It's not easy running a non-profit. Perhaps that's evident given a flurry of changes at both Horizons and MOIP, with the departures of former executive directors Frank Oldham and Brandon Armani.
But in an effort to bring stability to Horizons—an agency accustomed to change during its 30-year history—Modesto 'Tico' Valle has stepped up to the plate as the interim executive director. And while he says he doesn't want the position permanently, he is making it his business to maintain quality services for his clients, including making staff cuts and strengthening programs.
'It's a humbling experience to serve as the executive director for
Horizons because our mission is important—so many clients rely on us,' he said. 'But we have a great staff that's very committed, who make my job easy. My focus is fundraising and making sure we serve our clients. And while these the days since I've taken this position have been long—they've also been good ones.'
Valle said that with the departure of Oldham, as well as other changes in staff, remaining focused has been essential.
'I always come back to our mission statement: to advocate, to serve and to empower the LGBT community through a variety of services,' he remarked. 'That's what Horizons has been doing for the past 30 years.'
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, the 39-year-old Valle has brought a Latino flavor to the top position at Horizons. And that's significant, given the recent increase in Spanish-speaking residents in this metropolis' population. He brings a wealth of experience to the job, including community activism in HIV/AIDS. And, he is the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt Chicago Chapter.
'Our clients are diverse economically and racially, as is our staff,' he said. 'And I believe that as a minority leading an organization, Horizons is setting an example in our commitment of minorities leading important community groups. In fact, our staff remains dedicated to serving minorities, no matter what their background. We hope to bring more into the fold and serve even more minorities. Of course, given my particular ethnicity, and given the current lack of services for Latinos, I am more sensitive to their/our issues. That's a key consideration when as we look to hire new staff members—those who can more effectively serve our clients.'
Valle adds that in his first weeks on the job, he has had to make some difficult decisions, including the release of Steven Bailous, Oldham's executive assistant. But he says such changes are necessary given the current troubling economy.
'His [Bailous'] departure was really based on his position being reclassified,' Valle said. 'My leadership style simply does not call for an assistant because I am much more hands-on.'
The Horizons staff and board of directors, while continuing to prepare for its new name and location as The Center on Halsted, is now making final preparations for the agency's annual event—Human First. This year the annual fundraiser will be held Saturday, April 5 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Chicago.
'I have learned so much since taking over for Frank [Oldham],' Valle said. 'I just hope to be able to give back to the community and our clients. But none of our work could be done without the volunteers and donors. They are the ones who continue to keep us going.'