Live United: Gary Madden
For some, a life in the non-profit world is a straight path. For others, like Gary Madden, it takes years and clear indications that a change of direction is required. With his motto to be “an expression of light and joy and unconditional love to all” he comes into contact with, Gary presently serves as Director of San Bernardino County’s 211.
211 is a national call center that connects those in need with crucial resources. It is the central source for providing free and confidential information and referrals for all health and human services. Community Resource Advisors offer helpful information about financial, domestic, health, or disaster-related situations 24 hours a day, every day.
Shifting a Career to Non-Profit Work
Gary began his career in the construction industry, a position that allowed him to support his family of eight and lead a comfortable life. After twenty-three years in the construction business, an accident compelled Gary to switch industries and led to a new career as a computer network engineer.
Shortly after completing his training, Gary’s then fifteen-year-old daughter survived rape. In response, both Gary and his wife became rape crisis counselors to better support their daughter and others like her.
“During my time at the crisis center, I fielded calls and visited hospitals as an advocate. I spent time counseling a nine-year-old boy from a group home who had survived an attack by a thirteen-year-old boy. That really hit home,” shared Gary during an interview at 211’s call center housed at Inland Empire United Way in Rancho Cucamonga.
While working at the rape crisis center, Gary discovered what he was looking for: a job opportunity that allowed his technical skills and expertise to come together as the volunteer center director of Inform Riverside. “I knew that there was something special about this job and I decided to go for it,” recalls Gary, “When you finally find work that aligns with who you are at your core, it just feels right.”
In the end, Gary built the capacity of Inform Riverside by helping to raise the money needed to install the new phone system that brought 211 Riverside into existence. While his expertise at Riverside’s 211 was missed, he was actively engaged in spreading 211 to other areas.
“San Bernardino County has a greater need and fewer resources than Riverside. I knew that if I came to San Bernardino 211, there was powerful potential for change, and that’s exactly what we did.” For the past 13 years, Gary has actively worked to improve the services and reach of 211 San Bernardino County by collaborating with various agencies and non-profits to ensure a smoothly operating program that addresses community needs.
Reshaping 211: Whole Person Care
While 211 still functions as an excellent referral service, the way that it operates has changed significantly.
“What didn’t we have until 2008?” asks Gary. He pauses, then takes out his smartphone.
“This device changed the way we do everything. People often find what they need online, but we need to focus on whole person care. That means finding places for the homeless, enrolling people for Cal Fresh over the phone if they can’t make it to an office, and helping them find employment. It’s a different system that is more client-centered.”
Gary’s commitment to change and progress drive him as he continues to improve the quality of assistance that callers receive.
How Gary Lives United
Gary has worked to connect United Ways throughout San Bernardino County and establish 211. Because 211 San Bernardino County is a joint project of United Ways serving San Bernardino County, Gary’s unique style of working with people helped rapidly expand the reach and awareness about the free service. ““I’m a harmonizer. I’m conscious of us as a community. It’s not something I do, it’s how I live.”