Ana Pagan retires at the end of next month, leaving Merced County with dozens of community programs and a team ready to continue her mission of creating a stronger and healthier community.
Pagan, the director of Merced County’s Human Services Agency, recently announced her last day as head of the department will be July 31.
Stepping down, Pagan said, has been on her mind for quite some time, but she kept postponing retirement because she was not ready to let go of the agency and the work family she led for the past 13 years.
Pagan, 67, took over the agency in 2002, after serving as director of Child Welfare Services in Kern County.
Her decision to move to Merced, she said, was based on the need she saw in the community. She saw potential for growth and met community leaders who were progressive thinkers, making it the perfect place to try new ideas, she said.
During her tenure, she created programs such as the Children’s Summit, which recently held its 12th annual meeting; the Hmong Women’s Conference; Merced’s own Silent Witness Project, which addresses domestic violence issues; and several parenting programs.
One project Pagan said is near to her heart is the All Dads Matter program, a fatherhood course that gives men a safe space to express themselves and teaches them how to connect with their children.
Fatherhood is a subject Pagan takes very seriously. Her goal, she said, was to make better sons, husbands and fathers.
“My father was not the kindest of persons, and I saw firsthand what happens or what could happen to a family,” Pagan said. “What the fatherhood program has been able to accomplish is to bring positive male role models to the life of children.”
Pagan recognizes not all programs and projects were as successful as others, noting for example, the “Make Someone Happy” food truck that lost state funding in April.
“It was a great idea, but hard to sustain,” she said. “Some things are going to work and some things are not. The thing is, you’ve got to give it a try.”
Pagan’s departure also comes after her department came under scrutiny earlier this year for filming videos featuring agency employees as actors and dancers for a national training organization, for which Pagan served as president. County authorities ended the practice in April after questions arose over how production of those videos was funded. Officials said they would review the contracts but did not believe anything inappropriate occurred.
Pagan, a Brooklyn native, lived and worked in many states before arriving in California. She enrolled in the Army after dropping out of New York University, and attended a number of universities throughout the country before receiving her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Bakersfield.
The many hats she wore and her personal experiences, she said, helped her discover her passion for human services.
She said she’ll miss designing and developing programs for the community.
“It’s been a fun ride, and today I’m proud to say that Merced is recognized for its many resources,” she said.
Martha Hermosillo, director of First 5 Merced County who worked with Pagan for about seven years, said Pagan has a unique gift for interesting ideas.
“Over the years, these ideas have been built into a long-lasting legacy of services that will benefit Merced County for years to come,” Hermosillo said. “She was both a voice for change and force to be reckoned with.”
Similarly, Lamar Henderson, program coordinator of the All Dads Matter program, described working with Pagan for 10 years as a “transformative experience.”
“The director has always challenged me,” Henderson said. “She helped me find my voice and embrace my own personal power. And that had to happen for me to serve the community.”
Pagan said she will move to Sacramento after retiring. She plans on providing leadership training and coaching to people entering the field of human services as part of a UC Davis program.