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Tessie Guillermo, only Filipino chair in America's top 100 foundations

  • August 6, 2011

Only July 22, 2011, during a Healthy Food summit at the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the California FreshWorks Fund (CAFWF), a public-private partnership that will loan $200 million to increase access to healthy food in underserved communities in California. The CAFWF was created by The California Endowment and a team of partners including grocers, major banks, healthcare organizations, and community groups to develop new and improved places to buy nutritious food. In attendance at the White House was the Chairman of the Board of The California Endowment, Filipina American Tessie Guillermo.

According to a report unveiled last year by the Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. (LEAP), Tessie Guillermo is the only Filipino-American who sits as Chairman of the Board of one of the top 100 foundations in the United States today. She is one of only two Filipino-Americans in an elite group of 36 Asians who are members of the board of the country’s top foundations. Tessie Guillermo has been a member of The California Endowment’s Board of Directors since April 2003 and was elected chair on April 2010.

This amazing Filipina is no stranger to the White House. In 2000, Tessie was appointed as commissioner to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders along with 14 others, who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields. Tessie’s appointment came due to her inspiring history of involvement in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the field of human services, health, economic and community development.

A second-generation Filipino American, Tessie was born and raised in California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the California State University, East Bay in Hayward and is an alumna of the University of California, Berkeley. She is a graduate of the Gallup Leadership Institute and was a 1997 Fellow of the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute.

From college, her advocacy led her to work at the Asian Health Services in Oakland, a community health center serving indigent monolingual Asian Americans, where she was involved for 8 years.

After AHS, Tessie co-founded and was the longtime president of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum from 1986 to 2002. Under her leadership, the Health Forum established an extraordinary record of legislative and regulatory policy successes that positively impacted Asian and Pacific Islander communities nationwide. The numerous advocacy achievements of the Forum included the Asian and Pacific Islander Health Improvement Act of 1990, the 1997 US Department of Health and Human Services API Initiative and Healthy People 2010 Objectives for the Nation.

Under Tessie’s guidance, the Health Forum also played the lead role in establishing the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders under the Clinton Administration. This effort resulted in the formation of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with Tessie serving as Commissioner.

Since 2002, Tessie has been President and CEO of ZeroDivide, a cutting-edge public foundation which supports technology adoption and capacity-building in underserved communities. She has led the foundation’s efforts to achieve a “zero divide,” which involves investing in technology based solutions in community enterprises, to improve economic conditions and increase civic engagement in disadvantaged communities.

Aside from currently serving as Board Chair for The California Endowment, and Vice-Chair for Catholic Healthcare West, Tessie also wears several other hats: President and Chief Executive Officer for the Community Technology Foundation of California (CTFC), Co-founder of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, and the National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans, member of the Board of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, the Nonprofit Finance Fund in New York and Northern California Grantmakers (NCG).

She is tireless in her efforts to promote the empowerment of the Asian Pacific Islander community and an inspiration and role model for aspiring leaders among Filipinas in particular.

Tessie laments that “for so many years those of us who have been advocating for governmental services, everything from small business loans to housing to increased levels of health services, have also been frustrated by the fact that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders oftentimes do not show up as a constituency.”

Some government agencies misrepresent Asians in America neither as a minority group nor mainstream. Guillermo cites, for example, as far as the Department of Education is concerned, Asians are not a minority and thus not recruited for certain federal programs.

“For whatever reason, either because we are not on the map or because there is some myth about us not needing to participate in federal government programs, we are not designated as underserved or the minority (along with Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians) that can participate in these programs.”

Tessie is committed to help pave the way to making Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders count in this country. “We have to make people understand that it is to the benefit of the overall US society to do this because we are an integral part of the society. We are here to stay. We have been making contributions for decades and will continue to do that and so it is in the country’s best interest to incorporate us and to make sure that our health is preserved.”

Tessie’s expertise in the health and welfare concerns of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has been recognized in California and throughout the United States through numerous appointments. She was appointed to the California Department of Health Services Task Force on Multicultural Health in 1993, and served on the US Secretary of Health and Human Services Blue Ribbon Committee on Violence Prevention in 1992. In 1997, Guillermo was appointed to the federal office of Women’s Health Minority Women’s Panel of Experts. Guillermo is on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and has co-founded several groups, including the Community Technology Policy Council, the Asian and Pacific Islanders’ California Action Network and the Filipino Task Force on AIDS. She currently serves as vice Chair of both the community Technology Foundation of California, and the California Pan Ethnic Health Network, as well as on the advisory board of the Chinese Community Health Care Association.

Among numerous awards, Guillermo has been honored by the Filipino American Women’s Network, the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Minority Health, and the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Tessie is a recipient of the Filipinas Magazine 2001 Achievement Award for Community Service and an Outstanding APA Leadership Award from Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics. In the spirit of recognizing accomplished women, Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA) honored Tessie in 2009 for her outstanding leadership and contributions not only to the Filipino community, but also for communities of color nationally.

Tessie is married to Filipino Reggie Regino who is in the banking industry. They have two daughters, Melanie, and Veronica, and a son Rennie. Although born and raised here, Tessie says she ensures that her children are aware of their culture and takes effort to teach them of their Filipino cultural heritage.

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