The multi-pronged aid offered by Metropolitan Family Services (MFS) is near and dear to Ric Estrada. Since March 2011, CEO has preceded Estrada’s name, but his roots are not unlike those of the 93,000 Chicagoans served by MFS, most of whom are working poor or lower-middle class.
Estrada, a Mexican-American immigrant, grew up in a basement apartment in the Little Village neighborhood.
“I am a male of color who was born poor,” Estrada said. “We just didn’t have all the resources that [some] people have.”
Though Estrada wanted to help others, a nonprofit career was not his first choice. At 22 years old, Estrada left the seminary. His studies of psychology, theology and philosophy didn’t pave a clear path, but, whether by fate or chance, he found himself drawn to the nonprofit sector.
Estrada interned with MFS (then United Charities) in 1992 and worked with Erie Neighborhood House from 1997-2010. From 2010-2011, he was the first deputy commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services.
Estrada considers himself “blessed” to lead MFS, despite the social and economic rollercoaster that 2020 has inflicted. During the coronavirus lockdown, MFS shifted its legal and mental health services to digital platforms, but urgent mental health cases and domestic violence victims were seen face-to-face with MFS staff wearing personal protective equipment. MFS formed new partnerships to provide needed supplies (food, diapers, pet food, etc.), and offered assistance with rent/mortgage, utilities and medical costs.
In a typical summer, Metropolitan Family Services holds well-attended “Light in the Night” events to “reclaim” dangerous areas with high incidences of gun violence. This year, street outreach workers delivered food and PPE in those areas and urged voting and 2020 Census participation. As co-chair of Chicago’s Complete Count Steering Committee, urging Census participation among hard-to-count populations was yet another high priority for Estrada.
Estrada remains focused on educating and partnering with local officials to counter Chicago’s gun violence problem. Progress in Los Angeles affirms his belief that such achievements are attainable, he said. MFS has launched new civil law services for perpetrators and victims of gun violence, something that could “be a significant game changer,” Estrada said.
In October, Estrada earned the Chicago Mayor’s Office’s Legacy Award in recognition of his commitment to supporting Chicago’s Latinx community. Upon receiving the award, he said, “I hope that my legacy today and always will be one of unity and solidarity with my brothers and sisters of every community.”