Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer Boulder County Housing and Human Services Director Frank Alexander stands outside his office on Wednesday in Boulder. Alexander was awarded the Outstanding Local Member award by the American Public Human Services Association in May.
Frank Alexander, director of Boulder County Housing and Human Services, walked onto the stage during a national summit on May 22 in Arlington, Va., eager to speak about his new
initiative to prevent child maltreatment in the Denver metro area. He said what happened next was a complete surprise: He was presented with an award by the American Public
Human Services Association for local leadership, the Outstanding Local Member award.
“It really is a reflection of the community,” he said. “(The award) is a testament to the great people that live, care about and work in the county at large.”
Alexander, who has worked with Boulder County for over 20 years, has overseen an increase of food assistance enrollment and affordable housing in the county as well as a drop in the uninsured rate for health coverage, which has fallen from 12% to 4%. He received praise for his facilitation of merging the county’s housing service and its social services in 2009, making Boulder County the first county in the country to do so.
But success did not come without major challenge. The merger took place amidst the 2009 national recession. A year later, Boulder suffered from the Fourmile Fire, during which 169
homes were destroyed and an estimated $217 million were claimed in insurance, making it the most expensive wildfire in Colorado at the time. Then in 2013, Boulder weathered extreme flooding, enough to be declared a Federal Disaster Area. But for Alexander, these events only showed him why it was so important to have a “healthy” community.
“The right kind of help at the right kind of time can help people bounce back and get people back on their feet,” Alexander said. “A strong community is capable of responding to traumatic environmental and economic disruption compassionately and rapidly.”
Alexander has been a social servant since he was a young, starting with volunteering as a teenager and moving on to working in teaching and development and with several nonprofits.
“Every minute has mattered in the work that I’ve done,” Alexander said.
His leadership is described by Boulder County Housing and Human Services Division Director Angela Lanci-Macris as “laser focus.”
“We’re very, very proud of him,” Lanci-Macris said about Alexander’s award recognition.
Lanci-Macris, who is division director of Case Management and Community Outreach, works with community members to provide supportive services for families looking for affordable
housing and also offers financial counseling. She has worked with Alexander for nearly 12 years and said that he has “an incredible passion for community.”
Recalling the “dynamic and challenging” years between the Great Recession and the Boulder floods, she said that Alexander has had to make many tough decisions as a leader.
“But you own them, you lead them and you ensure that folks are understanding your vision,” Lanci-Macris said. “These are all things that Frank did.”
The years of turmoil in Boulder brought people from “all aspects of the community” to Boulder County’s doors.
“It was really Frank’s leadership that allowed us to be courageous and creative, to say ‘we need to rise up and address the community need like we’ve never done before,’” Lanci-Macris said, who shares Alexander’s belief that “communities can’t thrive if communities aren’t healthy.”
She said that Alexander’s work goes beyond Boulder County as he regularly encourages his staff to reach out and communicate ideas with other counties across the nation.
“We have known for a longtime that Frank is a leader across the nation in this work,” she said.
Susan Caskey, division director of Impact Care Management for the county, said that the award is “no surprise” and is “well deserved.”
“(Alexander) has really raised the bar for all of us individually and for our systems,” Caskey said.
During the Fourmile Fire and the floods, Caskey called the collaboration between people in Boulder County during times of crisis “remarkable,” adding that Alexander inspires a “call to action.”
Caskey, who has worked with Alexander since 2008, oversees and evaluates many of the contracts for human service providers and is involved in working with families on preventative
Caskey also works with families and children alongside a community review team that meets with families to discuss and determine the needs for each family to be supported. For children involved in the justice system, the team sends a letter of recommendation to a judge for the best case plan to follow for that child. Caskey said that judges follow their recommendations nearly every time.
The division director said she felt the impact of the county’s work when one family told her that for the first time they felt that somebody understood what they were going through.
“They were moved to tears around the process,” Caskey said, adding that Alexander has “laid the groundwork” to progress these types of preventative initiatives.
Alexander said he still has much more work to do following his recognition, with a goal to dramatically expand affordable housing across the county.
“(The award) is great to get, but what really gets me excited is to work with everybody (at Boulder County) and to work with the community,” Alexander said.