Sparky Harlan

I have been Executive Director/CEO of Bill Wilson Center in Santa Clara County for 29 years. Serving over 10,000 youth and their family members every year, Bill Wilson Center services include counseling, housing, education, and prevention. My expertise includes working with runaway and homeless youth, foster youth, and youth involved with the justice system. Bill Wilson Center operates under guiding principles that permeate most of my blogs.

I am also a columnist for the San Jose Inside. My blogs on this site cover issues related to youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

On a personal note, I am a single mom of a teenager and I enjoy hiking in my spare time. My other blog “hikingsiliconvalley” lists my recent hikes.

6 thoughts on “Sparky Harlan

  1. Sparky … a blast from the past … 8th grade, Columbia!! I’ve been communicating with another 8th grade alum and you were mentioned so I searched you out on the Internet. I have been consumed reading all about the Bill Wilson Center and its involvement with our troubled young generation. I’m glad to see that you are doing well in this incredible journey of life. Best wishes to you.

    –Paul Fraker

  2. Dear Sparky,

    I am a professor in the criminal justice department at UNLV and am in the process of revising a textbook called “Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in American Society.” Specifically I am revising the chapter on the history of juvenile justice and was attempting to find something about Elijah DeVoe and through the Internet search found your column from the fall of 2003 and your reference to one of his statements. Where did you find this?

    Also, I want to include something about your program in the next edition so anything you can send me (other than information on the web site) would be appreciated. Have there been any outside evaluations or other kinds of follow-ups?


    Randall G. Shelden

    • Yes we do have outcomes (pre and post tests) on our programs, in particular, our residential program. Do you have a direct email that I can use? My Associate Director, Lorraine Flores is our quality control expert and has this information. If you send me your direct email I will put you in contact with her so you can get the specific statistics you need.

      I do not have contact with Elijah, sorry. I know you realize that the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is up for reauthorization this year. There is still the issue of “valid court order” for status offenders but now it is in the act that a judge cannot order a status offender locked up because he violated his order. I don’t know if that will make it through the vetting process but I am hopeful.

      Good luck with your project. Always good to see folks writing about juvenile justice! Lorraine Flores’ email is: Mine is



  3. Dear Sparky – I know this is a dated blog, but I lived at the ORIGINAL Children’s Shelter near Maclaughlin Ave and Yerba Buena High School as a teen – I am now happily married with 3 kids, college-educated, and interested in helping out – I just don’t know where to go for direction – there seems to be a foundation for fundraising and education, but frankly, I don’t know who to trust.
    I have a background in English literature and education, a few hobbies, and 3 teens of my own. I also have a great, ongoing relationship with my own foster parents…so I think I can help. Can you direct my efforts? Thank you for your important and far-reaching efforts – from one grateful former homeless child…Linda Klajbor

    • Hi Linda,

      I remember the Children’s Shelter on Roberts. I have been at Bill Wilson Center (BWC) since 1983 so spent a few years working with kids who had gone there. The foundation you came across was originally formed to raise money for the new Children’s Shelter. It has changed to granting scholarship funds to kids in foster care wanting to go on to college. I am really not sure what all they do so you are wise to be a bit suspicious.

      We currently have a contract now with the Social Service Agency to recruit, train, and place volunteers to work with children/youth in the foster care system. Volunteers do everything from driving kids to medical appointments to mentoring youth. Also, we have an “adopt a foster child” program where we ask people to buy Christmas gifts for one foster child, based on what they request.

      We also have other volunteer opportunities also. If you like, you can call 243-0222 and ask for Aimee Zube (zoo-bee) on my staff and request dates for our tours. We invite interested community members to learn more about what we do at our main residential program and hear about our guiding principles. By the way, 10% of BWC staff are former foster care youth. If you check out our website you can see we also have a foster care placement agency and a drop-in center for homeless street youth.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for writing about my blog. I think your experience in the foster care system could be helpful for other kids now in care.


      Sparky Harlan

  4. Pingback: Interview with Kevin Zwick, Executive Director of Housing Trust of Santa Clara County | Housing 1000 Official Blog

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