Carmela Castellano-Garcia is a non-profit leader and an advocate for social justice causes to which she has dedicated her life. She strives to be a mentor and role model for young women of color, guided by the family values and cultural heritage that were instilled in her at a young age. Carmela works to incorporate her life experience to help educate others about critical social issues. Like her parents before her, Carmela strives to build a better tomorrow, and to leave a lasting legacy of social justice and better health for generations to come.
The seed for social justice was planted at a very young age by her parents, Alcario and Carmen Castellano, who were very involved in the social issues of their day, both as advocates for diversity and staunch supporters of their children’s education. Carmela’s upbringing both embraced Latino tradition and promoted a social justice consciousness. This combination lit a fire within her and led Carmela to become an advocate for social change. Throughout her life she has placed a high value on her culture and her family, both of which continue to inspire and drive her to this day.
Her parents’ support and encouragement pushed Carmela to both set and achieve high goals for herself, something that has become a defining characteristic for Carmela. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and went on to La Universidad Central de Venezuela as a Rotary Foundation International Scholar. She received her juris doctorate from Yale Law School in 1991, where she was the only Mexican-American female to graduate from the number one law school in the nation that year. After graduating from Yale, fueled by her desire for social justice and a sense of pride in her Latino heritage, she dedicated her professional life to one of the most important social justice causes of a generation – health for all.
Her first step was to join the law office of Public Advocates, Inc. where she progressed from Law Fellow to Staff Attorney and ultimately served in the role of Managing Attorney. She litigated in the areas of employment discrimination, insurance redlining, and ensuring access to the internet for California’s minority, low-income populations. She served as lead counsel for the seminal employment discrimination case involving the San Francisco Police Department, Officers for Justice v. The Civil Service Commission of the City and County of San Francisco.
During her tenure at Public Advocates, she had the opportunity to tackle one of the emerging social justice issues of the day – health care reform. As President Bill Clinton was introducing health care reform legislation, California lacked a strong Latino voice in health care. To address the gap, Carmela founded the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC). LCHC was one of the state’s first health care policy and advocacy organizations seeking to improve access to health and human services for California’s Latino population. Once founded, Carmela served as its Executive Director from 1992-1997. Today, she remains an active member of its Advisory Board and briefly returned as a Volunteer Interim Executive Director in 2011, where she played an instrumental role in reviving the organization after a period of hardship.
Since 1997, Carmela has served as CEO of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), where she has played a major role in the success of the organization and that of the more than 1,200 community clinics and health center members (CCHCs), serving 6.2 million Californians. As a registered lobbyist, she continues to advocate on issues impacting California’s low-income and vulnerable populations. During her tenure at CPCA, the organization has successfully advanced key legislative priorities that improved the position of CCHCs in the state and increased access to health care for millions of underserved patients, including the successful implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California. In addition, during her tenure the number of CCHCs in California, and the number of patients served, has more than doubled and California’s CHCs have grown from a $795M industry to a $4.3 billion dollar industry.
As CEO, she has been instrumental in the development of the Association’s Ventures Loan Fund, which is a finance program that helps to advance clinic facility projects, equipment purchases and working capital to support the mission of CCHCs. She is also a founder of the California Health Information Partnership and Services Organization (CalHIPSO), the Regional Extension Center for California. Through this effort, the state was able to leverage millions in federal funds to help CCHCs and other providers in California implement electronic health records (EHRs).
In 2015, Carmela became President of the Castellano Family Foundation (CFF), which was founded by her parents in 2001 after her father won the California State Lottery. CFF is dedicated to promoting Latino arts and culture, enabling Latino youth and youth of color to achieve their education goals, and investing in the leadership of Latinos and nonprofit partners. Since 2012, Carmela has served as a CFF Trustee alongside her mother Carmen, her brother Armando, and her sister Maria. To date, the Foundation has awarded nearly $4 million in grants to nonprofit organizations in Santa Clara County.
Carmela is a former board member of the Public Health Institute, the Chicana/Latina Foundation, Public Advocates Inc., and the Mission Neighborhood Health Center. She has a passion for helping Latinas and young women in achieving their dreams – work she continues today through her public speaking and civic engagement activities throughout the state. Carmela makes mentoring young women of color a priority in her hectic schedule, sharing with them her own story of success and encouraging them to set high goals in life.
Carmela is an entrepreneur and small business owner. She, along with her husband Angel, own Iron Angel, an ornamental iron business located in the economically challenged zone of Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento. They have also developed an art gallery and coffee shop. They are both actively involved in efforts to revitalize that region by bringing new business and investment to Del Paso Boulevard including the Hidden Venue, Gallery 2110 and the Son of a Bean coffee shop. They are also both members of the Latino-Chicano band, Q-Vo.
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