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Alum Maria Lorente-Foresti, PhD Inducted into San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame

Maria Lorente-Foresti

Maria Lorente-Foresti, a 2000 graduate of the PhD in Clinical Psychology program, was inducted into the 2024 San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame.

Dr. Lorente-Foresti is the Director of the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) within Behavioral Health and Recovery Services for the County of San Mateo. Before that, she was the Unit Supervisor at San Mateo County Central Adult Clinic and a Psychologist at the San Mateo Central Clinic.

“Since I started working for the County [in 2008], I have seen the incredible impacts of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) and the benefit to both our workforce and those we serve,” she said. “I have also witnessed our work embrace policies and initiatives that support and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). In San Mateo County this has led to supporting individuals while incorporating culturally informed considerations, the integration of policy and system change with an equity and trauma-informed lens, and increased support throughout our system.”

News coverage of her induction lists an impressive set of accomplishments and projects, including “the implementation of the Spirituality Policy, optimizing the Parent Project Program, the establishment of the Health Ambassador Program & Stop Bullying Program, active participation in Health Equity Initiatives, being a founding member of the Native & Indigenous Peoples Initiative.” 

Dr. Lorente-Foresti is most proud of the San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) Health Ambassador Program (HAP) and the Multicultural Organizational Development (MCOD) Plan.

“In 2014, with the support of our San Mateo County parents and community, I created HAP in recognition of the important role that families and community play in effectively reaching out and helping others heal,” she said. “After completing courses, Health Ambassadors have the opportunity to teach courses in communities, assist in identifying community needs, work with other dedicated individuals, and participate in various volunteer and employment opportunities.” 

In nominating Dr. Lorente-Foresti to the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame, colleagues described “a public program that empowers community members to be behavioral health leaders in their own community. HAP has empowered many women, people of color, immigrants, limited English proficient people and those without employment. [The program] has empowered people socially, politically, and economically.”

HAP has graduated sixty-nine individuals, and many Health Ambassadors have found gainful employment within the behavioral health field through this program.

In 2015, BHRS initiated a plan to advance DEIB in the workplace, specially designed to support staff member’s ability to “work effectively and respectfully with people from diverse cultural, linguistic, and social backgrounds” Dr. Lorente-Foresti said.

In 2018, with Dr. Lorente-Foresti at the helm, the Office of Diversity and Equity formalized an Action Plan with three goals:

  • The organization explicitly values diverse backgrounds and experiences and seeks to recruit, retain, and promote diverse staff at ALL levels, including leadership.
  • The workplace is a brave environment where speaking out, respectful dialogue, and acknowledging differences are accepted and encouraged.
  • There is transparency and collaboration in decision-making and policy-making (and updating) to ensure that the most impacted have meaningful participation.

It does not seem to just be the Action Plan that is ambitious. Dr. Lorente-Foresti’s nominators wrote powerful statements for their colleague and supervisor, stating, “This nominee has been effective in taking risks to help advance equity. She has been especially instrumental in engaging in difficult conversations with her fellow executive managers about inclusive, culturally responsive and trauma-informed approaches.” 

Her nominators - Sylvia Tang, ODE Community Health Planner; Nani Wilson, Prevention Program Supervisor, Asian American Recovery Services/HealthRight 360; Lisa Tealer, Executive Director, Bay Area Community Health Advisory Council; and Shireen Malekafzali, County Equity Officer - described her as a “unique combination of compassion, collaboration and perseverance.”

“To feel that the team had seen me as someone who should be nominated and who believed that I deserved this honor and recognition was already winning,” Dr. Lorente-Foresti said. “I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to work with so many amazing people who inspire me daily and I feel I somehow was representative of what this symbolizes.”

Dr. Lorente-Foresti feels her work can only be done in collaboration, with colleagues, community members, family members, and clients. “It’s been hard to wrap my mind around one person being acknowledged, yet I am humbled and honored to have received this induction into the SMC Hall of Fame, with the understanding that ‘it takes a village,’ as Ms. Nani Wilson has taught me,” she said.

“I hope my impact is one of elevating the need for DEIB throughout our work and creating system change that solidifies DEIB work as a daily practice,” Dr. Lorente-Foresti said. “I believe we are doing this work for future generations to truly thrive and break barriers that many still encounter.”