True to the courage and positivity that has opened many opportunities over the course of her nearly 40 years in West Marin, Socorro Romo jumped into her position as the new executive director of West Marin Community Services in early July, the day after the board offered her the job.
“Socorro has shown over the years that she is a natural leader,” said Kate Levinson, one of 10 board members who chose Ms. Romo from a pool of 14 applicants. “She listens to everyone and brings tremendous passion and many skills to her work. We have witnessed her as having one of the biggest hearts in our community, and an ability to work with different segments of West Marin—she treats everyone, absolutely everyone, with a deep respect.”
Ms. Romo first worked with West Marin Community Services for a brief stint in the early 2000s as a clerk assistant, transitioning from her work as a classroom aide and family advocate at West Marin School. She left to pursue a sociology degree from Santa Rosa Junior College.
The mother of three, Ms. Romo eventually had to abandon her degree to support her family, and held a variety of jobs before returning to West Marin Community Services as the program manager in 2009. Before her recent promotion, her job title was project director.
“The biggest change in my new role is that now there are more responsibilities on my shoulders,” Ms. Romo said from her attic office last week. While she will continue doing groundwork for certain programs, her work will largely shift to the functions of an executive director, including handling the finances and supervising the staff.
During Ms. Romo’s time at the organization, there have been four executive directors. Most recently, Bolinas native Heather Ivy was hired in March but left by the summer to spend more time with her newborn. (She will continue to serve as an advisor to Ms. Romo.) The organization also plans to re-evaluate the job description for a new program director in three months, based on what skills Ms. Romo thinks would be most helpful to complement her own.
Raised in Jalostotitlán, Mexico, Ms. Romo made the trek north at age 21 and found herself in Point Reyes Station. One of her first jobs was shucking oysters at Johnson’s Oyster Company, on Drakes Estero.
She married in 1983, and spent the following five years living in Napa and Sonoma Counties before returning to West Marin so that her husband, José, could take a job at the Murphy Ranch in the seashore. They lived on the ranch for the next decade and a half.
Ms. Romo was housekeeping when her children were still small, until a number of community members encouraged her to gain more confidence in her English.
“Socorro’s attitude is to go forth as a winner, despite any obstacle, to set her sights high and be willing to put in the work to get there,” said Inverness resident Joyce Goldfield, a longtime friend. Ms. Goldfield said that in the early days, when Ms. Romo cleaned her house with her youngest child on her hip, she started staying after for English lessons.
Ms. Romo said that with the encouragement of Ms. Goldfield and others, she decided to get her G.E.D., which she did in English, and began working at West Marin School, where she mentored younger students who were having difficulty as part of a primary intervention program.
“I am who I am because of this community,” Ms. Romo reflected this week. “This community has held my hand from day one. Even when I noticed things that weren’t that pleasant, because I am a minority, there were others that held my hand and supported me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t have had the courage.”
On her role as executive director, she said, “We already collaborate a lot with local organizations, but one shift I would like to see is more collaboration countywide. There is a lot of focus on the Latino community these days given the political environment, but we also need to focus on programs for the Anglo youth, as I think this has been neglected in some ways.”
Ms. Romo is especially excited about continuing her efforts for the Abriendo Caminos program, which is designed to engage and empower Latino residents. The program hosts workshops to address key issues such as labor rights, housing, education and immigration.
With a special focus on immigration since 2016, the program has collaborated with West Marin Standing Together, Canal Alliance and others, helping to develop a rapid response team and offer meetings with immigration attorneys.
This year, Ms. Romo will form a working group with representatives from towns throughout West Marin, from both the Anglo and Latino communities, to envision and design a new project or program together—and to engage in conversation.
“It’s time to start talking about things that aren’t that pleasant,” Ms. Romo said. “I believe that this community is so ready to do that, to put our hearts into it and even be a role model for the entire nation.”
She went on, “I believe that power struggles are, in many cases, what prevents us from being fully engaged, fully opening our hearts. How can we all let go of power, make room for someone else? We all have our own race biases, so the question is how we can leave that aside and just think about the human beings.”
A public reception for Socorro Romo takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 9 at the Dance Palace Community Center. All are welcome to celebrate her new position. Drinks will be served.