The Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) board of directors has tapped a 34-year veteran in the nonprofit world to take over for Monique Kane, who is set to retire. Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto, currently the executive director of West Valley Community Services, will take over as the new executive director of CHAC on July 1.
Nakano-Matsumoto has spent most of her career at South Bay community organizations. And she will almost certainly have her hands full. The transition in leadership comes at a time when teen mental health has surfaced as a top priority for local schools and hospitals, and both local parents and students have expressed a growing desire for peer counseling groups.
Nakano-Matsumoto moved to California in 1991 and began working in the Bay Area with Asian Americans for Community Involvement, a nonprofit that seeks to overcome the social and cultural barriers that keep Asian Americans from getting the health, advocacy, and community services they need.
She later worked for Asian American Recovery Services in East San Jose, helping families with substance abuse prevention, treatment and intervention, and eventually moved over to West Valley Community Services in 2005.
Despite making the jump from community service nonprofit work to the field of mental health, Nakano-Matsumoto said it's hardly uncharted territory. She said she cut her teeth in nonprofit work at mental health agencies as well as spending five years in the school system as a social worker in Denver.
"It feels like I'm going back to my roots," Nakano-Matsumoto said.
While most of her work has been in the West Valley region of the Bay Area, which includes Campbell, Cupertino, and Los Gatos, she said she's pretty familiar with the Peninsula. Nakano-Matsumoto lives in Sunnyvale, and her children go to a school where CHAC offers counseling services.
"There are specific players that I need to get to know better, but I feel like Mountain View is an extension of my community," she said. "I feel very comfortable"
Nakano-Matsumoto said there's a "clear need" for more behavioral health services in the area, and greater levels of awareness and acceptance of mental health issues have helped underscore that need. She said some of her top priorities include finding new ways to help kids learn coping mechanisms for stress, as well as improving access to mental health services among people who can't afford it.
"People with enough money to pay for the services have plenty of access, but if you don't have adequate insurance or are very low or no-income, there's not enough," she said.
Nakano-Matsumoto will take over for current executive director Kane, who has been working with CHAC for the last 28 years and spent the latter half leading the nonprofit. Kane, a therapist and former teacher, announced her plans for retirement late last year.
Since Kane took over, CHAC has expanded its presence to 33 schools in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Altos, where it offers counseling and other support services for students -- an achievement that stretched CHAC's staff and resources.
Both Nakano-Matsumoto and Kane have been named Woman of the Year by County Supervisor Joe Simitian. In a press release, Simitian called Nakano-Matsuomoto a "local hero" who helped guide West Valley Community Services through the recession, when demand for food, shelter and emergency assistance jumped in 2008 and 2009.
"Through her leadership, our neighbors have somewhere to turn in their time of need," Simitian stated in the press release.
Some of the new programs Kane still has in the works prior to her departure include a peer counseling group for high school students, likely to be hosted at CHAC headquarters on a weekly basis for teens to talk about depression, stress, and anxiety.
Other key players for mental health programs in the Bay Area include El Camino Hospital's Community Benefit Plan, which contributes more money each year to school districts for increased mental health services at schools.
Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency, said he looks forward to continuing to work with Nakano-Matsumoto after collaborating with her on through West Valley Community Services, a sister agency of CSA. Myers said Kane has been a great leader of CHAC over the years, and that Naomi will bring a "natural continuity" in leadership.