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Len Marabella of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Len Marabella

CEO

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (CCDSR)

P.O. Box 4900

Santa Rosa 95402

707-528-8712

www.srcharities.org

Professional background: Prior career in technology working in the aerospace and in the commercial lasers industries. Positions included management of R&D, new product development, engineering management, and product marketing. Volunteer at Catholic Charities beginning in 2012, supporting strategic planning, accreditation, homeless outreach services. Became board member in 2013, and then employed as executive director/CEO in 2014.

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemistry, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY; Ph.d. in physical chemistry, Indiana University; Post-doctoral Research, MIT

Number of staff: 218

Describe your organization: Inspired by the love and teachings of Christ, we serve, and advocate for vulnerable people of all cultures and beliefs, prioritizing those experiencing poverty. We envision a more just and compassionate community in which all people can create a life of dignity and achieve their full potential.

Our team meets local community needs by providing housing, immigration, homeless prevention, and disaster recovery services. These data-driven programs build on best practices established and improved upon year after year.

In the last year, we’ve permanently housed over 850 people, successfully processed over 600 DACA renewals, served 415,000 meals at food distributions, provided over 17,500 check-in calls to isolated homebound seniors, and helped navigate nearly $810,000 dollars in diversion assistance money like rental assistance.

All are welcome to receive services from, be employed by, or volunteer with Catholic Charities regardless of religious affiliation.

Our organization does not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, membership or activity in a local human rights commission, or status with regard to public assistance. We support, educate, create opportunities for, and ensure the wellbeing of our staff for the betterment of those most in need.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: My background is very unique for this position.

I spent most of my career in the laser industry working in aerospace, commercial lasers, and consulting. When working as independent consultant, I had the need, and the opportunity, to give back through Catholic Charities. My technical and business career surprisingly prepared me for this job – managing people, complex budget, managing government-funded programs, acquisition of funding, marketing and so on.

One of my main achievements was winning and managing a major program funded by the Department of Defense to apply government-developed laser technology to industrial application though a consortium of more than 20 companies and universities. That was quite a ride!

But my business career was missing something fundamental, I needed to give back, to help those in need. The call of the gospel to help our neighbors drew me to Catholic Charities to serve as a volunteer.

Soon I joined the board of directors. When my predecessor left, I accepted the position as interim executive director, fully expecting a 3-month commitment. Well, once I became so involved, I knew that this is what I must do.

So, I became a candidate for the position, and now I have been CEO for CCDSR in Santa Rosa since 2014. I gratefully acknowledge that my Jesuit education, the message of Pope Francis, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, amazing staff members, and the long volunteer work of his wife, Pat, brought me to this amazing place. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

What is your role in the organization?

Chief Executive Officer – My job is to provide guidance and leadership to an amazing staff.

They are the subject experts. I see my role as clearing the path and securing adequate resources, so the true experts are able to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.

That’s what it’s all about, delivering services to those in need to help them create a life of dignity and help them achieve their full potential. I am inspired by the message of Pope Francis and the gospel to go out and tend to those who are in need that will bring true joy in your heart. I try to convey that message of joy to our team.

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

We are responsible more than 450 shelter beds and our first concern was the safety of our residents and our staff.

Safety protocols were quickly established and implemented for our shelters and all front-line staff members. The city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County quickly recognized the need to respond to the need for social distancing and we moved some people from shelter to new non-congregate living locations. In addition, with Santa Rosa, we established the Finley site to accommodate the most vulnerable people who were without shelter.

Len Marabella

CEO

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (CCDSR)

P.O. Box 4900

Santa Rosa 95402

707-528-8712

www.srcharities.org

Food was an immediate issue in our community due to loss of income, so we immediately almost doubled our distributions.

Our in-person memory care program had to be suspended, so we pivoted to a virtual platform.

Our volunteers doubled wellness calls to vulnerable seniors who are living alone.

At first, we suspended our immigration services, then we quickly established safety protocols so that we could continue that vital service. Our immigration program has actually widened our reach to new areas across Northern California due to rapid innovation in service delivery.

At our family shelter, our staff has established the Distance Learning Hub, a unique opportunity for students to safely study and do homework with the guidance of volunteers. These volunteers are former teachers and education students completing masters’ internships. Parents and students have been grateful for this opportunity to maintain their productivity as our team helps them find permanent housing.

As many businesses, a significant portion of our staff is working form home. I am pleasantly surprised that it is working better than I had expected.

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

Increased services are described above. Covering expenses due to expanded services and safety measures was an initial question mark. Fortunately, the city and county provided new funds for new services.

In addition, we received Payroll Protection Funding from the SBA that allowed us to maintain our staffing level. We have been so thankful for our generous donor base for maintaining a steady level of giving during such challenging times.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Being able to contribute to an organization that consists of incredibly dedicated people, delivering critical services to more than 15,000 people each year.

What is your biggest challenge today?

The need is great, and we are continually challenged to do more. We have to balance the need with the reality of funding and our capacity to do the work. Continued rapid growth is not sustainable.

The solution is collaboration. We are thankful for all of our community partners and our generous donor base for helping us work towards solutions every day.

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

Caritas Village! We are building Caritas Village which will be a game-changer in downtown Santa Rosa. It consists of:

Caritas Center – a new family shelter, children’s program, a medical clinic, recuperative care center for those being discharged from a hospital without a home, center for dignity services, all focused on achieving transition of families and individuals to permanent housing as quickly as possible. Caritas Center will function as the bridge form homelessness to housing.

Caritas Homes – we are partnered with Burbank Housing to build 128 units of affordable, permanent housing on-sit for highly vulnerable families and individuals

The project finished its approval process with the City of Santa Rosa in August 2020. Construction work has begun, and the official groundbreaking is scheduled for early 2021! Stay tuned for exciting news about Caritas Village in the coming months.

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

We have taken the opportunity to utilize modern digital communication channels to ensure our services are readily available for people living in uncertainty.

We continue to evolve in our approach to data evaluation to ensure programs are meeting needs most efficiently. We continue to broaden our available languages by investing in translation services and staff.

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

When the economy goes through downturns, or when disasters occur, the need for our services dramatically increases. Given the double whammy of the pandemic and the continuing wildfires we will see a great rise in need that will last for years.

Responding to that will dominate our landscape. As a community we will need to join forces with government, foundations, and with other non-profit service-providers to work together. Collaboration will be the key.

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

I recall talking to a resident at our Palms Inn residence who had been homeless for more than 20 years. He told me that after living in a permanent home for the first time in years for only nine months, he had changed his life so much. He was getting to the doctor and his health had greatly improved, he was eating nutritional foods, and how he gained self-respect and pride in his accomplishments. That makes it all worthwhile.

A staff member recently said that working at Catholic Charities is not a job, it is a calling.

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

My job keeps me busy enough right now.

QUICK TAKES

Most admired businessperson outside your organization:

Sister Norma Pimentel – Sr Norma is the CEO of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

She is an amazing force on the front line at the border, facing enormous challenges. She and her team have cared for more than 100,00 unaccompanied children and migrants at the border, in the face of cruel policies being imposed by our government. Time magazine recently recognized Sr Norma as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2020. I am convinced that she is on the path to sainthood.

Current reading: “The Tiger’s Wife,” by Tia Obreht, a novel that combines reality, myths and surrealism. When challenged by seemingly continued crises, I turn to novels for relaxation.

Most want to meet: Pope Francis

Stress relievers: Yoga, reading, meditation; attending the symphony, funky plays, and Giants games – in person!

Favorite hobbies: Cooking, hiking the local trails, running – but, recently retired from running for 53 years.

Social media you most use: I prefer staying in touch by phone and by reading the newspaper rather than social media, but I encourage those who are interested in learning more about our work to visit our Facebook (www.facebook.com/CatholicCharitiesSantaRosa) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/srcharities/)!

Typical day at the office: there is none, always surprises. Keeps it interesting.

Best place to work outside of the office: Working at home!

Words that best describe you: Dedicated, faith-motivated, energetic, both patient and impatient, optimistic

Anything you want to add?

This is the best job I ever had – challenging and rewarding

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