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SSA Centennial Celebration
Profiles of Distinction Series

Ann R. Alvarez, A.M. 1976

President and CEO, Casa Central

“My career goal was to become a clinician, and so my SSA education was centered around working with individuals, families and groups. At the time, I didn’t know that I would one day lead a large social service agency. But what I learned at SSA really did prepare me for this work. SSA instilled a rigor in me for research, the seriousness of the field of social work, and the importance of backing up your theory with information,” reflects Ann Alvarez, who leads an agency helping families navigate the complexities of making Chicago home, pursuing opportunities and improving their lives.

Ann Alvarez is president and CEO of Casa Central, a multi-social service agency offering 23 different programs and services to a constituency of more than 20,000 individuals and families. “My husband, Reverend Daniel Alvarez, was a founder and CEO of Casa Central for 25 years and in 1989 he was invited to become the Commissioner of Human Services for the City of Chicago and I was asked to take over the growing agency. The board knew of my social work with the school system and my Master’s degree from the School of Social Service Administration and they believed I could lead the effort. At the time I had been a clinician with the Chicago public schools for 12 years and applied what I had learned at SSA on a daily basis with teachers, students, parents and administrators. To understand where people are coming from you must try to understand what they do and why they do it and perfect a process whereby you really look at people through the lens of their strengths and weaknesses.”

“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in an area much like the one I now work in. Helping people was always my goal. I came from a strong church and community background where service was a given. I married and moved to Chicago and continued my education earning a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Northeastern University while I was raising a family. When I decided to get my Master’s, I wanted an educational experience that was strong in the area of human behavior and development. I wanted to go to the best and that was SSA. Fortunately, I was accepted.”

Ann notes that her experience at SSA was rigorous, particularly her first year, but a supportive environment of students and faculty made a huge difference. “My time at SSA was very enriching. My professors, as well as many fellow students, were so supportive and one in particular became my mentor. Pastora Cafferty (Pastora San Juan Cafferty, Ph.D) really opened my eyes and challenged me from day one in her class to think beyond my scope. We have maintained a 30-year plus friendship. When I call her to talk or ask a question, we are immediately into an area three times broader than my original thought and that always enlarges my vision and broadens my perspective.

“I am a team builder and, thanks to SSA, I learned how to put critical thinking into practice to confront the many problems facing our Hispanic communities. Ann explains that Casa Central is an essential resource for people who come from other countries with their dreams and their children and little else. “Our clients have a vision of what they want their lives to be like. Our employees put together the programs and services that will help children, youth, adults and seniors get ahead and realize some of their dreams.”

“Adapting to changing times and needs, and being on top of emerging issues in the field of human services is what SSA stressed. My education provided me with the tools I would need to respond to the great challenges and opportunities in my professional life.”

Ann R. Alvarez Photo

Ann R. Alvarez