Forty-one years ago, Fatima Soares answered a job posting for a receptionist position at Coastside Hope. In 2014 she was inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2019 she will be leaving her post as the executive director of the organization.
Coastside Hope recently announced that Soares has decided she will retire in March.
At 15, Soares emigrated from the Azores. When she arrived in the United States, she spoke only Portuguese. Eventually, she made her way to Half Moon Bay after her mother’s sister found jobs for her parents at Nurserymen’s Exchange.
In 1977, Soares began working as a receptionist at Coastside Hope. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from San Francisco State University and began working in that capacity at Coastside Hope.
Today, Coastside Hope offers basic life necessities to low-income clients, including the working poor, the homeless, the disabled, seniors living below the poverty level as well as families and individuals in crisis on the San Mateo County Midcoast. Back in the ’70s, the mission was much different.
“Forty-one years ago, we were implementing training,” said Soares. “We had contracts with the county back then. They subsidized (training) for people.
“We were employment and training,” she continued. “If they already had the skills, then there was an incentive for on-the-job training to the employers.”
Then, the organization transitioned to offering transportation as well as more social services. In the 1980s, immigration became the focus.
“We provided transportation to the students to go to the training,” she said. “We got door-to-door transportation and then we got the fixed route with SamTrans.”
As Soares seeks to write the next chapter in her life’s story, she leaves behind a legacy that is larger than life.
“These are impossible shoes to fill,” said Coastside Hope board member Judy O’Leary. “We are very happy for Fatima, but it’s going to be hard to find somebody else.
“We have a committee, we’ve put out the word, and we are starting to get people who have filled out applications,” she continued. “One of the things that Fatima has always said is that when you’re hiring someone, one of the biggest qualifications is that they care. It’s really important. You have to have a big heart.”
When asked if she had any advice for her successor, Soares had the following piece of sage wisdom.
“Be caring and very flexible because it doesn’t matter what you have in mind when you start your day,” she said. “Working for a small agency, you do everything from giving out food, (and) if I have a caseworker that is not here, I’m the backup.”