by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Dr. Kelli Mather is looking forward to diving into her new role as chief operating officer for El Centro, a social service outreach ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Until her official start date, Mather will continue to fulfill her contract with the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, where she currently serves in that same capacity.
As Mather begins the transition to her new post, she has had the opportunity to meet with El Centro staff and volunteers in an effort to sustain its legacy and move its mission forward.
Recently, Mather sat down with El Centro’s Promotoras, its lay Hispanic and Latino community members who are trained to provide community health education.
“I believe that the leadership and staff of El Centro work tirelessly on continuous improvement on all services provided, and it is my belief that I can contribute to the strategic thinking and proactive direction of the organization,” Mather said.
Mather has spent the last 28 years with KCKPS, where she served in numerous leadership roles. Upon earning her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in business from Baker University in Baldwin City and a doctoral degree in business management from California Coast University, Mather also worked as a therapist with adolescents and adults in an inpatient dual diagnosis unit for drug and alcohol dependence and psychiatric disorders.
A Wyandotte County resident for over three decades, Mather belongs to St. Patrick Church. She’s earned a reputation for being a respected professional — providing leadership, management and vision in everything she does.
In her new role, Mather will oversee the organization’s day-to-day operating activities, while facilitating its strategic planning process and business plans.
“All of my professional choices and opportunities have been grounded in a personal desire to be able to make a difference in the lives of people I interact with. This opportunity with El Centro will allow me to support the growing organizational goals of El Centro while at the same time positively impact those we serve,” Mather said. “I was also very interested in working under the leadership of Irene Caudillo, as she is well respected throughout our community.”
El Centro has extensive outreach programs. Mather says she will continue to develop, evaluate and expand outreach efforts to meet the needs of the community.
Mather also believes El Centro stands out for its advocacy in promoting, developing and supporting the Latino population. She plans to leverage her professional background to make a difference.
“My background as a therapist and prevention specialist in the field of substance abuse afforded me the opportunity to strengthen my interpersonal skills, listen and coach individuals to make life changes,” she said. “I pride myself in being a relational leader, which for me boils down to leading by example, demonstrating the positive attitude and expectations that I want as part of the culture of any organization.”
Given the spotlight on U.S. immigration policies, Mather says the current political climate contributes to uncertainty, fear, instability and suspicion.
As such, El Centro’s mission remains constant in this changing environment, she said, as the organization seeks to provide reassurance and a sense of safety.
As a beneficiary of the Archbishop’s Call to Share, Mather says El Centro values the support from the Catholic community. El Centro’s doors are open to anyone in need. But it is uniquely suited, she said, with the expertise to work with newly arrived Latino immigrants.
In fact, 80 percent of El Centro’s staff is Latino and all who work directly with clients are bilingual.
El Centro serves more than 12,000 Latino individuals and families in need annually. Its programming includes the Senior Day Program, the Academy for Children (a dual-language pre-K program), workshops on money management and home ownership, health education and healthy living outreach through Promotoras de Salud (health promoters) volunteers, health navigation and intervention, and policy and advocacy efforts for issues of special interest to the El Centro community.
“El Centro serves some of the most vulnerable in our communities including poor, oppressed, sick, undocumented and hungry,” Mather said. “We ask our Catholic community for the spirit of welcome and to be an advocate, reaching out to immigrants, migrants and refugees with messages of support.
“Parishes can utilize our services to educate parishioners about the needs of the immigrant community and the blessings they bring. It is through our community’s time, talent and treasure that we continue to assist clients in acquiring the knowledge, education and skills to empower them and our community.”