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]
“Reading articles about the Healthcare Foundation’s assistance in schools with teens who are going through issues, that got my attention.”
How did you learn about the Healthcare Foundation and what drew you to support it?
I had seen some press reports after the annual fundraiser in the summertime. I had also once worked with one of the Healthcare Foundation’s staff in the mortgage world. Then reading articles about the Healthcare Foundation’s assistance in schools with teens who are going through issues, that got my attention.
HCF has a big focus on mental health and mental health services, especially in communities that do not have a lot of access.
Right, and certainly it was nothing that was spoken about when I was growing up. It’s very important.
What else speaks to you about the mission?
With the daily event right now, as far as trying to find a test or other resources with respect to Covid: It’s just much easier for some than for others, depending on somebody’s background or ability, which is a problem. The Healthcare Foundation becomes a great equalizer in that, helping the people who would typically be more disenfranchised in dealing with some of the day-to-day things that we’re all trying to deal with. “I need this test before I can go back to work;” we’re all struggling with some version of it. Some of us have certain advantages, whether it be simply access to a computer.
Also, you can’t have a successful tourism area unless you take care of the people that service that machine. You need to make sure you have services and a quality of life for the people who live here full-time—who are providing for that industry, whether it be for the vineyards or for restaurants and hotels—so everyone has some happiness. In certain places where I was opening hotels, we had to figure out transportation to bring people in from far away just because there was a lack of employees in the area.
“You can’t have a successful tourism area unless you take care of the people that service that machine. You need to make sure you have services and a quality of life for the people that live here full-time.”
Due to things like a lack of services and affordable housing that could make it possible for them to live near work?
As a former Upstate New York rural resident, what particularly appeals to you about Sonoma County?
It still has a little bit of the four seasons here but with less extremes. In my 20s, I had a second home on the Russian River, so I started exploring the area in the ’90s. I road-bike quite a bit, so that has been a draw. Just the combination of the outdoor activities and the diversity of the community, the fact that even though Healdsburg has a population of only like 12,000 there is just a nice, diverse group of people that all seem to get along, whatever their differences. And I’ve also invested in the community by designing and building a house in town. I’ve thrown all my passions into this place, whether it be biking, designing, all that good stuff.
You designed your own home?
Yeah, I built it about four years ago. It’s hard to build from the ground up in San Francisco, there’s not a lot of raw land. So when I decided I was going to make the move, it was the chance to build my own dream place.
Sounds like you’ve really put down roots.
Absolutely. When I leave this house I’m going out on a gurney. [laughs]