December 2020
Leaders in the Field:
Profiles from the Pandemic

Celebrating Exceptional Leadership and
Codifying Lessons Learned
During Unprecedented Times
In alignment with our value of mutual support, Leaders in The Field: Profiles from the Pandemic is offered as a resource to share wisdom, experience and creative responses to an ever-changing nonprofit landscape rocked by COVID-19.

An extension of our monthly Leaders in the Field publication, these profiles highlight some of the leadership frameworks used by members of the Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego as they have led through these unprecedented days.
A timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

(Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, Seton Hall University)
Profiles in Servant Leadership
Kathi Anderson
Learning Group Graduate
“Torture happens between people, so the healing needs to happen between people”

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Building and maintaining trusted relationships can still happen in a virtual environment

ON THE FUTURE: “I feel like there are embers everywhere that are smoldering and could just reignite at any moment, and here we are again”               
Andy Carey
Learning Group Graduate
“If I had to do it all over again, I'd rather do it with more empathy”

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: “The leadership lessons need to be integrity, transparency, knowledge-based decision making and concern for others

ON THE FUTURE: Nonprofits must take the lead in fighting for a more dignified existence for the most vulnerable among us whose inequities have been amplified by the pandemic
Jorge Riquelme
Learning Group Graduate
Reading Group 1
“I had to make people comfortable with the idea that we were riding a bicycle while building it” 

ORGANIZATION: Community HousingWorks

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Crisis leadership requires vulnerability, connectivity, reassurance, and transparency

ON THE FUTURE: “We need to constantly see and embrace the goodness that comes with change” 
Rhea Van Brocklin
Learning Group Graduate
Coaching Program
“I’ve learned to be okay making big decisions quickly” 

ORANIZATION: Christie's Place

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: It’s possible to maintain trust and stability even in the midst of crisis by staying focused on organizational values

ON THE FUTURE: She is committed to staying mindful of the inequities that her clients face as they work to provide services in new ways
Continue reading for more on our featured leaders!
When Kathi Anderson, the Executive Director of Survivors of Torture, International (SURVIVORS), started a center in her house to heal and support survivors of politically-motivated torture living in San Diego, she could not have imagined the challenges that her firmly established organization would face twenty-three years later. At the start of the year, Kathi and her team were grappling with political decisions that were directly affecting her clients such as the “remain in Mexico” policy and the increased detention of asylum seekers. In March, the organization had to pivot to find ways to offer their services remotely while also educating their 350 current clients, many of whom lack English proficiency, about the rapidly-evolving changes that were taking place in the world around them.

Personal connections are vital to the work that Kathi and her team do to build and maintain trust with their vulnerable clients. As Kathi says, “torture happens between people, so healing needs to happen between people.” Transitioning to remote work meant finding a way to keep that trust in a virtual setting. Zoom was not going to cut it for SURVIVORS. Kathi had to find a high-level secure platform, one that would be approved for governmental use, but that was also user-friendly in order to safely and securely communicate with her clients. Kathi and her team also quickly got to work to support the basic needs her clients, many of whom were the first to lose jobs when businesses were shuttered. SURVIVORS has since designed a delivery program to provide food, diapers, cleaning products, face masks, and hygiene items to clients with contact-free drop-offs.

Kathi also had to find ways to support the relationships between her staff and with her donors and the public. For her staff, Kathi saw that even though daily check-ins could meet their communication needs, working from home would create new physical stresses. So, she provided a training on working from home and ergonomics and encourages her staff to exercise and take walk-breaks. For her donors and the public, Kathi created “Journey to Healing” virtual tours to showcase the work taking place in the SURVIVORS torture treatment center. She also started hosting “Conversations with Kathi”—conversational meetings with high-level doners to connect with them and keep them informed. A silver lining of remote work has been the expanded reach with these virtual programs. Looking ahead, Kathi sees that her clients are going to continue to need extra support to manage the long-term impacts of the pandemic. By embracing flexibility and innovation without sacrificing their core values of trust and personal connection, the team at SURVIVORS has the resilience they need to continue to meet those challenges.
Andy Carey is the Executive Director of the US-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership (BPP), a binational organization serving over 336 member institutions from across the US and Mexico with the mission to build prosperity through leadership, collaboration, and philanthropy in the border region. Being legally incorporated in both the US and Mexico gives BPP the benefit of being a “bridge” to promote charitable giving between the two countries. It also means that BPP must operate under two different governments with often conflicting federal policies. This duality can be challenging in the best of times, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it has become even worse. Without a consistent government response, the work of providing for the most vulnerable community members in the border region has fallen on the local leaders and organizations supported by BPP.

To lead BPP during this challenging time, Andy has not wavered from his commitment as a leader to putting people first. He has done this by staying focused on those most impacted by the current climate both through public policy advocacy and support of the organizations on the front lines. He has been a lifeline of communication for his member network – keeping them informed, celebrating their successes, and telling their stories. He sees this time as a “a chance to tell the real story of what’s happening in the US-Mexico Borderlands.” Even amid the uncertainty and loss, the collective caring response and generosity that he has observed have helped to keep him and his staff grounded in their mission.  

Looking back, Andy would not change how his organization has responded to COVID-19. However, he does see a general need for increased compassion towards others and for putting people over politics. If he had to do it again, he says, “I’d rather do it with more empathy!” His work in the border region has made him acutely aware of how the pandemic has “exposed the hurt” in our society. This has strengthened his desire to continue to fight for a more dignified existence for the most vulnerable among us. As he leads his far-flung network into the next challenges, he remains focused on the people and communities that are at the heart of their collective efforts.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an emotional, physical, and spiritual toll on the well-being of all people.” Acknowledging this shared trauma is essential to successful leadership during this challenging time according to Jorge Riquelme, a senior vice president at Community HousingWorks (CHW). CHW’s mission is to provide and build life-changing affordable apartment communities with resident-centered services for working families, seniors, and people with disabilities to forge stronger futures. Jorge is a veteran leader with responsibility over delivery of resident services programs at CHW communities throughout the state. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, residents at his communities were impacted in numerous and overlapping ways. Jorge’s challenge was to quickly provide support for his clients while also bolstering his staff.

With his staff, he didn’t shy away from being honest about the uncertainty that they were facing. Instead, he made sure to be open and to make them comfortable with “riding a bicycle while building it.” He kept the focus on the mission and values of the organization so that while there may have been uncertainty about what they are doing, there was never uncertainty about why they were doing it. He also made sure to emphasize to his staff that the crisis was not going to be short-term and that they would need to pace themselves for the long road ahead. While Jorge has seen that communicating “clearly and regularly” is important in a crisis, he initially found virtual staff meetings on Zoom to be unsatisfying. As time has progressed, he realizes that they have become a “peer-to-peer support group” where staff are not afraid to be vulnerable and share frustrations. He has even seen members of his team step up to take the lead in ways they hadn’t at in-person meetings. This opportunity to build leadership within his staff has “been one of the greatest gifts of the crisis.”

Looking forward, Jorge doesn’t want to miss out on other opportunities to learn and grow from this crisis. He cites Rahm Emanuel who said, “You never want a crisis to go to waste.” For him, this crisis has “made visible many of our shortcomings as individuals and as a society.” To counter these shortcomings, he suggests that we all take a broad view of the crisis beyond our individual needs. He charges nonprofit leaders to “listen to the voices of the people they intend to benefit.” Only by being “humble and honest about first, that we are human beings” are we able to lead others. 
In early 2020, Rhea Van Brocklin was hitting her stride in her first year as the executive director of Christie’s Place, an organization dedicated to serving women, children and families living with HIV/AIDS by providing education, advocacy, and comprehensive social services in a safe and supportive environment. Throughout her career, Rhea has been passionate about work in the HIV/AIDS field, having previously served as the long-term executive director of the AIDS Project of Central Iowa. Taking the reins at Christie’s Place was not something she approached lightly. It is a much beloved San Diego institution founded in 1996 in memory of Christie Milton-Torres a wife, mother, and early advocate for support of families living with HIV/AIDS. Coming into the position, Rhea’s focus was on reinstating stability and trust within the organization. She had succeeded in hiring for key leadership positions and overhauling their employment practices when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

On March 10th, just days ahead of the state-wide shutdown, Rhea made the decision to cancel their annual Women’s HIV Conference set for March 14th. She also moved quickly to shift Christie’s Place to remote operations to protect the health of her staff and her highly vulnerable clients. “Normally I like to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision, but in this case, there was no time to hesitate in making such crucial decisions,” says Rhea of those early days. Another challenge of pivoting to remote work was figuring out how to deliver services and form deep connections with clients virtually. Rhea reviewed the organization values with her staff to help keep them focused on their shared mission as they made these internal changes. With this united effort, Christie’s Place has been able to consistently operate without a gap in service. They’ve kept clients engaged with fun virtual events such as an online luau to celebrate long-term HIV survivors. They have even observed an uptick in the length of their therapy sessions as clients are often more comfortable in their own homes.   

Providing for her clients was only part of Rhea’s job. She also had to continue to cultivate the trust and stability she had been building with her staff. Early on, she established a wellness committee, inviting her staff to stay actively connected with each other through fun monthly challenges and activities such as morale-boosting virtual dance parties. When social unrest over the George Floyd murder boiled over, she reached out to her BiPOC staff members and encouraged them to “do what you can to feel empowered at this time, because you need to.” She has since embraced DEI education for her team and encouraged them to participate in the Equity Journey training offered by FLNSD.

Looking back, Rhea sees how much she has grown into her role at Christie’s Place. Leading through crisis taught her to trust herself to know what is best for the organization and “to be okay making big decisions quickly.” As she moves forward, she is committed to staying mindful of the inequities that her clients face as she and her team grow the organization and serve their clients in new ways. 
Thank You to our Network Members...
Our thanks to each of our profiled leaders for taking the time during stress-filled days to share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others as they lead.
Missed one of our pandemic profiles? The entire series is now available:
Interviews were conducted by our summer intern, Nathan Burns. 
We are grateful for his work on this project. 

Interviews were conducted in July 2020 and reflect learnings
and activities through that time.