Andrea Roark: Helping those in need

February 04, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The city of El Centro Regional Task Force on Homelessness has a new chairwoman, but she is only new to the position and not to the task force.

Brawley resident Andrea Roark began her term last month. She is also executive director of the Imperial Valley Housing Authority and it was through the latter that she became involved in the homeless task force.

Roark followed Celeste Cantú as Housing Authority executive director.

Roark, 48, was born in Kansas, but moved to the Imperial Valley at age 8. She attended schools in El Centro and graduated from Central Union High School. She went on to get a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Everybody should go to college," she said, adding such an experience allows one to find out who one is and get away from home for a while. While in college she joined a sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. She said she learned leadership skills there and still keeps in touch with some of the people she met there.


Roark has worked at the authority since 1979, where she began in the accounting department, eventually becoming its finance director.

"I'm more of a financial person," she said.

Cantú left to become chief consultant to the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy. She then was appointed as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture director of rural development. She is now executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board.

Roark was interim executive director after Cantú departed.

"For fear of who might be my boss, I decided to apply," she said.

There are aspects of the job she enjoys and those that are not as enjoyable.

Roark enjoys that no day is the same.

"Each day is diverse," she said, adding the job is quite different from that of finance director. "I get to meet a lot of people in the community."

Being at the top, however, means the buck stops with her.

"It's not always pleasant, but when you solve a problem it's nice," Roark said.

She has been the permanent executive director since June 1999. She said her duties are to make sure the authority provides safe, sanitary, decent and affordable housing to Imperial County residents. The authority owns or manages more than 1,000 units in addition to another 1,600 so-called Section 8 vouchers it administers. Section 8 is a federal rent assistance program for low-income residents who find housing in the private sector.

When the authority lost its representative to the homeless task force, Roark took her place in October 1999.

Why her?

"It's rewarding. It's different," she said, and it allows her to make good contacts in the community. "The main thing is to keep yourself informed. It's good networking."

As chairwoman of the task force her duties are to ensure current programs do not lose funding, as well as to help rank funding applications from other interested agencies and ensure the public is kept informed of services available.

Roark's predecessor at the helm of the task force is Barbara Shaver, executive director of the El Centro-based Center for Family Solutions, and remains the county's appointee to the authority. She's known Roark for about five years.

"I have so much enjoyed working with her on every project," Shaver said. "She works hard and she's a very caring person. She is always looking out for those who are less fortunate."

Shaver said the housing authority properties are some of the best she has seen, and credits Roark for her efforts in always seeking out new programs to benefit the housing authority's residents.

"She's a very talented woman," Shaver said.

Dana Murphy, political science professor at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, has been on the authority board for 15 years. He spoke highly of Roark's selection as head of the housing authority.

"She's very organized. She's a very good administrator. She was a good choice," Murphy said, adding that Roark gets along well with both the public and the authority staff. "She's conversant with all the challenges you have with public housing.

"She just does a nice job," Murphy said.

Working full-time for the authority and as needed for the homeless task force is only part of the image of Andrea Roark. She is also active on the emergency food and shelter program board, the board of directors of Center for Family Solutions, the Workforce Investment Board youth council and outcomes committee and is president of the Southern California Housing Authority Executive Directors Association.

Speaking of emergency food, Roark said a canned food drive will take place Feb. 14, Valentine's Day. Canned food can be dropped off at public school sites throughout the county.

Just some of the other local agencies providing resources for the homeless include the Center for Family Solutions in El Centro, Our Lady of Guadalupe men's shelter in Calexico, House of Hope in El Centro and Neighborhood House's Casa Villanueva in Calexico, and many more.

For relaxation, Roark likes to go on walks and watches "Ally McBeal." She also likes to read what she called "no-brainer novels."

"They're my escape," she said.

Roark is married and has one daughter.

>> Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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