Call it a collaboration of the redeemed: a kinship of their own troubled youths and Christian faith that bonds businessmen Don Ogan and Phil Calhoun with Tony Pallotto, founder and operator of Teen Adolescent Placement Services (TAPS).
It’s an alliance born not in a corporate meeting room but in the chambers of the human heart, specifically Ogan’s. Ogan, a native Hawaiian who was cast off as a teenager to an inner-city foster home, knows firsthand the pain of a troubled childhood and how it can be rehabilitated through spiritual transformation. His awakening gave him empathy for teens in crisis and a deep desire to help them heal like he did. That yearning took on added dimensions when one of his six kids began acting up. He was referred to Pallotto, who has operated the TAPS program out of his Oceanside home since 1995.
“He told me, ‘Don, you can do three things for your kid,’ ” Ogan recounted. ” ‘You can love him, you can pray for him, and you can set a good example for him. Beyond that, you can get him some help.’ “
Pallotto’s prescription resonated inside Ogan for years, even as a he took a small, Carlsbad-based housewares company international, transforming it into a $36 million global concern. Ogan’s 12-year tenure as company president ended last year, freeing him to explore new business opportunities.
That’s when Ogan decided to pledge a portion of the profits from his new venture, Green Wellness Network, to TAPS. Green Wellness Network touts a comprehensive solution for companies that want to “go green,” including recycling, conservation, and promoting employee wellness and morale. Contributions from Green Wellness will help fund scholarships through TAPS.
Pallotto says the money will enable potentially scores of kids to benefit from group home sojourns, since most families don’t have the means to get their teens the help they need. For every child he places in mostly Bible-centered programs throughout the country, several dozen other receive no such help. He said many of them find healing by other means while others slide into alcohol, drug abuse or other self-destructive behaviors.
TAPS is born
Pallotto himself is a case study of what these at-risk children face. Pallotto says he was battered as a young teen in Connecticut then turned to booze, drugs, sex and crime in a vain attempt to find meaning in his life.
He escaped the roller-coaster years later while in the Air Force by becoming a born-again Christian. He even joined an evangelistic ministry and thrived therein for several years.
Later, Pallotto found success in business, directing advertising sales for a prominent Southern California-based newspaper. But by that time, Pallotto had put God on the back burner and was back on the addiction bandwagon.
“The world and its pleasures have a way of sucking us toward self-destruction when we refuse to relate to God, and money puts us on the fast track,” Pallotto explained.
Soon, the “high” life came crashing to earth. The newspaper chain reorganized. Upper-echelon managers, Pallotto included, were pushed out.
Within a year, Pallotto was flat broke, addicted and contemplating suicide. He came crawling back to Jesus and his life began to mend.
“God needed to break me in order to get my attention,” said Pallotto, 60.
Just as Pallotto’s rediscovered faith began rallying his spirit, his youngest son began using drugs and wreaking havoc in the home. Help was out there but finding it was difficult. So Pallott–after his son was placed in a group home–devoted his time to learning the social-service network and setting up a hotline for beleaguered families.
That was the origin of TAPS which Pallotto’s prodigal, born-again son, Michael, now helps run.
TAPS is not only the financial beneficiary of Ogan’s business but it’s the centerpiece service. Ogan and his co-CEO, business development and marketing specialist Billy Stout, are integrating TAPS into their holistic product line. They want to make TAPS known through corporate clients as a round-the-clock resource to employees with family problems. The initiative reasons that employees who have ready support for troubles at home will be more productive at work.
Calhoun, a software developer and systems integrator, adds yet another element to Ogan’s vision of a model 21st century workplace. Calhoun’s firm, Co-OPTx provides a Web-based software suite that help companies manage remote workers.
Like Ogan, Calhoun’s desire to partner with Pallotto stems from empathy for troubled youths. Calhoun got the best of his alcoholism more than 30 years ago but not before it drove him to the depths of depression and dysfunction.
A West Point cadet for three years, Calhoun left the academy and finished up his engineering degree at the University of Arizona. After several years in the aerospace industry, he made a career change more conducive to his penchant for alcohol: selling construction materials. The booze usually began flowing at lunchtime sales meetings.
“If I started drinking, I couldn’t stop until the end of the day,” Calhoun said. “I did it five days a week for about two years. One day I woke up depressed. It felt like hell.”
A Methodist who had been baptized into Christ just before entering college, Calhoun cried out to God when he realized he was suicidal.
“I didn’t make a decision to commit suicide,” he said, “but, all of a sudden, I realized I could do it. It scared the daylights out of me.”
So he reconnected.
“I said, ‘God, if you just allow me to live to do your will.’ For the first time, there was a glimmer of hope,” Calhoun recalled.
Calhoun hasn’t taken a drink since 1982–a victory he says is possible only through “the power of the Holy Spirit.”
After earning a PhD in mechanical engineering, Calhoun became an expert in applying technology to business and manufacturing operations. While has founded various companies, his favorite stints include teaching high school and serving as a professor for six years at his alma mater in Tucson and at the Colorado School of Mines.
“I was on fire with God, I loved working with the kids, and I loved doing research,” he said.
Fondness for youngsters is the primary force pulling Calhoun into union with Ogan and Pallotto. He believes a lot of youth problems stem from stress in the home and kids getting ignored or “dumped on” when parents feel work pressure. He’s lived that dysfunction himself, he said.
“We’d go out to dinner and my (youngest son) would just sit there bored out of his mind while Mom and Dad talked about all these (work) problems. One day I said, ‘This is terrible. No more. If we go out to dinner, we are not gonna talk about business.’ “
That’s where Co-OPTx’s software has relevance. It enables parents, who might otherwise have to log long hours at the office, to work from home in a Web-based world that lends itself to both collaboration and accountability, Calhoun says. Moreover, the software allows business to automate various tasks without increasing overhead.
Life on the streets of Watts
Like Calhoun, Ogan draws inspiration from his own personal crisis, albeit one that occurred much earlier in life and through no fault of his own.
After his parents split up, with his Merchant Marine father at sea, Ogan, then 14, and his younger brother ran afoul of their mother’s new boyfriend. She chose the boyfriend, shipping her sons out of their Torrance home to South Central Los Angeles, where they lived with an all-black family in the mostly black neighborhood of Watts.
After three days of beatings and harassment at L.A. Jordan High School, Ogan opted to change schools. He walked three miles daily to Southgate, where the racial makeup was more to his advantage.
Ogan, 53, tapped on the hardships of that experience to propel him in business but instead of relying on God, he relied on his story to push him to success.
Workaholism was a side-effect of his misplaced priorities and left all six of his children feeling that he was disconnected from them. “They didn’t feel I was present, mentally or emotionally.”
That all changed after Ogan’s first contact with Pallotto.
Now, Ogan has traded “oblivion” for awareness. Moreover, although his upper-middle-class Carlsbad neighborhood is a far cry from his ghetto experience, he sees parallels in the misplaced priorities of kids from both environments – whether its gang-banging in Watts or materialism in coastal San Diego County.
He says he’s reaching back into his past to make a difference for dysfunctional families. “I want to help them in my capacity as a businessman,” he said.
He believes men like Pallotto are the key to righting the family ship and helping kids to settle down often by telling parents to tune in to what their kids are doing, or to stop enabling them through lax, permissive parenting.
“There’s a lot of (spiritually) dead kids out there who aren’t even on drugs. Imagine what happens when you put substance abuse on top of it,” Ogan said.
Ogan is maneuvering to put legs to Pallotto’s long-simmering vision of a corporate wellness package. For pennies a day per employee, Ogan says, TAPS can provide round-the-clock counseling and referrals to employees in crisis. Moreover, TAPS will come into the workplace to conduct seminars on parenting and family relations, with a mind toward not just intervention but prevention. Ogan says most corporate wellness programs focus on individuals, not families, and on treatment, not prevention.
While many may say a recession is the wrong time to encourage companies to expand fringe benefits, Ogan and Calhoun are betting the reckless business practices that engendered the downturn serve as a call to a more sustainable, holistic business model.
“It’s time to change the paradigm,” Calhoun said.
Pallotto is excitedly hopeful he’s finally found men with the passion and professional background to implement his vision of making corporate America a factory of family reformation. He likened the dream to a patient on life support rallying on the strength of a heart transplant.
“Don has been a shot in the arm. The help he’s provided has been a powerful lift,” Pallotto said. “He’s reorganizing TAPS to be more of a vital force (in society), not only locally but regionally and nationally.”