The Alameda County Board of Supervisors recognized boona cheema on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 for her 40 years of community service and advocacy for the homeless and mental health clients. In an emotional and bittersweet celebration, Supervisors and community members reminisced about boona’s tireless efforts to end poverty locally, nationally and globally.
“boona has been not only a friend to me but also a teacher,” said Supervisor Keith Carson, who represents District Five, including Berkeley. “She educated me about how to navigate through bureaucracy and effectively work within the social justice community to help those in need in Alameda County.”
Colleagues, community members and elected officials attended the celebration in support of Ms. cheema. Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio reflected that Ms. cheema “has been a teacher and mentor to all of us.” County Administrator Susan Muranishi noted, “The work that you have done has left a significant legacy for those who follow in your footsteps.”
For the past 40 years, Ms. cheema has been Executive Director of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS), a nationally renowned, award-winning, countywide non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness.
A native of Peshawar, India, Ms. cheema hails from a Sikh family that is committed to public service. She lived through the trauma and violence of the India-Pakistan partition at age two and experienced life as a refugee. In 1969, Ms. cheema spent time working with napalm burned children in what was then called South Vietnam, gaining knowledge of trauma and healing children in war zones. In 1971, boona immigrated to the United States and went to work for a small non-profit organization, then called the Hillel Streetwork Project, that later grew into BOSS.
Ms. cheema has served on the Boards of Directors for numerous local and state non-profits, including the Center for Independent Living, Housing California, and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California. She also served as an advisor for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Global Exchange. Internationally, boona has served on several Boards of Directors, such as Oxfam America, the Seva Foundation, Food First, and the Cheema Foundation.
In an effort to help secure the future of service provision in the region, Ms. cheema has provided mentoring and technical assistance to young executive directors of several organizations, including the Conard House in San Francisco, First Place Fund for Youth and Sports 4 Kids in Oakland. In addition, she spearheaded the creation of the Berkeley Community Coalition to help human service non-profit organizations stay connected, remain aware of policy changes and continue to be aligned as a larger force when needed to advocate for human needs.
In her retirement, Ms. cheema plans to continue to be active as an artist, photographer and internet TV host as a way to reach even larger audiences with her message of social change. “You can depend on me to continue to work to protect the civil and human rights of homeless people,” she told her supporters. “It’s not goodbye—it’s just a different return.”