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Marisela Alcalá: United Way 211 director moving to Michigan help agency

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

When Latino families from Northwest Ohio call 211 for help, they are being assisted by an information and referral program with bilingual operators through the United Way.  That help line, over the past decade, was managed and improved by a Latina who understood firsthand where they were coming from.

That work has earned Maricela Alcalá career advancement, as director of Gryphon Place in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She starts her new job Feb. 3, 2014. Ms. Alcalá also focused on Hispanic/Latino outreach as part of her duties with the United Way of Greater Toledo.

Maricela Alcalá

Gryphon Place, also a United Way agency, is a non-profit organization that helps individuals dealing with conflict and crisis. The telephone-based service also helps individuals through dispute resolution and suicide prevention. The agency manages several telephone help hotlines and related services, including a suicide prevention hotline, a 211 helpline, and a youth runaway hotline.

“It’s a huge opportunity for me,” she said. I’m really excited to see the opportunities we have there. I’m sad to leave the United Way, but very grateful for all the opportunities and trust they gave me with 211. I think 211 is an amazing program and at a great place right now.”

Ms. Alcalá started with the United Way as an information and referral specialist, but worked her way up in the agency. After four promotions in just eight years, she became 211 call center director. She helped to expand  211 services to include free tax preparation services offered by the United Way through a Volunteer Income Assistance grant, as well as a coordinated investment program, which accesses emergency housing services for individuals and families in need. Ms. Alcalá managed both programs.

“Those are the main attributes with which I was able to attain this job,” she said.

As a national reviewer for one of Gryphon Place’s nationally-accredited programs, Ms. Alcalá was already familiar with the organization’s work. “Gryphon Place touches lives every day in meaningful ways, and the potential here is tremendous,” she said. 

Gryphon Place, also a United Way agency, has some 50 full-time and part-time employees and more than 100 trained volunteers, both in 211/HELP-Line work and in dispute resolution.  The 211/HELP-Line operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

The dispute resolution services, including restorative justice programs in Kalamazoo Public Schools, provides mediation services for everything from landlord-tenant disputes to civil and family court conflicts.  

Gryphon’s school-based Gatekeeper suicide prevention program reaches some 4,000 students each year. In existence for 25 years, the program also provides monthly support group meetings for survivors of suicide, and does work in critical incident stress management in the wake of crises.

Cindy Gaines, Gryphon Place board chair, said that the search for a new executive director attracted candidates from across the country. Ms. Alcalá will replace an executive director who served the Kalamazoo agency for nearly three decades.

“We feel fortunate to be able to attract a person of Maricela’s caliber to our agency,” Gaines said in a press release. “Her training and experience are a perfect fit, and her career has been marked by outstanding achievements.” But the Gryphon Place board also recognized her community outreach work with Latino families and agencies.

“The purpose of 211 is to help people get connected to resources,” she said. “When I started, I was able to provide information and referral in Spanish, so it has always been important to me to make sure we have bilingual call specialists. We now have an actual Spanish line where people can get the services in Spanish 24-7. We’ve always made sure all of our publications are printed in both English and Spanish.”

At least three of her current United Way staff members are Latinas who reach out to agencies in need of bilingual speakers and services.


“For me, it’s always been important to make sure that I’m reaching out to the community to make sure they know that services are available regardless of their background, where they’re coming from, what their legal status is or whatever their situation is,” she said. “That has always been my interest and my passion.”


Ms. Alcalá plans to continue similar work in Kalamazoo, once she learns more about the community and the services available there. The city of about 70,000 residents has a six percent Latino population. However, Gryphon Place serves multiple counties as part of a statewide 211 system, as opposed to a stand-alone Toledo system that helps people in five Northwest Ohio counties.


“I’m sure I’ll be back to visit quite often. I still have grandparents, aunts, uncles, a brother still here,” she said of the Angel family (which owns and manages El Camino Real and Mi Hacienda restaurants in Toledo and Oregon) and the Romo family (her grandfather is José Romo, deacon, Sts. Peter & Paul)


Ms. Alcalá has two sons, 12 and 10, who play soccer for Toledo Celtics. Her husband played professional soccer for nearly a decade, part of that with the Chivas soccer team in Guadalajara, México. Her husband, who now works in auto warehousing, is currently recovering from a major soccer-related injury, tearing a patellar tendon while playing recreational soccer. They have been married for 14 years.


Ms. Alcalá is a graduate of Centro de Estudios Universitarios Veracruz in Guadalajara, México, where she began her professional career. Her parents live in México.


NEXT WEEK IN HISPANIC PROFILES: Stephanie Serda: Former PHCA director now at OSU extension

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/22/14 06:07:59 -0800.




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