There are a few new faces at IFR…well, sort of. As IFR has grown, so have its infrastructure needs. IFR had fewer than 60 employees in 2010; that has nearly doubled in 2023. It was clear that we needed to upgrade our infrastructure. Thinking long-term, IFR’s visionary Executive Director Gloria Romero created two new positions: Director of Programs and Client Services and Director of Integrated Behavioral Health.
Serving in these two new roles is the new Director of Programs and Client Services Claudia Leon, and the Director of Integrated Behavioral Health, Luis Perez. If the names sound familiar to you, it’s because they have a long history in the community and with IFR.
Working in the Mission District and in organizations throughout California managing family resource services, case management in youth services, empowerment and building racial equity, Claudia also served on IFR’s Board of Directors from 2004-2010. Quite coincidentally, after being mentored by Dr. Francisco Gonzalez while doing his post-doctorate residency work at UCSF/SFGH, Luis happened to join IFR in 2004, where he has served as IFR’s Psychologist.
Claudia and Luis recognize their roles are distinct, yet intertwined. Many at IFR wondered how they would collaborate. Very different from each other in several ways, it’s already easy to see how their many similarities will continue to foster the feeling of familia that IFR values.
For example, both come from very large families – eight siblings in Luis’ family and six in Claudia’s. Luis left Cuba when he was 18, lived in Mexico for seven years, and came to the United States when he was 26. While Claudia was born in the U.S., her parents and all of her other siblings were born in Mexico; as a result, culturally, her family functioned as an undocumented household. Both Luis and Claudia understand firsthand much of what IFR’s participants have experienced.
When asked why they chose to undertake these two new roles, it’s easy to recognize how well their values align. “I have always felt welcome here, especially in my work with Sí a la Vida. As a gay Latino man, I feel seen. People look like me and sound like me. I fit in here. This is part of what ‘tú eres mi otro yo’ is about,” offers Luis.
For Claudia, the approach is different, but the result is the same. “For me, working in alignment with my beliefs, my norte, is important. I remember bringing my grandfather to a consulta with Don Pascual at IFR when he was at the end of his life and how it reminded him of the practices his mother taught him. It meant a lot to him to have a place to connect with those practices again. I truly appreciate the hybrid of Western and indigenous practices that IFR provides; it reflects my own practices and the value of La Cultura Cura. I have a deep love for how our programs reflect that.”
Both understand the challenges inherent in their new roles but seem ready to face them. Claudia is clear that it will be important to define their roles, and get clarity and alignment on IFR’s programs and practices so that they can help program staff in their work. “We both bring different histories with IFR and a different lens, but we bring a good balance between us. My history blends well with Luis’ wisdom and how we both see the work ahead of us.”
Luis immediately agrees. “I’m excited that IFR is looking at an integration model across programs to support clients in new and better ways. It reflects the realization that this work can’t be done in silos or separately. It’s the same thing with Claudia and me. We will be incredibly busy, so it will be important to maintain good and close communication.”
Certain keywords that unite their stories and beliefs kept popping up throughout their interview: alignment, community, norte, familia – oh yes, and fun. “There are four things that are important to me: showing up, and honoring your commitment; maintaining your norte; remaining humble; and always having a sense of humor,” Luis enumerates, offering a sly smile on the last item.
Claudia is already on a similar wavelength with him as she begins laughing with Luis. “Laughter is medicine. Humor is also a way to connect with people.”
Getting to know and work closely with another person can be difficult. Watching Claudia and Luis is anything but difficult. It almost seems like they’ve known each other for years. “It’s important to me to honor people’s experiences, understand the intersections of their identities to build authentic relationships, and reflect that with the community we serve. As we move forward, I’m committed to building culture that centers equity and reflects our pilares,” Claudia shares.
“For me, I like to be adaptable and flexible when change is needed. I am a dreamer and visionary at heart, so helping create things that are ahead of me is thrilling,” notes Luis.
Despite that they’ve only begun working together in the past month, it is clear there is mutual respect and trust that is building between IFR’s two newest leaders. They know that their words hold weight and that their work won’t always be fun. “I know that the needs of the community, the populations we serve, and the needs of our staff formed the basis for creating our new positions. That means a lot to me,” says Luis.
Claudia adds, “Our goal is to ensure we support and continue IFR’s important work. I intend to maintain an open-door policy to ensure staff receives the support they need, the community receives the programs and services it needs, and that we’re aligned to maintain IFR’s legacy as we move forward.”
We extend a warm welcome to Claudia and Luis in their new roles.
¡Sí Se Puede!