Teresa Garate, Ph.D., was recently recognized as one of Crain’s 2019 Notable Women Executives Over 50 for her years of nonprofit leadership. Since joining Gateway Foundation’s Executive Management Team as vice president of strategic partnerships and engagement in 2017, Dr. Garate has used her strengths in relationship development to increase visibility for the organization, bringing Addiction Medicine to more people in need.
Dr. Garate is also a founding board member of the statewide mental health initiative Kennedy Forum Illinois, board chair at nonprofit Smart Policy Works and a Senate-confirmed member of the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Dr. Garate reflected on the rewards and challenges of her career and the women who have supported and inspired her along the way:
What is the most challenging part of your role?
The fact that there are millions of people in need of treatment but only 11 percent access it is a fact I struggle with every day. I feel like we can’t move fast enough to provide direct service as well as serve as advocates for those who need it most, educate the public about the importance of getting treatment, end the stigma surrounding this disease and ensure our clients’ treatment is financially covered without limitations.
What is the most rewarding part of your role here at Gateway?
Knowing that the work I do every day makes a difference in communities across the U.S.
One goal of Crain’s Over 50 list is to inspire the next generation of women to move up the career ladder. Who have been some women in your life who motivated your professional journey and why?
While it might sound cliché, I truly believe my first mentor and female champion was my mother. A woman from humble beginnings, barely having finished fifth grade, my mother came to this country in 1960 and decided to stay to build a life that would allow her to help everyone around her. She taught me the lessons that have shaped my life: an education is everything and when you achieve success, be grateful and humble and give back to others around you.
Other women who have motivated me include Dr. Renee Grant-Mitchell, chief special services officer at Chicago Public Schools: an amazing African-American woman, extremely intelligent with a passionate heart to protect the most vulnerable children in our society. She surrounded herself with strong, intelligent young women and pushed us to improve every day and support each other to succeed. I have also worked hard to build a strong network of female friends, all with unique stories of survival and courage – from them, I gain more strength.
What is one piece of advice you would give to other women looking to advance in the field?
Stay open to opportunities. If you are good at what you do, someone will notice and your strengths will open new doors for you – perhaps some you never would have imagined. I was an educator by training and ended up becoming a leader in public health, all because I said yes to an opportunity that I thought was a far stretch. My fresh perspectives made me a better leader and I continue to look for those opportunities to grow and learn. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, don’t be afraid to try something new.