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
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.
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
“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
“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 &
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.
is a graduate of Centro de Estudios Universitarios
Veracruz in Guadalajara, México, where she began her
Her parents live in México.
NEXT WEEK IN HISPANIC PROFILES:
Former PHCA director now at OSU extension