S.F. human services panel scoops up ice cream maven

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Between serving up scoops of Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia and Rainforest Crunch, ice cream maven and Jewish communal leader Brian Gaines will serve helpings of time and ideas to the people of San Francisco. Mayor Willie Brown has appointed Gaines, a Bay Area franchise owner for Ben & Jerry's, to the city's Human Services Commission. The five-member commission governs and oversees the Human Services Department, which provides financial, medical and social services to the city's neediest citizens.

It administers, for example, all of the city's public assistance programs, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as AFDC), food stamps, general assistance and MediCal. The department also runs support programs for adults and families, including adoption programs and foster home licensing.

In the next few months, the commission and the department will focus much energy on the local fallout of federal and state welfare reform.

"There could be some negative impact for San Francisco and we'll have to get creative in dealing with it," says Gaines, 33, who was sworn in by Mayor Willie Brown at a special City Hall ceremony July 30. He will serve a four-year term.

With today's emphasis on moving welfare recipients off the public dole and into the job market, many see small businesses as ripe with opportunity.

A partner in NYSF Partners, which owns and operates six Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops in San Francisco and on the Peninsula, Gaines agrees. In particular, he sees great potential in partnerships that might arise between small businesses and the public sector.

In such partnerships, small businesses would agree to hire a certain number of welfare recipients, while city or governmental agencies would fund the bulk of vocational training and follow-up.

"Follow-up is really the key," he says, and defines the term as "making sure they're learning what they need at work, their child-care needs are being taken care of."

As many welfare recipients are single parents, providing them with adequate child care is key, he stresses.

"It's also an opportunity for job creation," he adds. "Having some of these parents take care of other parents' children…there's a job opportunity right there."

A New York native who moved to San Francisco in 1990, Gaines has seen personally how jobs can turn lives around.

Several years ago, he helped found Ice Cream on Wheels, a joint venture that hires and trains at-risk youth. The youths are given an ice cream cart and taught such skills as taking inventory, selling and merchandising a product, dealing with cash management and interacting with coworkers and the public.

"This is sort of a snapshot of what a real business would be," Gaines says. "It's a very powerful thing, especially for kids, who need to see a beginning, a middle and an end."

Will Lightbourne, director of the Human Services commission, says he expects Gaines' business know-how will prove valuable. "He's enthusiastic. He's bright," Lightbourne says. "We were excited when we heard he was coming."

In addition to his business experience, Gaines brings to the commission a background in community service.

He co-founded and now serves as president of the Isaiah Project, a black-Jewish social action and dialogue group.

In addition, he sits on the boards of several organizations including the Jewish Community Relations Council and Christmas in April, a community-based organization that renovates homes and public facilities.

In joining the commission, Gaines replaces Sululagi Palega, a leader in the Pacific Islander community whom Brown appointed to the new Housing Authority Commission.

Gaines' fellow commission members include Jane Morrison, a community volunteer active in the Democratic Party; George Yamasaki Jr., an attorney in private practice; June Keller, a former program manager for adult services for the city; and Earl B. Rynerson Jr., a computer systems consultant.

Gaines sees the commission's work in the welfare reform arena as a major challenge. It's one he looks forward to tackling.

"I'm optimistic that with the vitality and compassion of this city behind us, we can make this work out for all of us," Gaines says. "People don't just want to throw people off of welfare. They want to do things in such a way that people are being cared for and yet moving on."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.