Five questions for the Hispanic Outreach Center’s new CEO. Her focus: Puerto Rican evacuees

Jaclyn Boland, 30, took over this month as the CEO of the InterCultural Advocacy Institute and the Hispanic Outreach Center. [Courtesy of Jaclyn Boland]
Jaclyn Boland, 30, took over this month as the CEO of the InterCultural Advocacy Institute and the Hispanic Outreach Center. [Courtesy of Jaclyn Boland]
Published February 1
Updated February 2

CLEARWATER ó In just her first few weeks leading the InterCultural Advocacy Institute and Hispanic Outreach Center, the mission came alive for Jaclyn Boland.

Boland took over this month as CEO of the Clearwater nonprofit, which provides social services to the areaís Hispanic and Latino community. The center has hosted weekly clinics for Puerto Rican evacuees since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island last year, and watching participants connect with the services they needed has been inspiring, she said.

"That strength of community is what Iíve really seen," the Ohio native said.

RELATED: Hurricane Maria evacuees start over in the Tampa Bay area

Boland, 30, follows in the footsteps of founder and former CEO Sandra Lyth, who stepped down in September. The Board of Directors unanimously picked her from an applicant pool of about 10 people, encouraged by her nonprofit career, leadership experience and ambition, said board president Rolando Lůpez.

"Her experience Ö showed that, even though sheís young, sheís able to be molded into a manager," he said.

Her work has taken her from Pinellas County to Belgium to Kenya. Now, sheís returning to the last place she called home with her 2-year-old Mastiff, Zeke. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Whatís your background?

In college (at Ohio University), I studied journalism, and I did Spanish as well. Spanish took my curiosity a lot more. I was so interested in other cultures and people. That took me to teach English in Spain after I graduated. I came back to the United States to Pinellas County as an AmeriCorps VISTA (volunteer in service to America). I was placed for one year with the Florida Literacy Coalition doing family literacy, health literacy for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students. I really got into community development, so I got my masterís in international development. That took me to my dissertation in Nairobi, Kenya, to work with an organization called Access Afya, which means Access Health. Itís a social enterprise that brings health care and makes high-tech digital health care available in the slums to low-income people so everyone can have access.

What drew you to this organization?

I find that working with people of other cultures and religions enriches me, not just as a professional but as a person as well. Within the community, it (the InterCultural Advocacy Institute) is such a well-known and respected institution. Itís actually an honor to be able to sit here today and to be able to take on the legacy that Sandra (Lyth) has really had for 17 years. Now, more than ever, itís important to have such an agency as a victim agency, and to stand up and have a voice and a support for people.

What are some of your goals for this job?

My first goal really is to observe and learn from everyone who has been here, and just really re-immerse myself into the community. Another goal is to continue the work the agency has been doing with embracing new communities into our community. For example, with Puerto Rican evacuees who have been resettling to this area ó thatís something that weíve taken on. Iím hoping to grow and deepen some of the programs that we have here within the community. We have a youth leadership program for example. They (children) are the ones that are going to set the tone and the example for others.

How do you plan to balance your role with this current political climate of tougher immigration policies and more open hostility toward immigrant communities?

I think (by) going back to what we do and what our mission is. Weíre a victim-serving agency, and really the strength of that comes from working with partners who also believe in what we do, and see the importance and the impact of how we do it. Thatís in creating strong families and ensuring that all of our clients are able to have their needs met, and if we canít, to push them to the services that they need. Our clients are resilient, and as an organization, so are we.

Where do you see this areaís Hispanic and multicultural population going in the next five to 10 years, and how is the organization preparing?

The biggest change is Puerto Rican (evacuees), and as more and more tropical storms may happen, thatís something to prepare for with the Caribbean islands. More and more people might be coming and relocating here from future disasters. If things arenít being reconstructed or repaired, people will stay. As far as other countries or other situations, for us itís just to keep our doors open and for people to know that weíre here if they need help resettling.

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.