Anita Maldonado of Santa Rosa’s SAY wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Anita Maldonado


Social Advocates for Youth (SAY)

2447 Summerfield Rd., Santa Rosa 95405


Professional background: I have worked in the social services field since 1997, including executive roles at California Human Development, IMPACT Community Action, Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, and Akron Summit Community Action.

I also served as an adjunct faculty in the Pan African Department at Kent State University and am currently an adjunct faculty member in the MPA program at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio.

Education: Ph.D. in higher education administration from Kent State University; master’s degree in public administration from the University of Akron.

Number of staff: 99

Describe your organization: Social Advocates for Youth is Sonoma County’s leader in serving local homeless and disconnected youth. For almost fifty years, SAY has provided supportive services to thousands of youth and their families, meeting them where they are and when they need us the most. We focus on four foundational pillars of service: Youth Crisis Services (YCS), housing, careers, and counseling.

A few of the programs that SAY operates include: the only dedicated teen shelter and young adult (ages 18-25) shelter between San Francisco and the Oregon border; the only youth crisis hotline in the county, staffed year-round 24/7; and the only affordable tattoo removal program (Clean Slate) in the county.

We provide mental health services (currently via telehealth) both in our Medi-Cal Clinic and in eight middle and high schools in Santa Rosa, as well as offering wellness groups for youth.

Our Career Services team helps youth develop work and life readiness skills. And we also operate multiple housing models that include affordable housing, community-based housing, and housing for pregnant and parenting youth.

These wraparound services are available across Sonoma County.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am a woman, Latina, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, mentor, teacher, professional and friend...

I was born in Lorain, Ohio to parents who migrated from Puerto Rico. I am one of three children and come from a close knit family where we learned the value of hard work, education, honesty and compassion. I am a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc., an international service organization that is founded on the mission to cultivate and encourage high scholastics and ethical standards among college women.

My life has been greatly enriched by my upbringing, friends, family and the kindness and encouragement from my inner circle. All of these experiences and values have shaped how I choose to live my life today.

What is your role in the organization?

I joined SAY in March of 2020, where I am proud to provide oversight to SAY programs, services, and operations as well as support to SAY’s volunteer Board of Directors.

How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like every nonprofit organization in the county, our programs had to make some huge pivots in response to the COVID pandemic.

The need to shelter-in-place amplifies many of the challenges that our young people already face. Youth who are experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk for health concerns and for youth living in households with unhealthy family dynamics, the inability to access safe spaces such as schools and libraries creates even more stress and anxiety.

SAY is an essential business, and we never stopped providing services to our young people. Many of our programs pivoted to online and virtual services, such as telehealth appointments for our counseling department and virtual job support for our careers team.

We also helped youth navigate through the process of applying for unemployment and essential job opportunities. Our shelter and housing services continued to house young people, and our Street Outreach Team continued providing drop-in hours and supplying hygiene kits (now equipped with masks and sanitizer!) to those with little access to these vital items.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

In addition to adjusting our services to young people (as outlined above), SAY also has pivoted its fundraising program: in-person fundraising events—that so many organizations rely upon for funding—are not possible during a global pandemic.

Instead, we have reimagined our approach to connecting with investors one-on-one. Our current 3-40 Campaign highlights how we are using virtual tools, sponsorships, and peer-to-peer fundraising in response to the changing environment.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how the people of Sonoma County, the community, and the SAY Board of Directors and the organization have come together and welcomed me. This, coupled with leading a team of professionals who are respected and known experts in serving youth and families, makes me most proud of the decision I made to make Sonoma County my home.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Our biggest challenge today is in understanding the new set of barriers that youth face layered with the long term effects of trauma associated with the current pandemic and the frequency of reoccurring natural disasters. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to blanket Sonoma County and sweep across the United States and the world, we consistently discover a complicated array of brand-new obstacles that only intensify the issues that were already present in serving the homeless youth population.

From an organizational perspective, our ongoing pursuit of securing funding for operations and programming to serve Sonoma County’s homeless youth remains a challenge.

These young people are resilient but have very limited options without SAY. Therefore, we are focused on diversifying our funding sources and revenue streams so that we can continually expand our services to support these youth. This, alongside our efforts to cultivate and increase our donor base, presents us with the unique challenge to secure additional funding opportunities in a COVID-19 reality.

As we work to sustain and maintain our infrastructure, we continue engaging our community and relying on our valued relationships to help change the lives of the homeless youth we serve.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

SAY is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2021. As we plan our 50th Anniversary year efforts and activities (whether virtual or live) a strong effort will be made to renew donor relationships and link our new strategic vision and objectives with a dynamic, new development plan and smart program initiatives that will fund and sustain SAY for the next fifty years.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

With the increase in demand for virtual platforms, ensuring that our IT infrastructure is reliable and secure is fundamental to our sustainability and scalability. Smart investments in hardware, software, network services and the right team to manage it in a post-COVID world has elevated the importance of this service need in helping organizations to minimize disruptions in their operations.

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

The nonprofit world is competitive and funders will be focusing on high impact organizations that deliver the best results. According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article on creating High-Impact Nonprofits, there are six practices that high-impact nonprofits use to achieve extraordinary impact. Striving towards these goals will help nonprofits to remain relevant and competitive:

1. Serve and Advocate

2. Make Markets Work

3. Inspire Evangelists

4. Nurture Nonprofit Networks

5. Master the Art of Adaptation

6. Share Leadership

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

This might seem odd to say, but my fondest memory was when I first took on the role of CEO in early March at SAY and we were all working together side-by-side in the workplace. A week later COVID hit and we have been working remotely ever since.

What other community involvement would you like people to know about?

I serve on the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board (WIB), Sonoma County YMCA and Santa Rosa Community Health Board of Directors respectively.


Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Oprah Winfrey

Current reading: “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk.

Most want to meet: Michelle Obama

Stress relievers: Working out, walking, hiking and FaceTiming with my family and new grandson Masen.

Favorite hobbies: Exploring new places and international traveling, staying at the family condo in Puerto Rico.

Social media you most use: Facebook and Instagram.

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: At-Risk Youth.

Typical day at the office: There is no typical anymore. Generally, I work out of the Dream Center. Most days are filled with phone calls or Zoom meetings. Zoom fatigue is real!

Best place to work outside of the office: I really enjoy working remotely when I visit my family in Ohio.

Words that best describe you: Dependable, compassionate logical, productive, loyal, cooperative, generous, friendly, amiable, good listener, empathetic, very likable, sincere, unassuming, and approaches activities with persistence and willingness.

Anita Maldonado


Social Advocates for Youth (SAY)

2447 Summerfield Rd., Santa Rosa 95405


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