This week we honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great Civil Rights leader and timeless voice for racial and social justice, community empowerment, and the potential of the human spirit. In his memory, we at the Healthcare Foundation affirm our guiding principles of community, compassion, and equity in pursuing equal opportunity for health and wellness for all our northern Sonoma County neighbors.
Though perhaps not apparent early on, the pandemic has brought out some of the best in our communities, as we have sought to protect not only ourselves but one another, including by acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate risks such a crisis brings to our diverse and still unequal society. To that end, we share an update below on an initiative to support the admirable grassroots movement for vaccine uptake in our underserved Latinx communities, a movement heavily reliant on promotores de salud—bilingual and bicultural community health workers. Nearly always women, these important frontline workers come from the communities they serve, and act as vital bridges to information and care.
In our latest profile of our remarkable Mental Health Talent Pipeline scholarship awardees, we learn from Claudia Hernandez how hope for mental health access and equity inspired this young, first generation Mexican-American from Los Angeles to help bring these aspirations to life in northern Sonoma County.
Finally, we talk with Stephen Barber of Guaranteed Rate, our latest Healthcare Hero Community Partner, about what brought him to Sonoma County, the values that underscore his own commitment to our diverse community, and his vision for caring and compassionate development in a region where both tourists the locals who make tourism a reality can collectively experience the good life.
Meet Mental Health Talent Pipeline Scholarship Awardee Claudia Hernandez
Claudia Hernandez is a member of the first cohort of bilingual/bicultural graduate students and aspiring mental health professionals—and the first SSU student—in the Healthcare Foundation’s Mental Health Talent Pipeline scholarship program. She grew up in Los Angeles, the child of immigrants from Mexico, and although she relocated to Sonoma County to pursue her master’s in counseling psychology, it is in Los Angeles that her journey as a mental health professional properly begins.
Having served as a support to family members in a household challenged by patterns of dysfunction, Claudia says she found she was drawn to helping others early on. After college, she took a job as a case manager in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, an area of concentrated poverty with a large population of people experiencing homelessness. It was here that she found herself inspired by the mental health professionals among her colleagues.
“I worked at a place called SRO Housing Corporation,” she explained in a recent phone conversation, “whose mission was to house homeless individuals who had dual diagnoses, usually some kind of mental illness with any substance use issues. In that job I was exposed to all different kinds of people who had mental illnesses, and I was working with people in the mental health field like psychologists and social workers. That’s where the seed was planted.”
Getting a Boost
An update on grants to grassroots organizations that are leading on vaccine outreach and uptake in underserved communities
Last September, the Healthcare Foundation in collaboration with Partnership HealthPlan of California began distributing funds totaling over $350,000 to 15 community-based organizations on the front lines of the effort to increase vaccine uptake among our Latinx communities, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic’s multiple impacts on health and well-being.
Since then, this coalition of grassroots organizations has been successfully meeting and supporting Latinx and Indigenous community members across Sonoma County. Importantly, to accomplish this most of them employ bilingual and bicultural promotores de salud, or community health workers, as trusted health messengers and liaisons.
Healthcare Hero Community Partner Spotlight: A Conversation with Stephen Barber
Healthcare Hero Community Partners are business sponsors who make a three-year annual commitment. As mission aligned contributors, our Community Partners support the Healthcare Foundation’s vision to eliminate health inequities in our region. We recently had a conversation with Stephen Barber, mortgage banker and branch manager at our newest Healthcare Hero Community Partner, Guaranteed Rate, where for more than two decades Stephen has helped people in Sonoma County – and across San Francisco and the Bay Area – obtain a mortgage for their home.
What’s your background?
Although I’ve lived in cities for most of my adult life, I actually grew up on a very remote dairy farm near a town of 500 people in Upstate New York—far, far, far away from anything associated with New York City. It was kind of like the Rust Belt of Upstate New York. It was definitely a unique experience. Not a place where there’s a robust high school and lots of services and options, AP courses, and that kind of stuff. It was a pretty simple upbringing.
What drew you away from the farm?
I thought I wanted to go into hotel management, so I went to Cornell for business administration, hotel administration. I did that in my foolish 20s, and traveled a lot, and worked a lot. After being relocated about ten times over six or seven years, I ended up in San Francisco when the company was opening a hotel there. I was getting closer to 30 then, and I decided to jump off that train and develop some roots. So I went to work for a local company in San Francisco and have been there ever since. After a couple of years, I transitioned into banking and financial services and started working in mortgage about 25 years ago.
Where in Sonoma County do you live?
I live full-time in Healdsburg. I’ve been up here for about five years. It’s like coming back to my roots a little bit, as far as living in a small agricultural town, but definitely a little more liberal and interesting and diverse than where I grew up. But I still think my family was surprised that I moved out of San Francisco. [laughs]
Have you considered leaving a bequest to the Healthcare Foundation? A transformational gift ensures your legacy contributes to eliminating health inequities in our region, advancing us toward a future of maximum health and wellness for all northern Sonoma County residents.
A special opportunity: A generous, anonymous donor will contribute $5,000 for the first five new or newly disclosed commitments to the Legacy Circle in 2022. Contact us today and multiply your impact!
We are pleased to recognize our Legacy Circle members to date:
Barbara Grasseschi and Tony Crabb
Dr. Laura Kimbro Chechile and Tom Chechile
Kim and John Lloyd
Peter McAweeney and Tod Hill
Lisa and Bill Meisner
Donna and Eddie Merideth
Katie Wetzel Murphy and Denny Murphy