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Administrator for San Rafael's IHSS Public Authority of Marin wins North Bay Latino business leadership award

Aaron Alarcón-Bowen

Executive director

IHSS Public Authority of Marin

10 N. San Pedro Road, Suite 1016, San Rafael 94903

415-499-1024

www.pamarin.org

Quick Takes

Current reading: “Not your typical Mexican daughter” by Erika L. Lopez and “A thousand names for Joy” by Byron Katie

Most want to meet: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Stress relievers: Working out, meditation, playing with my cat, Gabby

Favorite hobbies: Working out, reading, travel

Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add?

Being a leader of color in a predominantly white community is not a walk in the park; however, I can’t think of a better place than Marin County to offer the nurturing and empowering experience that a person like myself needs in order to succeed.

I am grateful to all the people in Marin that have believed in me: Lee Pullen, Roxann Spilman, Joe O’OHehir, Lynn von de Werth, Linda Jackson, Cecilia Zamora, among many others. Without their support and trust, I would not be where I am. Thank you and the best is yet to come.

Read about other winners of this year’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

When communities come together, there’s very little that cannot be accomplished, said Aaron Alarcón-Bowen of IHSS Public Authority of Marin, a 2020 winner of the Business Journal’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Professional background: Public administrator

Education: Ph.D. candidate

Staff: Six direct staff and 250 caregivers

Tell us your story and that of your organization: The IHSS Public Authority of Marin is an independent, government agency that partners with Marin County’s Aging and Adult Services division in order to provide in-home care to low income older adults and individuals with disabilities. Our agency is in charge of recruiting, enrolling vetting and training in-home care providers. I have been with the authority for three and a half years.

I am originally from Mexico. I came to this country at the age of 18 when I started college at the University of Texas at El Paso.

I have spent all of my career working for social service agencies in a variety of roles, from being a fundraiser for one of the most prestigious nonprofit agencies in the nation, the United Way, to serving as a court appointed legal guardian for adults with diminished mental capacity. I have almost 10 years of experience in leadership roles in Texas and California.

I have a masters degree in public administration from the University of North Texas, and I am currently working on finishing my PhD in public policy at Walden University.

I have been working in Marin County for over six years now and I feel honored to be part of a community that regardless of the many challenges that we face, there is always a will to make things right and to do better.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

The pandemic has been challenging for everybody. As the leader of an agency that provides essential services, I was deeply concerned that migrating to offering some of our services from a virtual platform was going to interfere with the effectiveness of our service delivery.

It was indeed difficult at first but after the initial chaos, I was surprised to see that we did not only continue fulfilling our mission successfully but also, we were able to expand and improve our services, meeting the changing needs of our population.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Achievement during the pandemic? Start an on-call, emergency in-home care service to recipients that lost their caregiver unexpectedly. This was a collaboration with Marin County that was needed in our community.

Achievement in my life that I am proud of?

Many but I am particularly proud of not giving up during the years when I was an undocumented person. I lost my legal status right after college.

As it is the case with many other people, I overstayed my visa. The uncertainty that I experienced was crippling, yet I never allowed it to undermine my desire to make a difference in my community.

What is your biggest challenge today?

On a professional level? Because of the pandemic and the economic distress brought by it, the legislative framework underneath the services offered by my agency has been unstable.

On the other hand, the needs of the population that we serve keep increasing. My biggest challenge is to find a way to meet these needs with the resources that I have been given by our legislative bodies.

As far as my biggest challenge today on a personal level: to finish my dissertation. I am on the data collection stage which has slowed down due to the pandemic.

What are you most proud of regarding the achievements of the area Latino business community and what are the greatest challenges faced by that community?

I am very proud that during my tenure as the executive director of the Public Authority, our outreach to the Latino community has been enhanced.

According to a survey we conducted among our in-home caregivers back in 2017, most of them are Hispanic woman between the ages of 40 and 50. Based on that, our recruitment efforts have been tailored not only to better target this population but also to make sure that our agency does not only offer employment but also resources and tools to achieve self-sufficiency.

Words that best describe you: Creative, innovative, passionate, fair, analytical and compassionate

As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

There have been several obstacles throughout my life. One of them, as pointed out before, was my status as undocumented person in this country. There were many things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t due to my legal status.

Another obstacle has been dealing with that voice in my head, known as the saboteur, that constantly tries to feed me negativity, always assuming that the worst is going to happen. The way I don’t let this voice takeover is through meditation and mindfulness.

Aaron Alarcón-Bowen

Executive director

IHSS Public Authority of Marin

10 N. San Pedro Road, Suite 1016, San Rafael 94903

415-499-1024

www.pamarin.org

Quick Takes

Current reading: “Not your typical Mexican daughter” by Erika L. Lopez and “A thousand names for Joy” by Byron Katie

Most want to meet: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Stress relievers: Working out, meditation, playing with my cat, Gabby

Favorite hobbies: Working out, reading, travel

Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add?

Being a leader of color in a predominantly white community is not a walk in the park; however, I can’t think of a better place than Marin County to offer the nurturing and empowering experience that a person like myself needs in order to succeed.

I am grateful to all the people in Marin that have believed in me: Lee Pullen, Roxann Spilman, Joe O’OHehir, Lynn von de Werth, Linda Jackson, Cecilia Zamora, among many others. Without their support and trust, I would not be where I am. Thank you and the best is yet to come.

Read about other winners of this year’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Another obstacle is how our society has different expectations from a leader that happens to be a person of color as opposed to a leader that is part of the racial majority.

When I started my management career, I always felt that I had to do way more than a Caucasian manager in the same position. Even though there is nothing wrong with trying to achieve excellence, expectations based solely on a person’s skin color are problematic and unfair.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

I believe that health and human service agencies will be more needed than ever, particularly those targeting older adults. With the Baby Boomers on the verge or retiring, I foresee that elected officials will look at in-home care as the most financially prudent alternative to institutionalization.

I also foresee that the Latino community will continue growing, and as a consequence, the need for bi-cultural and bi-lingual professionals, like myself will also expand.

Who was your most important mentor?

My most important mentor is my long-time friend artist Mark Bradford.

Mark and I come from broken families, from chaos. We both believed in ourselves and did not let our surrounding, initial circumstances dictate our dreams and ambitions. Mark has been a constant positive influence in my life for many years, even before he became the legendary artist that he is right now.

Tell us about your community involvement: An important part of my duties as executive director is to have a strong presence in the community.

I have established new partnerships with many public and private agencies, including city councils and statewide advocacy groups. I am part of Aging Action Initiative board and currently being considered to serve on other boards as well. I have great working relationship with other leaders in our community from all sectors. I have improved and developed the “brand” of my agency.

What advice would you give to a young person today?

Education is the best investment that you can do on yourself as it is one of the only things that nobody can take away from you.

It’s a challenging time for all but the COVID-19 virus has been especially tough on the Latino community. Tell us your experience either personally or with the group or company you work with in dealing with the economic impact of the virus.

The population that I work with has been the most negatively impacted by this pandemic: older adults and the Latino community. Even though it has been tough to continue providing services considering the restrictions that we all have had to accommodate due to COVID-19, my experience being the leader of an agency that offers essential service has been, surprisingly, positive.

Yes, the pandemic has been disastrous for so many people but it has also shown us that when we come together and we work a little harder, all things are possible.

What are the lessons of this difficult year – including the COVID-19 virus, the economic downturn and the fires – for you and how has it changed your outlook for the future?

The most important lesson that I have learned, both as a leader and a public administrator, is that when communities come together, there is very little we cannot accomplish.

Though it is difficult not to get discouraged, considering the difficult times that we are going through as a nation, my outlook for the future remains positive.

I believe that the new generations have opened their eyes to the inequity of our system as a whole and will not rest until we live in a more just and inclusive society. I feel honored to be part of this movement of citizens that are committed to end economic and racial injustices.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Joe O’Hehir. He is one of the most important leaders in Marin County. I admire his groundedness, his vision and entrepreneurship.

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