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Symbol of HOPE Award

Ivan Romero, BA

Born in Bogota´, Colombia, as one of eight children, Ivan Romero has always been fascinated by human interactions, culture, and specifically how communities in different countries treat their most vulnerable and neglected members.  
He began his world travels in 1978 by living for two years on the kibbutz Ein Gev in Israel, where he learned Hebrew and observed firsthand how a community flourished by striving to provide for each member. After living in Israel, he then spent the next 2 years living in London, England, and traveling throughout Europe, a time during which he studied English and broadened his exposure to British and European societies. Interested in documenting his diverse cultural experiences, he moved to New York City in 1982 to study filmmaking. He completed his BA degree in film studies in 1986 from City College of New York and began a master’s degree program in fine arts.
While in New York City, as a means to support his education and budding filmmaking career, Ivan began work as a counselor with the New York State Department of Youth. In this position, his responsibility was to reach out and engage young criminal offenders living in midway houses and help them reenter and adjust to community life. He soon realized that he had an innate ability to understand and connect with young people, and utilized his training in filmmaking to offer the youth the basics of video making so that these young people could express themselves and be able to tell their own stories through the medium of the documentary. While working on this project, Ivan realized that health concerns were a frequent subject of the young people’s documentaries and that the lack of knowledge about health issues put these young people at risk. Ivan then worked with the New York State Department of Youth to develop an adolescent health curriculum focused on the myriad of challenges that inner-city youngsters encountered day to day on the street and in their communities, challenges that often compromised their ability to make the right decisions.
It was through his work with youth and video documentaries that Ivan made contact with The Floating Hospital (TFH) in 1992. At the time, TFH, currently the largest provider of health care services for the underserved population of New York City, was the only clinic in the five boroughs (and perhaps in the nation), located on a boat (after the tragic events of 9/11, the boat lost its dock space and TFH became a land-based clinic). Ivan was hired to document the opening of TFH’s innovative Pier 11 Health Services for Adolescents program for three of the most ‘‘troubled’’ or underperforming high schools in Manhattan.  Ivan’s effectiveness in engaging the young people and promoting TFH’s program helped make the new initiative an outstanding success.
Ivan was then hired to be TFH’s first Pier 11 Health Advocate, a position that entailed working with school guidance counselors and teachers to identify at-risk youth and connect them with much-needed mental health, medical, and dental services. Ivan’s ability to interact with teenagers and his highly effective outreach approach resulted in TFH becoming a very popular and trusted resource for teenagers and school faculty alike, thereby broadening TFH’s appeal and ability to serve the youth of New York City. Ivan’s outreach career at TFH was born.
Over the course of a 22-year career at TFH, Ivan has been promoted from health advocate to outreach manager for TFH’s homeless shelter program. Recognizing that a lack of transportation was one of the biggest barriers preventing people from accessing needed health care, Ivan was also assigned oversight of TFH’s transportation department. He is now responsible for TFH’s fleet of 11 vans and 11 staff members.  Under his leadership, TFH’s outreach activities have expanded from serving residents of approximately 10 homeless and domestic violence shelters to a current outreach operation reaching residents in over 200 homeless and domestic violence shelters across all five boroughs of New
York City. On a daily basis, approximately 100 patients from over 50 shelters from all five boroughs of New York City are transported to and from TFH’s Long Island City clinic.
At times it is overwhelming work, but Ivan states that his motivation is to see that the most at-risk children, adolescents, and families are connected with a caring and effective health care community so that they can have the fortitude to cope with their current conditions and eventually have the knowledge, health, and self-efficacy to improve the quality of their own lives and communities.