For over four decades, MEDA has been providing free asset building services to a low- and moderate-income, primarily Latino clientele in San Francisco’s Mission District. With programs running the gamut from financial capability to housing opportunities and free tax preparation to small-business and workforce development, MEDA was proud to be able to serve over 6,300 clients in 2014—all at no cost.
Taking over the reigns of the management these programs is Lucy Arellano, MEDA’s new Director of Asset Building Programs. Here is her background.
What do you bring to the table?
My career path in program management has focused on three areas: contracts and grants, as tied to outcomes; operations; and staff management.
I worked for a national immigration program’s office in Southern California, serving Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The focus was on supporting undocumented immigrants, most of whom had been arrested for relatively minor crimes, and had been turned over to ICE. Before, these immigrants would have been removed to their country or detained while awaiting trial, but our program enabled them to stay out of custody while going through proceedings. When I moved to the Bay Area, I worked on homeless and re-entry issues in the city of Richmond, affording me a different experience in providing services.
I have always been interested in the intersection of criminal justice and sociology, as those are the subjects of my studies. I aim to understand how we can support disadvantaged populations on large-scale issues.
How does your family’s background help you in your work?
It’s the reason I came to MEDA! I have six siblings and my parents brought us from Mexico to the U.S. for better opportunities. I watched my family deal with the challenges of understanding finances, navigating systems, buying a home when undocumented and accessing resources. All difficult things in a new land with different rules. This creates empathy for the experience of MEDA’s clients, two-thirds of whom are immigrants.
I was blessed in that my family is so supportive. I am grateful for having always had that support and it has enabled me to flourish in life. My mom talks to all seven of her children every day! But I know that not everyone has that in their life, and my parents taught me to help those who do not have such support to be able to gain it.
What will be the biggest challenges in overseeing the asset building programs at MEDA?
I want to leverage the staff’s expertise. MEDA has hired some of the best-educated, most-talented service providers in the Bay Area. The staff knows the clients best, plus the day-to-day challenges faced by the community. So, one of the first things I did was have one-on-one interviews with each staff member, as a way to ascertain what has, and has not, been working for them. I knew I was asking them to take a leap of faith and trust me.
My challenge is to continue to tap into that knowledge and experience, while making sure I honor and lift it up.
It is also a challenge for any service provider to balance outcomes tied to funding with never losing sight of the organization’s mission.
What community impact do you seek?
It’s all about choice and sustainability. Ideally, families will continue to call the Mission home, if that is their choice, and to have anyone who has been displaced be able to come back, also if they want.
I think true impact is not predetermining what success is for clients, but rather supporting and making our clients be equipped to succeed on their terms, to live whatever life they want and wherever they want.
I also want them to know that it is never too late to better your life and that of your family. That’s why MEDA is here!