Givers: Triangle Family Services

Triangle Family Services CEO Alice Lutz with Mike Zayas, who says Lutz “and all the people at Triangle Family Services are unbelievable.”

Triangle Family Services
Helping families in crisis for 80 years

“Our programs are also good for the larger community. When families are healthy, communities thrive.”

by Settle Monroe

photograph by Elizabeth Galecke

Like most people who end up at Triangle Family Services, Mike Zayas never expected to be there. In fact, he’d never heard about the organization that has been helping families in crisis here for 80 years until he desperately needed its help.

In 2006, the SAS engineer was enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday with his family when he fell while skateboarding with his teenage son. The freak accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury that left Zayas in a coma for months. When he came out of the coma, the devastating effects of the injury led to a complicated and trying custody battle over his three children. Thanks to the work of Triangle Family Services, Zayas did not have to suffer alone, he was able to rebuild relationships with his children, and is now able to spend time with them on his own.

Triangle Family Services CEO Alice Lutz says stories like Zayas’s fuel her energy to build stronger community by strengthening families. “We help make families whole,” she says. “We get to do work that truly changes lives. Our programs help the individuals and families who come to us in their darkest hour.” No one plans to need a TFS program, Lutz points out. But when crisis arises, the organization serves as an indispensable safety net and support system. The results have a broad impact: “Our programs are also good for the larger community,” she says. “When families are healthy, communities thrive.”

As TFS celebrates its 80th year, it is being recognized for its impact and ability to meet the critical needs of the Triangle. Last year, the agency was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame, and this year, Band Together, a local organization that uses live music as a platform for social change, announced Triangle Family Services as its 2018 nonprofit partner. (Read more about its 2017 partner on page 28 of this issue.) It’s a big deal: Together, TFS and Band Together hope to raise over $1 million for the agency through corporate and individual donations and grants. With this partnership and the funds it will raise, Lutz says she’ll be able to expand the organization’s work to reach even more families and communities.

“I am surrounded by incredible people who care about this city and care about families in need,” she says. “I get to work with leaders I can learn from.” Her approach is simple: “Always be humble and kind.” Perhaps it is this mantra that leads her to deliver handwritten notes to her staff, acknowledging a personal triumph or challenge, or simply a job well done. Or maybe it drives her desire to celebrate the organization’s 80th anniversary not with an extravagant gala, but by continuing to “quietly change lives.”

Wraparound approach

Triangle Family Services has a full-time staff of 60 and an annual budget of $3.2 million with which it serves 13,000 families each year. Its work focuses on three main areas: family safety, financial stability, and mental health. Supervised visitations, domestic violence and anger management programs, and housing assistance work to keep families safe and secure. HUD-approved financial literacy counseling through individual and group workshops helps individuals improve their money management and financial wellness. And TFS’s credentialed, highly trained staff of therapists work to treat a variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, trauma, sexual abuse, and post-traumatic stress.

When Mike Zayas first came to Triangle Family Services in 2011, it was through a court-ordered custody arrangement. For two years, the organization enabled him to meet his three children every week through its “Time Together” Supervised Visits and Exchange program. Zayas attributes the close connection he now shares with his children to the years they spent together at TFS. “After the accident, I was unable to be with my children unsupervised. It was a very hard time for all of us. But at Time Together, we were a family. The children loved the games, books, and activities we were able to use. When we were together there, we felt normal. We actually had fun! We were happy again.” 

The program not only provided Zayas with a safe and comfortable environment to rebuild his relationships with his children, it also provided parental support and documentation that allowed him to eventually graduate from the program. Zayas now enjoys unsupervised visits with his children every other weekend.  They go to parks, movies, and malls together. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things now if we hadn’t had that experience at Time Together to help us heal.” 

Zayas credits the agency and Lutz’s leadership for changing his life. “I cannot imagine how Alice Lutz handles her job so well,” he says. “But it is so important. Alice and all the people at Triangle Family Services are unbelievable. No one wants to need the support of Triangle Family Services. But when we need it, we sure are glad we have people like Alice in our corner.”