The year was 1973 when a small group of community volunteers opened a storefront hospitality center at the corner of Union Street and Raymond Avenue to serve downtown Pasadena’s poor and homeless population. More than four decades later, the modest organization has expanded to become the leading homeless service agency in the San Gabriel Valley. But the evolution of Union Station Homeless Services would have never transpired without the steadfast vision of CEO Marv Gross, who will be retiring at the end of the month following a successful 21-year run at the helm.
“I can’t believe how quickly it passed,” Gross said while sitting in his office at the agency’s Orange Grove Boulevard headquarters. “It’s been a really fantastic opportunity for me. I’ve been greatly fulfilled by being here at Union Station. I think we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve helped so many people. I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with wonderful colleagues and outstanding board members and volunteers. Overall, it’s just been an extremely positive and rewarding experience for me to be here all this time.”
Union Station was a single shelter when Gross stepped into the leadership role in 1995. The former rabbi at Temple Sinai of Glendale had learned about the opening through his friend George Regas, who was the rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena. The two had forged a relationship in the previous decade while working at the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race. After serving on Sen. Alan Cranston’s re-election campaign and manning several posts at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, Gross grew interested in taking the reins of a local nonprofit. Union Station became his calling.
Gross’ tenure as CEO has seen immense growth for Union Station. During his first 10 years, Gross directed the establishment of additional infrastructure that included a shelter for families, a centralized drop-in center and a job training program. Throughout the past decade, the agency’s budget has increased from $3.5 million to $8 million under his watch, and Pasadena’s homeless population has declined, according to Pasadena Police Department statistics.
“He’s not afraid of growing bigger and filling a need,” said Union Station Director of Development Dana Bean. “We were sort of faced with a decision of whether we wanted to do the work we had always done or if we wanted to grow. The county had a need for somebody to take the lead in this region and he wasn’t afraid to step into that role.”
The agency will host a farewell event for Gross at Brookside Golf Club on Wednesday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. The gathering will feature a buffet, reception and cash bar. Tickets are $40 and attendees have the opportunity to donate to the Marv Gross Fund for Families, which allows senior staff to purchase equipment, provide enrichment activities and absorb moving expenses for the organization’s clientele.
“I’m really touched and honored that folks are coming together,” said Gross. “I’m sure it’ll be a special day for me. Hopefully, I won’t feel too embarrassed by all the attention, but it’s possible.”
Union Station Care Coordinator Elizabeth Shelby has known Gross since he first joined the agency, and she discussed the effect of his impending departure.
“I think what I’ll miss most about Marv is [his] incredible warmth and charisma,” she said. “He can be so big with his vision and his ability to reach out. At the same time, he can bring it right in and point it at you and just make you feel like you’re the most important person.”
Last June, Gross alerted the Union Station board of directors of his plans to retire. The agency hired Morris & Berger to conduct a nationwide search for his replacement, which will be announced later this summer.
Although Gross will leave Union Station on June 30, he doesn’t plan to stray too far. The Sierra Madre resident is currently enrolled in a consulting course offered by the Center for Nonprofit Management that runs until September. He is also looking forward to visiting family, traveling and sailing on his boat in the marina.
“I’m going to continue in this area and just enjoy life in a slightly different way,” Gross said.
“I feel lucky to have had the experience I’ve had at Union Station. It’d be great if all people had as much reward from their jobs as I’ve had from mine. I couldn’t have imagined that things would work out so well or that I’d receive as much satisfaction as I have.”
For more information about the Marv Gross farewell event, visit unionstationhs.org/event/marv.