“I remember walking into Felton and feeling like it was a safe space,” Chief Operations Officer (COO) Dr. Yohana Quiróz recalls of her first experience at Felton Institute. It was 1996 and the pregnant high schooler had just enrolled in Felton’s Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPP) and the co-located SFUSD Hilltop High School. “People were non-judgmental about where I was in my life,” she said of the time, “I felt like it was where I belonged, this was transformative for me.”
In the twenty-five years since Dr. Quiróz first became involved with Felton Institute, she has flourished personally and professionally. Starting out as a client, she was soon hired on as a receptionist, ultimately building her expertise and becoming a senior executive and a fearless early childhood and family support advocate locally and nationally, a timeline encompassing passion, hard work and perseverance. In her role as COO, Dr. Quiróz leads, manages, and oversees the operations and facilities, fundraising, growth initiatives, and new acquisitions as well as the Children, Youth, Family and Transitional Age Youth (CYFTAY) services, Felton’s largest division. Of the latter, Dr. Quiróz has devoted her career to issues affecting children, including those with medical and special needs, pregnant and parenting teens, and communities with limited access to financial resources. Her personal experiences have shaped her dedication to fostering equity and successful outcomes in education for children, young adults, and their families, as well as uplifting and supporting the voices and endeavors of women of color, many like herself, in leadership roles.
Born in Honduras, Dr. Quiróz came to the United States when she was eight years old as an undocumented child. She infuses her memories and stories as a child in ways that help her find solace and meaning in her work with the Latino community.
“Understanding how our upbringings have shaped who we are, what we stand for and why we stand for what we do, informs my work,” she says. “My story as a Latina immigrant struggling to fit in, learn a new language, a new way of life is not unique, but rather reflects the collective stories of mi gente (my community).”
When she became pregnant as a teenager, Felton’s TAPP and Family Developmental Center (FDC) programs enabled her to finish high school and obtain college degrees. She holds a bachelor’s in Child & Adolescent Development with a concentration in Early Childhood Education, a master’s degree in Organization and Leadership in Education from the University of San Francisco and received her doctorate from San Francisco State University in Educational Leadership with a concentration in P-12.
“I wasn’t meant to even graduate high school,” Dr. Quiróz reflects. “The research suggests that if you’re a teen parent, you are less likely to graduate high school, which lead to you having very limited options.” But, she explains, that wasn’t a barrier for her. “In fact,” she continues, “it was the push that I needed to turn my life around, getting pregnant was a turning point for me.” Because of these experiences, Dr. Quiróz became passionate about developing and fostering new programs at Felton that emphasized an integrated, two-generation strategy and a college-bound culture. In 2016, she created a cradle-to-college vision. This is important because, “I didn’t see many people around me pursuing a college degree,” she explains. “I didn’t have mentors or people that I could talk to about how to navigate college successfully.” Dr. Quiróz’s decades-long body of work at Felton provides the opportunities and guidance that she lacked growing up.
Dr. Quiróz was instrumental in shaping the programs at CYFTAY to empower children, youth and their families in navigating lifelong development, educational and economic successes. The various programs serve infants and children, pregnant teens, those experiencing mental health issues and those with special needs. Dr. Quiróz worked hard to get CYFTAY out of years of deficit, growing the division from a budget of $1 million to $15 million.
One of the core service areas that is near and dear to her heart is Felton’s Early Care and Education (ECE) programs, which serve children ages birth to 5 years old. These programs provide a trajectory to educational and collegiate success. The program holds a preschool graduation ceremony “a cradle to college vision” every year at San Francisco State. “The graduation is intentionally at San Francisco State because it shows the possibilities of education.” Dr. Quiróz explains, “We want to plant the seed in the children’s minds of going to college and encourage parents to start talking to their young children about going to college. It’s never too early.” Dr. Quiróz is a prime example of intergenerational collegiate success. Her daughter Jasmine, a graduate of Felton’s Family Developmental Center, recently graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in School Counseling. She now is giving back to her community working as a High School Counselor with SFUSD.
Dr. Quiróz brings her lived experiences of being a woman of color, teen mom, and undocumented child to Felton Institute. “Growing up I had very limited resources, I knew that if I worked hard, my daughter and I would have a better life—so that is what I did.” Dr. Quiróz understands first-hand the challenges experienced by individuals with limited access to resources, the importance of representation and community engagement. “What I like about Felton is that we’re able to innovate and improve the services in ways that are responsive to the community.” She continues, “The community knows best what they need. We involve them in the decision-making process.” Part of this community engagement involves increasing the representation of those with lived experience into our workforce while enhancing their access to job opportunities and advancement. “We focus on ensuring that we’re providing opportunities for clients to become part of Felton Institute as employees.” She emphasizes, “We want to make sure that we’re able to identify those clients with lived experience, beneficiaries of our services that can serve in some capacity in the organization to be able to bring their cultural, linguistic assets and give back.”
Part of giving back for Dr. Quiróz is providing opportunities for Latinos and women of color. September 15 – October 15th is Latino Heritage Month and she reflects on the importance of honoring her culture and heritage. “Latinos are a dominant force in the U.S workforce, yet as Latinas we are underrepresented in leadership roles. I feel the responsibility to uplift our voices, experiences, and the contributions we are making locally and across the United States.” She continues, “oftentimes you hear a lot of negative stereotypes about us. It’s important that I use every opportunity that I have to uplift our counter-stories, and our culture, given our understanding of the Latino community and the social, cultural and linguistic assets that we bring into our work.”
Dr. Quiróz was recently selected to begin a Fellowship with Latinos For Education. The Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship is a 9-month program that supports Latino education leaders in Massachusetts, Houston, and the Bay Area to advance in their leadership journey and ultimately expand their sphere of influence in the education sector, so more of students succeed. “Our understanding that Latino power is rooted in history, tradition and action helps us to advance. I want to make sure that I’m building a network with other Latino leaders in education to be able to think about how our collective stories and work can continue to elevate our voice, influence, and power.” As a Latina woman in a leadership role, Dr. Quiróz reflects, “it’s a huge responsibility because I need to make sure that I’m paving the way for other Latinas and women of color to see themselves represented in these roles.” She continues, “my goal is to always mentor and support other young people, Latinas, and women of color in general. I have a commitment to ensuring that women in general have opportunities to advance in their careers and to be in formal leadership positions.” This is especially important she notes because, “Latinas and women of color represent a very small number in formal leadership positions in non-profits and in corporate America”
Dr. Quiróz’s lived experience and decades-long commitment in the non-profit space fostering educational opportunities, expanding the operations and programs of Felton Institute, as well as supporting women of color, is a humbling experience. “How many people actually get this unique opportunity to be a client, to now lead that same organization?’ she asks. Ultimately, Dr. Quiróz strives to empower others to reach their goals, “I feel the weight on my shoulders to make sure that my story is not unique.” She continues, “It shouldn’t be. It should be the norm. Everyone should have the choice and opportunity to aspire to be whatever they want to be.” Her motto is, “my story is my power, and so is yours, embrace it and share it!” Felton Institute proudly celebrates Latino Heritage month with an inspirational leader like Dr. Quiroz who inspires others to do better and reach their goals.
Learn more about what spurred Dr. Quiróz’sleadership, in a video put together by CompassPoint, (an Oakland-based nonprofit which helps leaders, nonprofit organizations, and movements committed to social justice realize their full power):
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.
Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org