Two inside hires will head up a major East San Jose nonprofit following the departure of its longtime leader—who leaves big shoes to fill in a part of the city hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 11 years at the helm, SOMOS Mayfair Executive Director Camille Llanes-Fontanilla is leaving to join Sobrato Philanthropies as vice president of Silicon Valley programs. Saul Ramos and Victor Vasquez are taking over as co-executive directors, previously serving as deputy director and director of organizing and policy, respectively. The nonprofit strives to build community power while working to support children, organize families and connect neighbors to address systemic inequities.
“I’m grateful to Saul and Victor for leading us through this transition,” Llanes-Fontanilla said. “They stepped up, and I’m thankful for their unwavering commitment to the Mayfair community, our mission and our values. I am excited to see them both in these roles of supporting, protecting and uplifting the incredible SOMOS team.”
SOMOS Mayfair is involved in civic engagement, advocating for an anti-displacement policy, supporting policies that protect renters rights and demanding equity and representation. The nonprofit also works to help East San Jose residents hit the hardest by COVID.
Vasquez said he knew he found a home with SOMOS Mayfair when he started working as a facilitator in the family resource center eight years ago. He saw powerful women organizers invested in improving educational resources and children running around.
“This is a place I felt connected… and wanted to serve,” he said. “I see this community as my community. I love working with our partners to solve common problems and create common solutions.”
While Vasquez will be the face of the nonprofit—leading program implementation and organization—Ramos will work internally with human resources, finance and programming. Together, they plan to tackle issues impacting the entire neighborhood, including helping residents recuperate from COVID and creating sustainability and leadership.
Ramos said working with leaders like Llanes-Fontanilla and Vasquez gives him the confidence, skill set and knowledge needed to advance the organization’s mission. He helped build up the organization during his nine years of employment.
“The work in this community has really shaped me and my approach,” Ramos told San José Spotlight, “and I like to think my contribution has had an impact.”
Ramos said he is proud of leading a grassroots COVID outreach campaign working as a bridge between Santa Clara County’s Department of Public Health, SOMOS and the Si Se Puede Collective—made up of Amigos de Guadalupe, Grail Family Services, School of Arts and Culture, SOMOS Mayfair and Veggielution.
He also praises people who “stepped up as warriors,” going door-to-door to educate East San Jose residents about COVID, testing and vaccines. Going door-to-door addressed transportation and mobility issues, as well as helped residents overcome their lack of trust with public health, he said. The workers also shared information on food and rental assistance.
“In our community, relationships are key to addressing systemic issues and isolation,” Ramos said. “We’ve been able to build an infrastructure that we are now hoping to sustain to address other issues in our community.”
SOMOS Mayfair advocates for housing policies against gentrification and is advancing alternatives such as community land trusts and affordable housing, according to Ramos. Vasquez said the nonprofit will work to provide opportunities for residents to become home and business owners.
“We have success building small businesses. We want to expand that and explore cooperatives,” Vasquez said.
Ramos said SOMOS Mayfair’s board will evaluate how the co-directors work together and their vision during the next year to determine if they will remain in charge. The nonprofit is organizing an online meeting for residents to meet the new directors at 9 a.m. on Sept. 15.
“We’re excited to step into this role,” Ramos said. “We welcome the challenge and support to make this work for all of us.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]