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La Liga de Las Americas

Deb Ortiz-Flores: Helping make Job and Family Services more client-friendly


By Alan Abrams

La Prensa Senior Correspondent


When Deb Ortiz-Flores looks around the room at a conference attended by the other 87 Ohio county Job and Family Services directors, she not only quickly realizes she is the only Latina in the state to hold that post, but one of only a handful of women to have cracked that longtime male bastion.


Ortiz-Flores has been the Lucas County Job and Family Services director since 2006. If you wonder how great a responsibility she carries, consider this:  not only does Ortiz-Flores oversee the activities of 420 employees, but her agency distributes $72 million in food stamps in Lucas County.


Several members of Toledo’s Latino community work at Lucas County Job and Family Services including Betty Rios and Robert Gutiérrez.


However, Ortiz-Flores is quick to point out that “We try to hire employees that are reflective of the population and the demographics of the clients in terms of race, gender and age. Out of our 420 employees, only three or four percent are Latino, and that’s still below the area representation.”


The U.S. Census states that Lucas County is 6 percent Latino.


Ortiz-Flores praises the work done by Rios in community outreach—Rios is the Coordinator of Community Outreach. “She visits the migrant worker camps and is at all of the health fairs. She is a terrific asset to the agency and to the community.”


“As a Web site designer, Robert Gutiérrez is playing a key role in the launch of the agency’s totally revamped and client-friendly Web site later this month,” says Ortiz-Flores. Also working on the site is Mario Gaz.


Ortiz-Flores is proud of the technological innovations that she has introduced to make the Lucas County agency more accessible to clients. “We have had people from Hamilton, Cuyahoga, and the Montgomery county agencies come here to observe what Lucas County is doing and the programs we have implemented that help our clients have faster and better service.


“They are especially impressed with the kiosk where clients can send an electronic message to their case worker letting them know they are in the building. It has done a lot to alleviate the problems we used to have with long lines.


“We are also excited about the new document center scan that we will be introducing next year. Thanks to document imaging, we no longer will have to ask clients for a copy of their driver’s license or birth certificate every time they come in,” says Ortiz-Flores.


Born and raised on Toledo’s East side, Ortiz-Flores says she grew up on “Utah Street, which is about as far east as you can get in Toledo.” She is a graduate of Good Shepherd School and Cardinal Stritch High School.


Her parents, Manuel and Zolia, were migrant workers who like so many others of the community’s founding familias settled on Toledo’s East Side.  Her parents and her two brothers, Mike and Mark, all still live in Toledo.


After graduation from high school, Ortiz-Flores earned her undergraduate degree in social work from the University of Toledo. She spent ten years at UT, starting at the Scott Park campus in 1990. She worked in admissions and financial aid as well as in the Latino/a outreach programs while she completed her requirements for her Masters Degree in Public Administration.


Ortiz-Flores recalls that was the time when UT had just introduced their new student accreditation program.  “I was working in administration and that often meant 14 hours in the summer. So when I finished my Masters, I started looking around for a new opportunity that combined social work with public administration. I applied for a position as director of client services at Jobs and Family Services and went for it. I’ve been here for almost nine years, and I know it was the right thing to do,” she says.


“I’m a hands-on kind of person and one of my goals is to see how we can all do our jobs better. I work with many focus groups so that we can learn what the community wants in terms of more programs and services. As director of the agency, and working at a state level, I know that I can bring about change in a positive way and help remove many of the remaining barriers that our clients may still encounter,” says Ortiz-Flores.


The new County-State partnership can become one of Ortiz-Flores’ greatest assets. The Jobs and Family Services agency has been energized by its innovative new state director, Helen E. Jones-Kelley, who was appointed by Gov. Strickland in January, 2007 The fact that both the Lucas County agency and the state have new female directors has not been lost upon Ortiz-Flores. 


She has also developed close working relationships with other key county agencies on a myriad of issues and programs, especially recognizing that the Latino population is spread out throughout the county and not just limited to areas like Toledo’s old south End.


“We know that many of our clients who are receiving child support have issues with suspended drivers licenses and convictions which act as an impediment. We try to help them successfully re-enter the workplace and earn their GED.


“We also work closely with Dean Sparks at Children’s Protective Services on child protection issues as part of their First Response team. We have a working partnership with MRDD as well as with the Family Council,” says Ortiz-Flores, who praises the members of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners for their support.


Ortiz-Flores also juggles her agency responsibilities with those as a mother to her two daughters: 15-year-old Sierra, who attends Notre Dame Academy, and Sofia, who is five and is a pupil at Christ the King School.


She and her husband Tony have been married for six years.







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