Sonoma County Human Services social worker wins Pride Business Leadership award
Grace Villafuerte, an in-home supportive services social worker in the Adult and Aging Division of the Sonoma County Human Services Department, is a winner of North Bay Business Journal’s inaugural Pride Business Leadership Awards.
Personally, what have you learned about yourself within the past year — with its economic and social challenges — and how will it change the way you live going forward?
This past year magnified the role that I had intentionally created for myself in my community. Shifting into an even more active and conscious role clarified and deepened my commitment to my community, especially the older adults in my personal and public life.
I have dedicated my life to “living in community,” which I define as living interdependently. I am aware at all times that the amazing life and rights I enjoy today, are completely due to the immigrants, the women, the LGBT community, the allies, and so many more people who came before me and fought for equal rights.
As a native Santa Rosan, I am able to stay in daily contact and relationship with many of the people who paved the way for me. During the pandemic, many of them were the most vulnerable and needed the most support.
I emphasized seeking out the voices who were more vulnerable, and worked to meet their needs, in ways that were creative and unprecedented. It was an honor, as well as a gesture of gratitude, to provide tangible and emotional support to those that I could. I understand that the strength of our community is up to me and the rest of us able to do so at any time.
Going forward, I will improve my delivery of services, seek out how to create resources that are needed, and also learn to better balance all aspects of my professional and personal life.
Did it give you a new perspective about your career or the business you are in? What was the biggest shift in that perception?
I realize even more how it is important to help people consistently cultivate strong, healthy support systems. This year emphasized how important my work is especially in times of crisis, and I recognize the need to improve and expand people’s access to communication.
It also highlighted once again how important it is to seek and learn from the wisdom of older adults. I spoke with those who have been HIV+ 20+ years and medical professionals who worked in AIDS Prevention and Services in the 80’s and 90’s.
Because they had been thru a pandemic before, it was enlightening to learn from their experiences. For years, I had heard the stories of my friends talking about how traumatizing living during the AIDS crisis was, but until the Pandemic, I did not truly understand the trauma and grief of daily hearing of “death counts.”
Of all the things you learned about yourself in the past year or so, which one surprises you the most and why?
I provided very involved care and medical assistance for an older family member for a prolonged period of time during the pandemic.
Despite my 13+ years as a social worker working with older adults and caregivers, I did not realize how deeply difficult it can be - emotionally and energetically - for caregivers. I learned how to access deeper reservoirs of patience, holding space, and providing comfort.
I also understood the detriments of not intentionally creating balance and rest for myself.
What stereotype or bias involving the Pride movement which you most like to knock down and why?
The stereotype I would love to dispel about Pride month and Pride activities is that it is mostly about “partying.”
I dislike this myth, because it dismisses and invalidates the activities that highlight other parts of our LGBTQI+ Culture, and negates the activities enjoyed by those who are outside of the “partying” demographic, further making many people in our community invisible.
This year, as vice president of Sonoma County Pride, I intentionally included a wide variety of activities for all ages and abilities.
What was the best decision you made in the past year in your professional life in the past year, and what was the worst? Tell us why.
Best: The best decision I made this past year was to learn how to improve collaborations with other agencies while working at the Evacuation Shelter.
Worst: The worst decision I made was not getting a comfortable, ergonomic office chair at the start of the pandemic. A comfortable chair would have provided me less physical pain, a better attitude, and enabled to be more productive.
What is the achievement are you most proud of when it comes to your professional life and why: