Thursday, October 28, 2010

We are not Powerless

As it turned out, the Chavez Center was in fact without power on the morning on October 28. That is not to say that we are powerless though. Despite the power outage, the Chavez Center conducted business as usual, improvising as needed. From the few laptops on site, the staff moved to nearby windows for light and continued to press on through the never-ending list of items to take care of. The day laborers hardly noticed the lack of electricity as they remained attentive to a civic engagement workshop about immigration issues, asking many questions about the process that for some hits close to home.

Slowly but surely computer students entered the Center ready to participate in that day’s lesson. They soon found that their lesson would be much different that day as the computers would be showing nothing but a blank screen. Without missing a beat, the computer class teacher taught eager students in the dimly lit room. “We reviewed previous material, and used our imaginations,” reported Elba, manager of the Technology Empowerment Program. The students participated in all of the discussion not letting the lack of computers impede their learning.

By the time 10am ESL classes rolled around, we found ourselves still without power. Volunteer teacher, Cindy, rolled with the new development, teaching classes in the open meeting area rather than in their pitch black ESL room. The students were not discouraged by the noisy room, but excited by the change of scenery for their class.

An outbreak of cheers erupted from the staff and students alike when the lights flickered back on. Whatever comes our way, we are not powerless.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Two More Careers Started!

We are fortunate to be able to see lives and families changed here at the center ever day as they triumph over the many obstacles and hardships that stand in their way. This week at the Chavez Center, saw two stories play out first-hand of clients gaining employment through our programs. These individuals are shining examples from our Career Development program that show what we are accomplishing together.

Rodolfo Collantes’s career has taken him from his homeland of Peru, to Japan, and now the U.S. where he is committed to advancing his career. Rodolfo is bilingual in Spanish and Japanese and his dedication to improve his English motivated him to take ESL classes at the local adult school.  With his enthusiasm for getting ahead and his can-do attitude he landed a position with the local Marshalls department store. “The Career Development program helped me find English classes, but what really made a difference for me was the self confidence they helped me develop.”

Bryan Lyons has been with the Chavez Center for some time working when he could through the Day Labor program's job connections.  He had been working part time in construction, but realized he needed to change when his baby daughter was born.  He needed not only a higher income, but also to be a role model to his daughter. For Bryan, it was time to make a change for himself and his family, and transition from a having a job to having a career. With a little guidance he created an outstanding resume and in no time landed a full time job in a coffee shop. Bryan sees his future with much more optimism saying, “This was a really important step in my career for both me and my family.”


You can help support clients in landing a full-time job or even meeting their short-term needs.  If information about hiring a worker for your various project needs, call the Chavez Center at 925-682-8248 or put in a request online.  We also appreciate any and all volunteers and donors, which help make stories like this happen every single week.  You can donate online, securely through Paypal or send a check to:
2699 Monument Blvd, Suite G
Concord, CA 94520

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

English, Employment, and Riding BART -- How it helps the community

by Jacqueline Elliott

In the United States, speaking English is vital to employment.  As a Center that revolves around ensuring economic stability for the community, regular work is the key.  Since English skills increase job opportunities and job opportunities increase economic security, it sounds like ESL classes are needed.  The Chavez Center has been offering ESL classes as part of the day labor program for years with much success.  In September, the classes started up again looking slightly different than they have in the past.  Thanks to the dedication of our experienced ESL teachers and volunteer tutors, the Chavez Center has been able to expand the classes to cater to three different levels of English fluency.  The addition of three tutors has not only allowed for the expansion of the classes, but has also prompted students to open up more and receive more one-on-one attention.  One teacher talked about a student who would not talk to her, but after one short session with the tutor, improved by leaps and bounds.  She said, “He never spoke much in class.  He was always very quiet.  After class today he was shaking [the tutor’s] hand and saying ‘Very good.  Muy bien.  Very good.’” 

To take ESL classes to the next level and encourage this progress, the new most-advanced Level 3 course doubles as a computer class as well.  Taking advantage of the accessible computer lab, the students learn about various resources that they can explore on their own to practice their English outside of the class at home or at the public access computer we provide at the Chavez Center.  As an added benefit, the students also practice computer skills including navigating the Internet, writing e-mails, and composing documents.
Public access computers for students to use online
resources to practices their English skills.
In the spirit of hands on learning, the ESL classes are also gearing up for field trips around the city to give students practice dealing with real-world scenarios that they might encounter throughout their days.  From traveling on BART to ordering food at a restaurant, the opportunities open up as these students become fluent in English.  Suddenly they have many more resources and tools at their fingertips, which allow them to find more employment and support themselves.  The success is already apparent as one teacher commented on the irony of her advanced class: “Attendance has been low lately.  But I guess that’s a good thing because it means they’re [the students] are going out to work more, which is the point of these classes.” 

Success after Success for Career Development

by Audrey McKee and Jacqueline Elliott

Audrey Thompson reports the great news about her new job with AEGIS!
Since the addition of Career Development to the programs that the Chavez Center offers the community, there seems to be constant stories of success.  In just two months, the program has already taken on over 25 clients – already more than halfway to their one-year goal.  The majority of these clients have come in feeling disheartened and discouraged in their job search.  Through the process of resume-building, interview coaching, and job hunting, case manager Audrey McKee guides clients through self-discovery and builds their self-confidence.  One particular member Antonio, a member of the day labor program and computer class student, approached the Career Development after having found his poetry plagiarized and published in Mexico.  While he pursues his dream of publishing his poetry in the United States, he sought a job so he could pay his rent and support himself.  After building a resume, which up until that point he had never heard of, Antonio applied to work at Macy’s, a job he was offered three days later.
In the Career Development program, clients reveal their potential as they find encouragement and motivation to seek out a better future for themselves.  As they meet with Career Development staff, clients are able to identify their transferrable skills that will aid them in their job search.  The story of now-employed Audrey Thompson shows this.  Audrey came to the United States from Nicaragua with a grasp of English and a limited education.  In August she came to the Chavez Center’s Career Development program in search of guidance and support.  She soon enrolled in ESL classes and began volunteering at the Center.  Using her past work history and the skills she accumulated over the years, Audrey received a polished resume and immediately applied to AEGIS in Concord.  On her own initiative, she followed up on her application and after her first interview she was hired.
These are just a few examples of the community residents that come to the Chavez Center in search of career guidance.  Their backgrounds are rich and diverse ranging from an aerospace engineer to someone looking to work for the very first time.  Through the Career Development, there is a job connection for everyone if only they invest their time and energy in realizing what they are truly capable of achieving.  We look forward to many more stories of success from the Career Development program.

Chavez Center is "Green" with Pride

by Tess Gellerman

The Michael Chavez Center is proud to announce it has received certification from the Bay Area Green Business Program as a “green” business. Being sustainable is an important aspect of what the Michael Chavez Center does. Our mission is to transform the community and we do that both through long term development of the local economy and through environmentally sustainable practices. We have been working hard to improve the way the use our resources and how we handle waste. Here are some of the ways our office is green:
-We buy paper products (such as copy paper, paper towels and toilet paper) that are made from recycled materials
                - We recycle all paper, bottles, cans and plastics
                - We print double sided or on used paper whenever possible
- We use efficient light bulbs and motion sensors that automatically turn off lights in order to conserve energy
- We use low-flow toilets that use less water per flush

One of our cooperatives, Green and Clean House Cleaning has also received certification and our other cooperative, Evergreen Services, is just one step away. If you would like your office to become green as well, check out to see how.

First Annual Community Cup

by Nati Flores and Jacqueline Elliott

By 2:00pm the Chavez Center members trod off the field dripping in sweat, but proud of the soccer game they had played in the First Annual Community Cup.  Though they knew they did not make enough goals to overtake Monument Crisis Center, they knew that together they had accomplished one goal – to raise awareness of the Monument community and the organizations that serve them.
On September 11 community members from all over Concord gathered at Meadow Homes Park to enjoy food, raffles, art displays, and of course the anticipated soccer match.  The Michael Chavez Center partnered with the Monument Crisis Center to launch this event for the first time with the hope that the event will only expand in upcoming years.  The Crisis Center, like the Chavez Center predominately serves the Monument community of Concord.  While the Chavez Center focuses on long-term development, the Crisis Center addresses short-term needs to get community members on their feet providing emergency resources such as food, English classes, and more.  Besides raising awareness and funds, the organizations intended the Community Cup to also emphasize the importance of exercise and to promote the local businesses who sponsored the event.
The First Community Cup was a success, raising a net gain of over $800 for each organization and bringing attention to the Monument community. Prior to the event, both organizations had the amazing opportunity to interview with Univision’s “Al Despertar!” to discuss their services to the community and to publicize the event.  The Michael Chavez Center would like to thank all of the sponsors who made this event possible, and congratulations to the Monument Crisis Center -- but look out, we’ll be practicing for next year!

FREE Self-Paced Basic Internet Class for Seniors helps them get ONline with their lives

By Angelia Baxter

Computer exposure is something that many may take for granted; however, for many seniors it is truly a luxury. Thanks to a grant made available by Senior Services of America, Generations Online makes it possible for seniors 55+ to learn the basics of the internet free of charge.  In a world where things are so fast paced and technology driven, it is easy to get left behind, and that is where this program comes in.  It removes the anxiety and frustration of trying to keep up with an entire class by offering self-paced, 1 on 1 training sessions.  What makes this program so great is that it is coached by other patient and understanding seniors (Peer Coaches).  Students learn basic mouse skills, internet usage, how to create and send emails and search on the internet.  Each student once completed will earn a Certificate of Completion.  In partnership with the Chavez Center, Generations Online is now providing computer coaching in both English and Spanish to better serve the Monument Community.  The Center welcomes Carmela, who will be here for sessions five days a week from 1 to 5pm.  For more information or to sign up for a session today, please stop by the front desk or call 925-682-8248. 

Technology Program Encourages Community Leadership

by Elba Velasquez

Part of the Michael Chavez Center’s mission is to develop new leaders and provide employment opportunities to the Monument community.  As an area with an exceptionally high unemployment rate, empowering individuals with the tools and resources to become self-sufficient not only benefits themselves, but all of Concord as they have more to contribute to society.  In line with this mission, the Technology Empowerment program is proud to announce two new Technology promoters.  We welcome Fabiola Cardenas and Maria Caro del Castillo, who are both former and current students in the computer classes offered at the Center.  In September they began working to promote broadband awareness workshops and the Chavez Center’s other various programs.  After receiving training, the pair will begin to run the workshops on their own, coordinating the entire program from recruiting participants to connecting with organizations across the East Bay to hold the classes.  In addition, they will also be teaching at least five workshops per months.  Through this internship opportunity, these women will not only gain invaluable work experience, but they also earn money to support their families.  In this way, the Technology Empowerment program is creating community leaders and role models while lowering unemployment.  We wish a warm welcome and all the success to Fabiola and Maria.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall Kick Off is a Touchdown

All photos were taken by Kathy Weires

by Jacqueline Elliott

Latin jazz floated through the hot air as Concord community members visited shaded tables at the Chavez Center’s Fall Kick Off and Open House event on September 28.  Though the day felt more like the dead of a sweltering summer than a welcome to fall, many community organizations and residents braved the heat to find out more about the Chavez Center and others that serve the Monument community.  Those in attendance helped themselves to cool lemonade as they visited community resource tables, entered in the free raffle, and heard speeches from government officials, program directors, and others.  After the tickets were pulled for the winners of signed footballs, a souvenir bag full of school supplies, and a computer, the celebration moved indoors for tours of the Chavez Center.

In the comfort of the air conditioned Center, those in attendance explored the various programs reading success stories from Career Development, finding out about the community service the Day Labor program contributes, admiring the work on display from computer class students, and learning about what exactly a cooperative business is.  In addition to wonderful display boards and fall decorations, the Chavez Center was also dotted with “Did you know?” signs that pointed out the donations, volunteer work, and other facts about all of the pieces that put the Center together – from the tile floor laid by the day laborers to the computers donated by Chevron to the sink installed by a volunteer.  The combination of it all really gave a sense of the community ties and relationships that everyone contributes to make the Chavez Center as successful as it can be.
While many residents visited the Center and left with valuable new resources, many stuck around awaiting the Oakland Raiders special guest.  At last, Sam Williams, a backup linebacker and Concord native, arrived at the Center.  He spoke to members of the community, toured the Center, and signed autographs, lighting up the faces of many.  Williams encouraged the audience to “set your goals, believe in yourself, believe that you can achieve your goals, and always have a positive attitude.” After his speech, Chavez Center member Antonio gave back to Williams and thank him through a poem he had written once he hear that Williams was coming.  According to an article on the Oakland Raiders website about the event, “Williams was both impressed and humbled by Antonio’s poem.  ‘It [the poem] was one of the highlights of the afternoon,’ stated Williams.”  Williams definitely succeed in lifting spirits, motivating, and giving back to his hometown.  As program manager Audrey McKee said, “His presence at the Center not only brought great publicity, but also made community members feel like they were worth something for an Oakland Raider to take the time to meet with them.”
Overall, the event was a great success and brought a strong sense of optimism to the Monument community.  This inaugural Fall Kick Off event really illustrated the impact we can make by taking action together.  The Chavez Center thanks all of the community organizations, volunteers, and residents who made this event possible.