Alma Trinidad is the new chairwoman of the board for Catholic Charities of Oregon.
Alma Trinidad is the new chairwoman of the board for Catholic Charities of Oregon.
The new chairwoman of the board for Catholic Charities of Oregon advises humility and love when the agency is engaging the public over heated topics like immigration, racial diversity and poverty.

Everyone, whatever their color or income, has a story of pain and struggle they should be able to tell, said Alma Trinidad, a Portland State University social work professor whose term begins this summer.

A Hawaii native of Filipino descent, Trinidad grew up on Molokai, the island where St. Damien did his work with leprosy patients in the 19th century. His story of selfless compassion permeated her childhood.

“Faith is a way to find love and passion for serving, serving with the love of Jesus,” said Trinidad, 44.

A member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, she moved to Oregon in 2009 and joined the Catholic Charities board in 2014. Her academic interests include the development of youth in light of social and political trends. She also studies how history and economics affect health, including mental well-being.

She learned about Catholic Charities as a youth in Hawaii. As now in Oregon, the agency was known for working with immigrants. Trinidad said the current “trying times” for immigrants have clarified the agency’s mission to reach out with compassion.

“Her new leadership as board chair will add great emphasis and value to our agency’s vision around diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Vanessa Briseno, director of Catholic Charities’ Pope Francis Center.

Alongside her faith, Trinidad knows the science of social work. She reports that Catholic Charities does it well by devising clear strategies and hiring staff to support the plans. “We have some awesome talent,” she said. Trinidad said having a faith life can be helpful in social work because it helps counselors overcome fear.

The new chairwoman envisions continued focus on housing, health and those who are entering the country. But because federal money for refugees and immigrants has receded, Catholic Charities needs to be creative, she said.

Trinidad fears it will be hard to fund ministry when the need is expanding so fast. The answer, she said, may lie in partnerships with parishes and other agencies. She is optimistic about a current anti-homelessness initiative that has allied the City of Portland, Providence Health and Services, Catholic Charities and parishes in the archdiocese.

Deacon Rick Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon, said Trinidad brings “a huge focus on equity” and knows how to design services so they are most effective for people from various cultures.

Deacon Birkel, acknowledging that the Catholic Church is the most diverse organization in Oregon, is glad the board reflects that, with Trinidad at the front.

“I think she will usher in a new phase,” he said.

Deacon Birkel said the future of Catholic Charities is likely to look more like a movement underway led by local Zomi Catholic refugees from Burma. Leaders of the Zomi sought the help of Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland to help members of the community learn to be truck drivers as a way to increase income and send Zomi children to Catholic schools.

“It’s about people building capacity,” said Deacon Birkel. “Alma gets all that.”