ONTARIO – Dan Ramirez knows about family.
The new director of the district office of the Oregon Department of Human Services in Ontario grew up as one of 10 children of a mother and father who were immigrants from Mexico.
He is also familiar with hard work.
As a youth, he toiled in the row crop fields around Rupert, Idaho, where his parents struggled.
Those two concepts – family and hard work – define Ramirez, 53, in obvious and subtle ways.
Take his stance on how he wants his employees – more than 200 – to treat clients.
“We are here to help people. That is our goal. That is what I want to pass on to my staff. I want my staff to think of people who come into the office like their grandparents or parents and treat them as such,” said Ramirez.
Premier customer service is important, he said, and the reason goes back to his childhood and family.
“When my mom and dad needed services, they couldn’t speak English. Now I reflect on those things. When clients come into DHS, I don’t what them treated differently or disrespectfully because they can’t speak the language. I want them treated equally,” he said.
Ramirez is no stranger to overcoming adversity or to the essential – and occasionally overlooked – role the state Department of Human Services in the region.
The agency serves an array of individuals, including children, adults, seniors and people with disabilities.
The agency oversees adoptions, abuse prevention efforts, foster care programs, food assistance, domestic violence aid and help with disability compensation along with a host of other relief services.
As the new director, Ramirez directs health and human service programs in Grant, Harney and Malheur counties.
Ramirez started with the state agency in 2001.
“A position was open in Ontario for district manager. I eventually didn’t get it but they asked me if I would be interested in applying for another position in Medford. So, I applied and got that position,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez started in Medford as an operations manager.
Not long after he began there, the same position opened in Ontario.
About a year ago, he said, he obtained a chance to work as a district manager in Salem.
“That gave me the opportunity to learn about being a district manager,” he said.
When Wendy Hill retired as director, Ramirez applied for the job and took over July 25.
Ramirez said his experience will be a plus.
“I hope to build coalitions in our community,” he said.
Ramirez said while the agency covers a multitude of tasks, there is one constant: the value of people.
“The most important thing here is working with people. You can make a difference with one person,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez said watching a person utilize the services his agency offers motivates him –“seeing we could help them in a time of crisis, seeing someone’s life being improved.”
Ramirez said one of his initial goals is to familiarize the public about the agency.
“We always need to share information. To spread the word about what kind of services we have. We want to try to make our services accessible to our community,” he said.
Ramirez said the biggest challenges for his agency now revolves around “getting services to vulnerable people” such as homeless.
Some of those services include short-term financial help for people with severe disabilities who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Finding affordable housing for clients is another obstacle Ramirez hopes to tackle.
“We are also always trying to create new partnerships so we don’t duplicate services in the community while we make sure to engage with our diverse community,” he said.
Ramirez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Boise State University, said college changed his life.
After he graduated from Minico High School in Idaho, Ramirez said he wasn’t sure what path he should take into the future.
“I didn’t have money to pay for college. But I knew I didn’t want to keep working as a migrant worker. So, I was thinking the military or college,” he said.
Ramirez was able to get into BSU through CAMP – or College Assistance Migrant Program – an education service that helps students of migrant or seasonal farmworker parents. The program funds the first year of undergraduate studies.
For Ramirez, the program was perfect.
“I learned how to succeed in school,” he said.
That first year spawned a host of different opportunities for Ramirez. He became involved in campus advocacy – including a stint in the BSU student senate – and then worked for U.S. senators for Idaho at the time – Dirk Kempthorne and Larry Craig.
He marched in rallies to support the effort to create the Martin Luther King holiday in Idaho and then completed a BSU political fellowship in Washington, D.C.
“I just saw a lot of things that needed to be done,” he said.
He also served on the Idaho Hispanic Commission as its executive director.
A husband and father of two girls, Ramirez said he learned in his career that people have certain things in common.
“I think, overall, people are very kind and generous,” he said.
New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $7.50 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.