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Director at Novato’s North Marin Community Services wins Latino Business Leadership Award

By October 26, 2021COVID-19

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

There will be an increased demand for bilingual/bicultural public health professionals like myself which will be challenging because there are not that many of us in the entire country.

I am already seeing increased requests for collaborations and to be part of multiple countywide and local committees. I see opportunities to create a pipeline for bilingual/bicultural youth to explore the field of public health.

Who was your most important mentor?

Elba Sanchez was a Spanish professor at UC-Santa Cruz. She was a great supporter who believed in me and always had the right words to help me get up when I would stumble.

She was the director of the Spanish for Spanish speakers’ program at the university and our relationship began when I took one of her classes. She offered me a job as a tutor after I took her class, encouraged me to publish my written works in student publications, and ended up serving as the “altar girl” at my wedding a few years later.

Tell us about your community involvement: I have served as a trustee of various institutions including, Novato Youth Center, School Fuel, and Marin Academy. I have volunteers in a variety of committees in the Novato Unified School District and in countywide efforts. I just finished a six-year term as a trustee of Marin Academy and I continue to be a volunteer docent of the Robert Ferguson Observatory.

What advice would you give to a young person today?

Learning English as a second language is hard particularly when you have to take more English classes in college to solidify your English language proficiency.

Being bilingual will help you be a top candidate for jobs with better compensation. It will provide opportunities for you to interview businesses and organizations to choose where you want to work. Take the time to find your passion, loving what you do will allow you to happily go to work and contribute in a meaningful way.

It’s a challenging time for all but the COVID-19 virus has been especially tough on the Latino community. Tell us your experience either personally or with the group or company you work with in dealing with the economic impact of the virus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marin County experienced the largest disparity by race in the Bay Area.

The Latinx community represents 16% of the population, yet they accounted for 54% of coronavirus cases (Marin Health and Human Services). In addition, the Black community accessed vaccinations at a lower rate, which was highlighted in Novato where 49% of the Black community resides (2,121 people).

With a focus on serving people in need, it is noteworthy that in 2020-21 NMCS served 89% people of color (11% White), which is a vast contrast to the ethnicity demographics for the City of Novato (62,000 residents; 65% white, 35% people of color).

As the largest safety net provider in North Marin, we have experienced a dramatic increase in demand for services by the Latinx community and people of color, with majority from extremely and very low-income households (98.6%). We are proud that our food pantry distributed 11,972 bags or 605,634 pounds of food (valued at $986,614), a 106% increase over last year.

We distributed $455,000 in cash assistance to 910 individuals in partnership with MCF/FII (Family Independence Initiative). 27 individuals were provided direct employment assistance through NMCS case management staff and over 100 others were referred to dedicated employment and/or educational development programs within the community.

What are the lessons of this difficult year – including the COVID-19 virus, the economic downturn and the fires – for you and how has it changed your outlook for the future?

We learned that we can pivot and grow during challenging times to support the emerging needs of those we serve. We were able to continue to strive to improve the effectiveness of our programs.

We administered evaluations throughout the year, gathered qualitative and quantitative data, and analyzed the data against both process and outcome measures.

Our programs worked together in an integrated and comprehensive manner, much more than prior to the pandemic.

Our emphasis continued to be on prevention and the use of evidence-based programs and practices in support of reducing infection rates, providing access to COVID-19 testing and then launching educational efforts to increase vaccinations.

We also listened to the feedback of our clients and regularly administered satisfaction surveys. Through these mechanisms we have been able to measure the life-changing impacts that result from our programs.

We also increased our partnership with the County of Marin Public Health and with other organization and learned that we couldn’t have done all this great work without working in partnership with other organizations.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Shirin Vakharia, director for Health & Aging at Marin Community Foundation.

Current reading: “Radical Transformational Leadership” by Monica Sharma and “The Coaching Habit, Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead” by Michael Bungay Stanier

Most want to meet: Dolores Huerta, farm workers’ rights activist

Stress relievers: Zumba, dancing, going on walks

Favorite hobbies: Reading, cooking with my 24 years old son (when he is home during graduate school breaks) and I recently started cycling again.

Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add?

Thank you so much for this wonderful recognition.


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