."

My father "is really good about trying to open my eyes to different things," she added.

At one point, he tried to convince his daughter to join the Peace Corps, but has since given up, she said. She prefers living and working in a big city.

"Our relationship has really evolved," said Chrissy Schilling, who works in Chicago. "He still looks at me as a daughter, but now he looks at me as good friend."

Most people only see the serious, business side of her father, she said.

There's a softer side, too.

He didn't hold back tears a couple of years ago when his high school grad daughter pulled out of the family's driveway to begin her journey into college life at San Diego State.

"Behind the CEO exterior, he's very sweet, loving and extremely caring," she said. "When it's time to be serious, he can be serious; when it's time to be funny, he can be funny."

And when it's time to talk, he can talk.

"He just talks all the time," said the daughter. "It's really cute ... He always wants to know my opinions."

Schilling said he and his family have recently done a lot of traveling and vacationing to make up for lost time.

"I need to have more fun and have more things to do that are not so work related," Schilling said. "I wish I would have started those things sooner, but it's not too late."

His younger daughter, Mari, 11, agreed with her older sister that Schilling has been a pretty good dad.

"He is the best dad in the world," Mari said. "When I go to his office, I get to run around, and it's fun."

"And do I spend a lot of time with you?" Schilling asked his daughter.

"No, but you are there," Mari insisted. "He supports me a lot in my sports. And when I have friends over, he is cool with that. You don't really have to ask him a lot."

Speaking his mind

Schilling has a distinctively deep, raspy voice that can easily be described as booming.

Much of what he has to say, politically, doesn't always fit with conservative Kern County's way of thinking.

But that hasn't stopped him.

A tall, balding man with a salt-and-pepper beard, Schilling is a talker, in both English and Spanish.

Aside from his family and Clinica, the thing he most loves talking about is politics.

Since his arrival to Kern County, Schilling established himself as a stalwart in Democratic politics. He has served on the local party's central committee for more than 20 years.

In 1976, Schilling ran for 33rd Assembly District against incumbent Bill Thomas. The congressman was seeking a second term in the Assembly back then.

Schilling won the primary in June and the party's nomination for the district. He lost the general election.

"When I look back at my campaign, you know, I was a young kid, who was an idealist, and I thought I was smarter than anybody else and that I was more qualified to be in that job," Schilling said.

His campaign manager was Bakersfield lawyer Tom Fallgatter. Recently, Schilling served as Fallgatter's campaign manager in his recent unsuccessful bid for county supervisor.

The two became friends from the time Schilling moved to Kern. But don't confuse them as the same kind of Democrat, Fallgatter said.

"Steve and I have argued over one position or another," Fallgatter said. "Even though we have different philosophies about the role of government, we have a lot of respect for each other. You survive these differences because of respect."

Bakersfield attorney and the "godfather" of local Democrats, Milt Younger said Schilling doesn't shy away from expressing his Democratic views even in the face of conservative Republicans.

"Steve has guts," Younger said. "He's willing to stand up in the front of an audience and argue (for) his values. Some people have beliefs but are unable to influence others. Steve can do that. The guy is driven; others respect that. Steve is passionate."

And he shows it.

Last year, Schilling publicly criticized the Kern County Children and Families Commission over how it administered Proposition 10 tobacco tax money. He complained even though Clinica Sierra Vista was one of the funded groups. Commission Director Steve Ladd didn't agree with Schilling.

"Steve and I may have had disagreements, but they don't belong in the newspaper," Ladd said. "You might say we both are very passionate about our own businesses and about the well-being of children and families. We don't always agree on how to solve the problems, but we do agree that it is worth our effort to work on the problems."

While he remains active and vocal in local politics, Schilling doesn't plan to run for a seat again. He said his future lies with Clinica.

Making a difference

"I'm pretty happy with what I do and who I am," Schilling said. "I think I probably have been sort of driven, sometimes in an unhealthy fashion, by the things I do. I may actually be more insecure about myself than people would know, and that may be what makes me try to achieve."

He wasn't always an overachiever.

In high school, he was your average C-plus student, he said.

"I never was a particularly spectacular student in any occasion, the top of my class, the scholar of the program," Schilling said. "I was never the all-star in any of my athletic teams. I was always a midway performer although I tried very hard."

So much has changed since then.

"I think I have a strong desire to achieve things, make a difference, leave a mark behind and just change the outcome of things," he said.

Blame it on his family values and Catholic school upbringing, he said.

Schilling, who was born on Thanksgiving day, grew up in Marin County's Mill Valley.

He is the only son of Bill and Ruth Schilling, both now 86. Bill Schilling retired as vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad trucking company division. He worked in sales. Ruth Schilling retired as a registered nurse.

Schilling received his bachelor's degree in business administration at California State University, Chico in 1969.

He went on to do public administration graduate work at Chico State.

Peace Corps Service

In the early 70s, after finishing graduate school, he joined the Peace Corps. He went to Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela and worked for La Fundacion para El Desarrollo de la Comunidad and Fomento Municipal, an executive agency of the Venezuelan government.

During his time there, he provided technical assistance to city officials, teaching people how to establish government systems and run agencies and cooperatives.

Beyond his regular job in Venezuela, he helped revive a local YMCA building that had been closed down. On the side, he ran an English- and Spanish-language radio show on weekends where he played American and Venezuelan songs.

He said he was drafted twice during the Vietnam War. He reported, but because of a bad knee, he was rejected.

In 1973, he wrapped up his time with the Peace Corps and landed here.

Now, he doesn't see any other place than Bakersfield as his home.

He owns a home in Bakersfield as well as what he called a "suburban ranchette" in the Hart Flat area near Keene.

"It's the maintenance nightmare of my life," Schilling said of the 10-acre property.

But, like Clinica, he sticks with it, pushing himself to make time for the ranch as well as his Bakersfield home.

His wife, Roberta Westerfield, thinks his dedication has to do with his "Catholic guilt."

He can see where she's coming from, he said.

"You feel guilty because you are told that you should feel guilty because you are an imperfect human, therefore you must work harder to make up for those misdeeds that you have been part of," Schilling said.

Schilling said he is not planning to retire for at least another seven to 10 years.

"It's hard for me to detach myself and step back from things," Schilling said. "I think I'm a little compulsive about things, overly compulsive. I don't think that's terribly healthy at this point in my life."

But even he is aware of the drawbacks to being a workaholic.

"I can't tell you the last time I read a novel," Schilling said. "We don't go to movies. Very commonly I don't get home until 7 p.m., sometimes 8 p.m., sometimes 9 p.m."

Schilling said he usually works Monday through Saturday.

"I have been known to be the only guy in the office 9 o'clock on a Sunday night," he said.

His office is filled with pictures of family, certificates and role models, such as John F. Kennedy.

Slogans such as "The Buck Stops Here" is within clear view. A container that reads "Ashes of Problem Employees" sits on his bookshelf.

Though retirement is at some years away, Schilling said he is preparing.

He's developing a 'succession plan' -- a team of new managers and future leaders who will take over.

Still, he is so dedicated to his job that his wife tells him he has to "get a life."

"It's so difficult for me to delegate, detach or disconnect," Schilling said.

Though his plan was to leave Kern County as soon as possible, it doesn't appear that will happen any time soon.

"I think I found my calling," Schilling said. "Now I think of Bakersfield as my home."

About Clinica Sierra Vista

Read more about Clinica Sierra vista on their web page at:

Clinica Sierra Vista

I am thrilled to share our accomplishments as I marvel at the incredible path we have journeyed. From humble beginnings in a storefront warehouse in Weedpatch, Clinica Sierra Vista has grown to become one of the largest, private, non-profit, community-based organizations in the county. We are recognized at the local, state and national level as a leader in the provision of primary health care and preventative health education services to low-income individuals and families and among the medical community as a multi-institutional model for rural health care delivery.

The past 25 years have marked significant events, from the opening of new clinics to the inception of new programs for emerging needs. We are so grateful for the spirit that has infused our growth from the start and are thankful to our friends, our collaborators, our community.

Clinica Sierra Vista is a testament to what can be accomplished when there is a sincere desire to serve. We have faced many challenges, not the least of which have been recent mandates to reduce health care costs. Yet we continue to forge ahead to meet the changes and prepare for a new era without compromising our mission. As we celebrate a quarter century of success, we are still aware of the myriad of challenges facing us. There is still much to do as we try to reach those who are still not receiving adequate health care.

We view the next 25 years with excitement as we continue our role in providing much-needed services in the ever-changing health care arena never forgetting who it is we truly serve.

Sincerely, Stephen W. Schilling Executive Director

About Steve Schilling

Read more about Steve Schilling at:

Steve Schilling

Steve Schilling

Steve Schilling has worked at Clinica Sierra Vista (CSV) for 28 of the agency's 30 years. He is a fifth generation Californian, originally from the Bay Area. He graduated from Chico State University where he studied Business and Public Administration. After graduate school and service in the Peace Corps in Venezuela, he came to Weedpatch to join Clinica Sierra Vista.

As Chief Executive Officer (CEO), he helps manage the operations of this large non-profit organization which employs more than 550 full-time employees at 39 locations in Kern and Inyo counties. It is one of the largest comprehensive community health center networks in California.

Schilling has been involved with dozens of community organizations, including Kern Health Systems, Kern Area Health Education Center, Lamont Chamber, Weill Foundation, The Tree Foundation, The Human Relations Commission, The Salvation Army, The Red Cross and The Bakesfield Rotary Club. On a larger scale he has served on the National WIC Advisory Board, the Family Planning Advisory Board, the National Rural Health Association, Clinic Mutual Insurance Company, and as past president of the State Primary Care Association. Steve has been a member of the Kern County Network for Children's Governing Board since its inception and is currently President of the Central Valley Health Network.

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By Mark Luttrell ( - on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 8:01 pm: Edit Post

To : Webmaster
From: Mark Luttrell
Date: Feb. 5, 2005
Subj: Questioning website heading

Information below the title Peace Corps Online says the site is "...serving returned Peace Corps volunteers". Is the word "returned" supposed to be "retired"?

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 11:22 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunters don't retire. They complete their service overseas and return to continue working on the third goal of the Peace Corps - bringing the world back to America.

Best Regards,


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