Written by Gilbert Zavala
In celebration of Women's History Month, we would like to recognize team members who have made an impact within the organization and those who have moved beyond 211 LA and continue to make a difference in their communities.
Since 211 LA’s (formerly InfoLine) first day as a comprehensive information and referral provider in 1981, women employees have been at the forefront of connecting people to critically needed services, which they continue to do today by handling calls 24/7, and building the systems and technologies to meet the current demand for help.
211 LA is a women-led organization with intergenerational staffing legacies and a diverse and inclusive workforce that directly reflects the Los Angeles County communities we serve.
Our team impacted more than 1.4 million individuals through our connection services in 2022. Each call is handled with care and empathy by a professionally certified and trauma-informed agent. Although we receive calls for help from all types of individuals and backgrounds, the majority of 2-1-1 callers are Women of Color who are single mothers to school-aged children.
As Los Angeles County’s primary information and resource line, our staff understand the need for help and relate directly to our callers because many have utilized the 2-1-1 service for themselves or friends and family.
We pride ourselves in our women-led workforce and are constantly inspired by them. Everyone at 211 LA has a unique story on how they were connected to the organization. Below we would like to share some of their stories, including what Women’s History Month means to them.
Maribel Marin, Executive Director, 22 years of leading 211 LA.
“As an immigrant and woman of color, the challenges and struggles I faced getting educated and becoming an executive taught me that perseverance and determination were valuable characteristics to have, and this certainly helped me advance my career. However, coming to 211 LA taught me that compassion, kindness, and understanding are more important for having a successful and fulfilling life. Every day at 211 LA, we deal with some of the most heart-wrenching and difficult situations faced by thousands of the most vulnerable people in Los Angeles communities, and there are not enough resources for everyone that needs help. Being around 211 staff that are doing this work for decades in many cases, has helped me understand the most important thing I can contribute every day that I come to work is to make sure that our 211 team members feel supported and cared for so they can return that care to our callers. My advice to young women looking to have successful careers in public service is to find a place where you can contribute to making your community a better place and always seek to be a kinder and more forgiving friend, family member, co-worker, and human being. Studying and working hard can help you get ahead in your career but digging deep to find your heart is infinitely more rewarding for living life.”
Maribel Marin has served as 211 LA’s Executive Director for the past twenty-two years, coming to the non-profit after five years on the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works. Maribel’s focus has been on modernizing the agency’s technology, improving performance, and establishing a person-centered approach that includes ensuring staff wellness and professional development and providing compassionate, caring service to those who rely on 2-1-1 services for help and guidance.
Catherine Abbott, Performance Coach, 29 years of helping the community with 211 LA.
“I love telling this story. As many know, my mother, Theresa Abbott, started when it was InfoLine pretty much from the start in 1981, and she worked with InfoLine up until she retired. I started in 1984, I wasn’t working, and it was right after the Northridge Earthquake, and she called me out of the blue and said, ‘hey would you like to come in and take calls for individuals that need food stamps?’ I said, ‘just answer the phones?’ and she said, ‘yes, just answer the phones and tell them where they need to go.’ The regular staff had gone out to the disaster centers, most of which were in the Northridge/San Fernando Valley area. So I came in, did that, and stayed up until I applied for the Information and Referral Specialist in June of 1994, and I’ve been here ever since…when I hear Women’s History Month what comes to mind is that I stand on the shoulders of so many women, my mother included obviously but the supervisors that I’ve had to get me to where I am now, it’s…I think about that just the accomplishment, what it means to be a woman, and how far we’ve come basically and what we learn and what we bring along and pass on to others.”
Deisy Kuk, Community Resource Advisor, 10 years of answering calls to help those in need.
“When I think of Women’s History Month. I think of other pioneer women who have helped me to be in this type of position and to work and be able to be a mother who can do both: work and be a mother. That’s what comes to mind, those strong women who stood up and got those rights for me to do the same thing and not just be at home as a mother.”
Victoria Stratman, 211 LA Board President, 5 years of providing leadership for 211 LA.
“My advice to young women and adults would be getting an education, get some experience, and you’ll figure it out...when you’re 18, you barely know how to tie your shoes, much less what you want to do when you’re 50. So take it in stride, and get the experiences; the other thing–all experiences are good experiences, even the not-so-good ones that you never want to experience again; you learn from them. You learn that you don’t want to do that. So that’s my advice. Don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to go for it!”
Prior to serving on the 211 LA Board of Directors, Victoria Stratman served as Caltech’s general counsel, and over her 23-year career there, her responsibilities included negotiating the contract relationship between Caltech and NASA for the management of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Victoria was a pioneer in her field, providing leadership and tenacity in the male-dominated arena of higher education and advanced technology, and space exploration.
Valerie Lynne Shaw, 211 LA Board Vice-President, 10 years of supporting and leading 211 LA.
“Know who you are. Know your strengths and your limitations and whatever your limitations are–we all have them–just shore them up with other people. Don’t try to be everything to everyone and again, focus on your strengths and whatever you’re not strong in get help. No matter what career you’re in, if you do that, then you’ll be successful.”
Valerie Lynn Shaw's long history of public service included seventeen years on the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works under three mayors over five election cycles. Her primary focus was to bolster resources and services in neighborhoods with the most infrastructure needs. She also served for seven years on the Board of Governors for the California Community College system, advocating for resources for housing and food-insecure students. Valerie views her leadership roles as opportunities for enacting equity and is a strong voice for putting the community first.
211 LA is not only a safety net for Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable populations but a unique group of people who uplift and support each other to reach their best potential. 211 LA is often the stepping stone for talented individuals passionate about helping and making a difference within their communities. A few of our Women leaders have moved towards a new chapter of their social impact journey and are continuing to do the critical and necessary work of helping others. Here’s what they had to say for Women’s History Month in their words of encouragement for other women who want to continue their growth as community leaders.
Alana Hitchcock, 211 CA, Executive Director, and Chief Executive Officer
“My advice for young women I would say a combination of grab opportunities when you see them even if you don’t know everything you need to know as long as you’re aware of that and you’re not afraid to ask people lots of questions and learn as you go, and know that some things are not going to work out and you just keep trying, keep growing and that 211 LA is really good at offering those opportunities and trusting you to take the leap and see what happens. I really encourage people who want to try something new, or learn a new skill, to not be afraid to go for it and to reach out to people across the organization to grow into that opportunity.”
Alana Hitchcock worked at 211 LA for six and half years in various capacities and as the Senior Director of Information and Technology before moving on to become the Executive Director of 211 CA at the start of 2023. While at 211 LA, she helped advance the agency’s website technology and create data dashboards to showcase the wide range of services provided to 2-1-1 callers. 211 LA is thrilled to have her step into her new leadership role and help forge the path for 2-1-1 services to become more prominent throughout the state.
Tanea Robinson, Community Wellness Consultant
“My advice is to keep going even if there are doors that are closed and opportunities that you think aren’t coming, I would say just keep going because the work is worth it and what you’re doing for those in the community is worth the work that you have to do to do it.”
Dr. Tanea Robinson was Program Manager for 211 LA’s first anti-hate effort as part of the countywide LA vs. Hate initiative created by the County of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. She headed up the team of care coordinators that take reports on incidents of hate throughout the county and provide follow-up, advocacy, and coordinated care for victims of hate acts. She also served on 211 LA’s culture and wellness committee creating programming and activities to support well-being at 211 LA.