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Margaret Iwanaga Penrose


Bridge Builder

UPAC President & CEO Margaret Iwanaga Penrose is a granddaughter of a sole survivor of a shipwreck in the late 1870s. Her grandfather, found on the shores of Northern California by Christians, became a Baptist minister, preaching and working among the poor in the State of Washington. Margaret is a daughter of an architect who worked his way through school in the Washington berry farms and Alaska salmon canneries. Her father served over five decades on the international board of an educational project which introduced hospital care and animal husbandry to a small mountain village in Japan, and supported an orphanage caring for abandoned multiracial children. Margaret is a niece of a newspaper editor, and a cousin of American citizens who spent their childhood in internment camps. From these figures she learned Courage to stand by one’s convictions, Compassion and Service to others, Determination and Commitment to learning, and Resilience, Forgiveness and Infinite Hope in the face of violence.

From marching with Martin Luther King in the1960s to her 2020 statement in solidarity with the Black community upon the death of George Floyd, Margaret has remained committed to the belief that we must rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to broader concerns of all humanity. She believes that the quality of a community is reflected in its capacity to assist, heal and strengthen its most vulnerable members, that violence defeats itself, and thrives on hatred rather than love, and that we must confront ignorance, denial of rights, and social and economic injustice through education, legislation, mobilization and action. We must live, think and act inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony.

With a University of Chicago Masters’ degree and doctoral studies in Human Development focusing on Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Cross-cultural Studies, Margaret dedicated the last 48 years to improving the lives of others in un-served and underserved communities. After 15 years of County and nonprofit leadership in Austin Texas, Margaret officially became the Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC) CEO in 1991, and has led the agency with “Courage, Compassion and Love.” Through Margaret’s 32-year leadership, UPAC has grown to a multi-cultural organization with 213 staff members who speak 36 different languages and dialects, and a current budget of over $16 million. UPAC provides mental health services to children, adolescents, adults and older adults; substance abuse treatment for adolescents and adults; problem gambling treatment; homeless outreach; team response to acts of community violence; mentorship for gang-involved youth; counseling for first time home buyers; and a social enterprise program - the Neighborhood Enterprise Center - providing employment for youth at risk of gang involvement. As a trusted messenger within San Diego’s Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, African American, Middle Eastern, African, Native American and ethnically mixed communities, UPAC also responds to emergent needs including conducting outreach for the 2020 Census, distributing food and information during the COVID-19 pandemic, and preparing youth to participate in the social justice movement.

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