Mory Alvarez to retire after 44-year multifaceted career
From music therapist — who plays the piano, guitar and drums and conducts creative arts events — to incident command safety officer for Devereux’s Emergency Response Team, Mory Alvarez has done it all during her 44-year career at Devereux California.
Since joining the facility in Goleta in 1976, Ms. Alvarez has served as program director, treatment program specialist and, most recently, quality management manager, a position she has held since 1998.
She will officially retire in February, although she plans to continue working part-time for the center in another role.
“My time at Devereux California has flown by. No two days are alike. It has been interesting, challenging and filled with a lot of learning and professional development,” Ms. Alvarez told the News-Press.
“I have had opportunities to problem-solve, mediate, create protocols and procedures, and mentor, teach and support the individuals and families in our care, as well as my colleagues.
“One of the most rewarding elements of my job has been to identify staff who have the potential to grow within the organization and take them under my wing and support them through their professional development.”
A native of Havana, Cuba, she came to California in 1975 to complete a six-month internship in music therapy at Camarillo State Hospital.
“While completing the internship, I was also choir director for two Santa Barbara churches. It was at Holy Cross Church, where I was the choir director for 20 years, that I met a program director from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. He hired me to play the piano during the daily assemblies, and I then went on to develop the creative arts program at Devereux California. This is where my Devereux journey began,” said Ms. Alvarez, whose passion for music began with her mother, who was musically gifted and played piano and violin.
“My father was a dancer and a jack of all trades. I remember a carefree childhood visiting my father at the family-owned movie theaters and walking along the Malecon, where I would breathe in a fusion of multicultural foods and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
“Then, after the revolution, Fidel Castro took over the country and reneged on his promises of democracy. The government seized all of my family’s assets, including the theater business, but more importantly, took our freedom and the vibrancy of the island life. In 1962, we fled Cuba as political refugees (with a carry-on bag and no personal possessions) and were granted asylum in the United States.
“We settled in New Orleans, and, with the generosity of the government, we were provided shelter in one of the projects. Even though adjusting to this way of life was overwhelming, the silver lining was that I went to school in the French Quarter, where I was in the mecca of so many of the jazz legends of that time: Al Hirt, Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Preservation Hall and the African rhythms of Congo Square, to name a few.”
In 1970, Ms. Alvarez graduated from St. Joseph Academy High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in music therapy in 1975 from Loyola University in New Orleans.
From 1975 to 2018, she was involved in the music scene in Santa Barbara, playing guitar, bass, percussion and contributing to vocal arrangements. “The music groups varied in genres such as jazz, Afro-Cuban, world and homespun music, where I accompanied local musicians and songwriters,” said Ms. Alvarez, who also found time to earn her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in 1981. Five years later, she earned her marriage family therapy license.
In 1990, she was caught in the path of the Painted Cave Fire on Modoc Road and Hollister Avenue, where the fire had jumped the freeway. This exposure resulted in lung scar tissue.
“Two years ago, I stopped playing music after three bouts of the flu, which caused a decrease in my energy level and lung function. I plan to return to the music scene in some capacity after I retire,” she said.
After her experience during the Painted Cave Fire, Ms. Alvarez developed an interest in emergency response, inspiring her to organize the Devereux Emergency Response Team, composed of safety officers under her direction as the incident commander.
“The team responds to day-to-day incidents, as well as emergency/disaster events. DERT responded to numerous fires: Zaca 2007, Tea and Gap in 2008, Jesusita 2009, Sherpa 2016, Thomas 2017, SB Cave in 2019, to name a few. The most intense and devastating event was the Thomas Fire, floods and mudslides in December 2017 and January 2018. We evacuated two community homes with individuals with intensive behavioral support needs,” said Ms. Alvarez, who graduated from the Community Emergency Response Team in 2013.
She added that last March, Devereaux’s national team implemented a COVID-19 Pandemic Response Plan for all Devereux centers and campuses to provide guidelines to all staff on how to respond before, during and after the pandemic.
“The team works in conjunction with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and in coordination with Community Care Licensing, Tri–Counties Regional Center and Department of Developmental Services.”
Although she will miss her job and working with her colleagues when she retires, Ms. Alvarez is looking forward to having more time to spend with “loved ones and to enjoy and soak in all that Santa Barbara has to offer. I am single, but 38 years ago, I was ‘adopted’ into an American family. I have an 85-year-old ‘mom’ who is my inspiration, four sisters and one brother, and three nephews and two nieces. I also have some very close friends who are part of my extended family. I plan to visit friends that live in other states, and who knows, maybe, ‘Stomp Some Rump’ in New Orleans with the wild tchoupitoulas.”
Ms. Alvarez also plans to “reconnect with her spiritual practices.”
“In 2009, I completed the third-level shamanic teachings in Cortez, Colorado, near Mesa Verde. The teachings were from the Q’ero shamans and medicine people of Peru. They are trained and initiated into the ways of the nature spirits and are responsible for giving them acknowledgement through the rituals. The path of the shaman is one of honor, grace, integrity and service, much like the role of the servant leader at Devereux,” she said.
“By reconnecting to my spiritual practices, I am referring to picking up where I left off. I also have interests in curanderismo, which is to administer plant medicine such herbal remedies, oils, tinctures and aromatherapy as a remedy for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual illness.”