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SOS, Lighthouse announce merger

By: Kayla Dimick, Tiffany Esshaki | Southfield Sun | Published January 23, 2019

OAKLAND COUNTY — South Oakland Shelter, or SOS, and Lighthouse of Oakland County announced plans to merge earlier this month. 

Lathrup Village-based SOS and Lighthouse, based in Pontiac, are nonprofits with deep roots in the metro Detroit community. Both have more than 75 years of combined experience in serving Oakland County individuals and families in need. 

The nonprofits announced the merger on Jan. 14, along with the news that SOS CEO Ryan Hertz has assumed leadership responsibilities for both organizations, and will serve as acting CEO of Lighthouse indefinitely while a merger plan is finalized, officials said.  

“We are hoping to do more for people than we could do apart,” Hertz said. “We believe we can create a more seamless experience for the clients, who will have more resources available at more locations. We believe we can be a stronger voice for the people that we serve to address the unmet needs of the community.” 

Officials said the process of the merger is to respond to the basic needs of those experiencing poverty; work with “economically challenged” households to establish long-term stability; address food security, housing affordability and access to transportation; and educate and empower the community to ensure all people have access to a better quality of life. 

“While there may be some efficiencies gained by bringing the two organizations together, our reason for doing it is not to do less. It’s to do more,” Hertz said. “It’s not in order to consolidate and reduce our capacity — it’s the opposite. We believe that together we can do more for people experiencing poverty in our community, and they deserve a stronger response than they receive to date.” 

Hertz said the plan for the merger was born when he reached out to former Lighthouse CEO Rick David, who left his position on Jan. 10. 

“He communicated with me that the organization was going to have some leadership transitions and he was planning to retire in 2019. There were some other retirements on the horizon, so we thought it was a good idea to go to our boards and transition the leadership,” Hertz said.
    While the structure of the merger is being finalized, Hertz said he is reporting to the boards of both SOS and Lighthouse  during the transition. 

“We are pleased to welcome Ryan Hertz in this new capacity,” Lighthouse board chair John Townsend said in a prepared statement. “Under his leadership, SOS has made great strides. Long term, we look forward to a stronger combined organization that improves the quality of services we provide, expands our service area and streamlines operations. This is a win-win-win for SOS, Lighthouse and the entire community.”
    Hertz said that once the boards combine, both organizations will be operating in multiple locations, but as one organization with many different programs. 

“Eventually, we will have a unified intake and assessment process. When a person comes, there will be no wrong door. If a person comes to the food pantry but has a housing need, they’ll have access to Lighthouse’s robust food pantry and SOS’ robust housing program,” he said. “This just allows us to make it more seamless for the client instead of having to refer people to multiple points of contact.”

There are no immediate plans to alter any programs, Hertz said, but all the programs will eventually operate under a parent name. All current staff at SOS and Lighthouse will continue in their roles, and current compensation and benefits will be retained for all employees.