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[caption id="attachment_10860" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Cris Chater"][/caption]

Cris Chater

Executive Director

Senior Access

70 Skyview Terrace, Bldg. B

San Rafael 94903

415-491-2500

www.senioraccess.org

SAN RAFAEL - Though she refuses to accept sole recognition for saving it, Marin County's only provider of adult day health care services would most certainly have closed without the staunch leadership of Cris Chater.

Since her arrival as executive director of San Rafael's Senior Access, the dynamic organizer who's seemed to have had a million lives in one has led a complete turnaround of the nonprofit. She forced her voice to be heard in front of supervisors, community leaders and business executives and found a viable funding solution for the health care program that had floundered for years.

"While it is an honor to receive this award, I do not accept it by myself. Everything we've accomplished I could not have done without my team, not behind me, but beside me," she said.

In October 2005, Ms. Chater assumed the reigns of the organization. The program was losing money and needed leadership.

"I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to return to giving back to the community, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into," she said.

"The program was going through 'founding-director-leaving syndrome,' and it needed a little bit of a face lift. I really had no choice but to jump in and take action right away."

She spent about a year assessing the organization; realigning staff, policies and procedures; and writing a development plan. After that, she headed into the community to speak to the board of supervisors, Rotary, the Department of Health and Human Services and others, fostering an increase in donations of more than 25 percent.

Despite her fundraising efforts, the inadequate Medi-Cal reimbursement model continued to threaten the financial sustainability of the program, and with the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, she embarked on an 18-month journey to find a solution.

Finally, when it seemed they would have to close, Lifelong Medical Care, a federally qualified health organization, agreed to take over the license and administration of the health care portion of the nonprofit, garnering higher state reimbursement rates that saved the program.

On Nov. 11, the group celebrated another milestone, moving the adult day program part of the business to San Rafael into a bright new facility overlooking Mount Tamalpais. The building offers a variety of mental, social and physical activities for seniors and serves as the county's only Alzheimer's Day Care Resource Center.

Ms. Chater's journey to senior care took an interesting route, moving from Marin, to Europe, to New York, to Austria; from fashion, to filmmaking, and eventually to gardening. She was born in Mill Valley, but spent a portion of her childhood in Switzerland. She jetted from her high school graduation to New York, delving briefly into work in fashion before deciding to pursue her degrees.

Ms. Chater spent several years studying language in Germany and Austria before transferring to U.C. Berkeley, where she earned her bachelor's degree. After obtaining a master's degree from San Francisco State University in documentary filmmaking, she went on to pursue her first major career.

For more then 10 years, the budding filmmaker made a name in the industry, premiering at several film festivals and garnering a commission for one production from the state and working briefly with MTV.

But the progression of that career was somewhat stunted due to her aversion to live anywhere south of Santa Cruz, and she decided to take her profession in a new direction before earning her second master's degree at the University of San Francisco.

In the next chapter, Ms. Chater found her love of work with the elderly as the garden coordinator for The Redwoods retirement community in Mill Valley, building a therapy garden program for its residents.

"It was a six-month contract, but I ended up staying on as director of programs and volunteers. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the residents, and it still gave me a chance to be creative," she said.

"I think it is a shame that older people are so undervalued in our society. They are our history; they have life experiences that you or I could never imagine. Many older people in our community were our teachers, firefighters, police officers, mayors and ballet teachers; individuals who shaped our lives as we grew up, and they deserve all the respect of their community."

Ms. Chater spent five years with The Redwoods before returning to the University of San Francisco to earn her second master's in nonprofit administration. From there, she went on to the U.C. San Francisco as a project coordinator with the John A. Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence, where she helped to significantly grow the program.

After several years with the university, it was time to return to Marin, and Ms. Chater took on the struggling Senior Access.

"Ms. Chater is working hard to change the way we view aging and the way we look at Alzheimer's disease. She helps us remember that life is a journey, and that journey can be made with dignity and purpose to the end," said Circle Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Kaselionis, who nominated Ms. Chater for the award.