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Founding Story


Family Paths was founded in 1972 as Parental Stress Service by a single mother who had a seemingly simple idea: provide 24-hour support to stressed parents to prevent child abuse. Carol Johnston Davis came to this idea from her own life experience.

Carol had previously been going through a difficult divorce and during the height of her overwhelm and isolation she found herself physically taking out her feelings of stress, desperation and frustration on her young son. She realized she was at risk of seriously injuring her child, so she stopped and made a phone call to her only close friend – a friend who lived hundreds of miles away. That friend listened without judgement and helped Carol see that she was not a terrible person, but simply an overwhelmed parent who needed support. She later asked herself, “Why isn’t there some place where parents can call in a time of crisis?” That question led her to founding Parental Stress Service, a volunteer run 24-hour parent support hotline – the backbone of what later developed into Family Paths, a multi-pronged agency providing mental health and supportive services to the entire family.

As we approached 2017 and our 45th anniversary, we reconnected with Carol after many, many years. She no longer lives in the Bay Area, but traveled to Oakland in November 2017 to attend our 6th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon as our Honorary Chairwoman. Later that day, she visited our Oakland building and got to meet several staff members, who were all humbled and inspired to meet this tenacious visionary and hear about the beginnings of Parental Stress Service. Below is a short excerpt from Carol’s moving speech at the luncheon.

The Family Paths’ Board, staff and the many Alameda County families we serve are indebted to Carol and her vision of a safe home for every child.

History of Our Building

Grove Building

When Oakland City Hall moved to its current location at 14th Street just over 100 years ago, it transformed the area, and new businesses and developments followed. As the Uptown area grew over the next two decades, many of the buildings were designed in the Art Deco style, which became popular in the late 1920s and highlighted the use of geometric shapes.

Family Paths is housed in The Grove Building, which overlooks the junction at 18th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. The impressive two-story edifice was constructed in the Art Deco style in 1933 and over the years has been used as a church, a school and a mortuary. It originally boasted huge rooms with lavishly decorated ceilings and interior architectural detail work, belaying the squat, blockish Federal Revival exterior.
The Grove Building was part of a trove of splendid Art Deco buildings that date from one of Oakland’s economic upturns in the 1920s. Both the nearby Paramount and Fox Theaters were built at the same time. The interior has classical elements such as the arched, 16-foot ceilings in the entry hall, supported by square columns with hand painted and gilded capitals; and both the main hallway and conference room retain the best of the old, with gilt capitals and hand-stenciled ceilings. The exterior renovation was designed in a Post-Modern vernacular.

In 1992 the building was retrofitted and the original hollow clay tiles were replaced by reinforced 4 feet wide concrete walls. The building was transferred to Family Paths by the family of Tim McCoy in 2001 as part of a Charitable Remainder Trust, and Family Paths has managed it since.

Grove Facade