When Copi Valdiviez entered his new workplace for the first time, he wore an old T-shirt, hadn't shaved for days, and told people he was there because his “old lady” had kicked him out.
Mr. Valdiviez stayed for a day at the mission on 15th Street, pretending he was an average guy down on his luck. He wanted an inside look at a men's shelter run by Cherry Street Mission Ministries before accepting a job as the agency's chief executive officer.
“I was just checking everybody out,” he said. “When the staff found out later what I did, I think it gave me some credibility.”
Mr. Valdiviez, 50, has led the ministries for about nine weeks. He replaced the Rev. Jim Watson, who resigned in March over philosophical differences with the mission's board.
His office at the Cherry Street Mission, the organization's emergency shelter and rehabilitation home for men, pays homage to his California upbringing with photos of sunny beaches and surfers battling the waves.
The laid-back former businessman said he “totally digs” his new job.
“I've always thought I would be working with people on the street, but I never could see how it would happen,” he said. “I feel privileged and blessed to be here.”
Mr. Valdiviez, who grew up outside Los Angeles, planned to go into religious service after graduating from Pacific Christian College, now called Hope International University, in Fullerton, Cal.
He switched gears when he started a surfing equipment marketing company with just $500 in 1975. His business was fairly successful, and he founded a new company two years later that was based on a big idea: Slap Socks.
Mr. Valdiviez built a small hosiery empire on Slap Socks, tube socks with a separate big toe designed to be worn under thong sandals. His company sold Slap Socks to department stores and specialty shops.
“They went like hotcakes. It was bizarre - they just really took off,” he said. “Even Bloomingdale's was selling them.”
He later moved to North Carolina and opened a hosiery company that was the second in the United States to make legwarmers, a trademark of 1980s fashion.
While visiting a hosiery convention in New York City, Mr. Valdiviez met Joyce Long, who was in the city for a hair fashion show. The couple married four months later in 1982.
After selling his hosiery company, Mr. Valdiviez returned to California and worked at churches and in health care marketing. He came to Toledo in 1995 and was hired as a marketing director at HCR, now HCR Manor Care, but he was laid off by the end of the year.
He started DAWN Projects for Jesus, a group that works to bring leaders of different churches together, in 1996.
“The goal is to have the whole church serve the whole city. We want to have as many people work together as possible,” he said.
“Money is tight right now. He's had to make some tough decisions,” said Don Stradtman, the ministries' chief financial officer.
In addition to the Cherry Street Mission, the agency runs a women's emergency shelter called Sparrow's Nest, and Caleb House, transitional housing for men leaving rehab or getting out of prison. An education center that will provide reading classes and job training will open soon next to the Cherry Street Mission.
The Cherry Street Mission has 66 shelter beds and a kitchen that serves three meals every day. The mission also gives out food baskets and clothing and runs a chemical dependency rehabilitation program for up to 30 people.
“The critical component for us is the spiritual component. We believe you need God to get your life back together,” Mr. Valdiviez said.
Jay Salvage, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board and a friend of Mr. Valdiviez, said he is an ideal choice to oversee the ministries.
“People like Copi's style. He doesn't come across as pushy and he's full of life,” Mr. Salvage said.
In his free time, Mr. Valdiviez enjoys playing guitar and keyboard with his three sons, who also play instruments. He hopes to take his sons surfing one day.
“I have the only surfboard in Perrysburg,” he said jokingly.