Monday, November 29, 2010

A Bank for Mechanics? -- And other Adventures in Learning English

On a street corner in Lafayette a group was debating the sign on a building that read “Mechanics Bank.”  Was it a bank just for mechanics?  Nah, couldn’t be.

A bank for mechanics?
Many discussions such as this one took place on November 12 when Chavez Center ESL students from each of the three levels took their language skills to the streets.  Accompanied by teacher volunteers, Phyllis and Cindy, the students set out to maneuver their way through the BART system and schedule.  After purchasing their tickets, the students rode to the Lafayette station where they disembarked and set out exploring Mt. Diablo Blvd. before hopping on a train back to Concord.

The trip was a surprise and an excitement for everyone, including the teachers.  Cindy was surprised to find all of the students so interested in signs.  Street signs, store signs and others were the topics of discussion.  “Not a through street” was just one of the many messages that students worked to discern.  And why were there clothes in a place called “J&O Bank”?  Students also saw this field trip as a chance to ask the teachers some of the questions they have had about English.  One student brought up a question about the difference between “we can” and “weekend,” confused by how they sound so similar.   Cindy noted how these sorts of questions arise “especially among those who have learned English by listening.”

Students learn how to purchase BART tickets.
Overall the field trip was very rewarding with an exchange of lessons among students and teachers alike.  Based on this adventure, the teachers held lessons that revolved around the many types of signs they had encountered, as well as a review of the BART map and schedules.

This trip is just one of the ways the Chavez Center is working with volunteers and members to provide a cutting edge, hands on learning experience.  Already there are plans for another excursion in February that, like this one, will integrate learning English and discovering local resources.

Did you know the Chavez Center is currently assessing the expansion of ESL classes to reach more members?  You can support us in this endeavor!  If you are interested in volunteering your time as an ESL teacher, we’d love to hear from you – please e-mail or call 925-682-8248.  We also need your help funding projects like these.  Just $100 could fund the expansion of ESL to 30 more students for one semester.  Donate here!  Thank you for your support.

Thanksgiving: Aromas-style

Aromas Catering, the newest cooperative launched through the Chavez Center had their debut catering gig at our Thanks for Giving event on Friday, November 19th.  Rather than a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the event, the Chavez Center called in Aromas to create an exciting lunch meal to honor the volunteers at the event.  Carving their own niche in the catering world, Aromas put together an appealing menu of healthy foods with a Latino flare.  Aromas breaks the mold making dishes that are healthy while retaining the delicious taste.  Those at the Thanks for Giving event agreed, helping themselves to seconds and even thirds of the orzo salad, mushroom chicken breast and caramelized onions and green beans.  “You would not know this is healthy food based on its taste,” one volunteer commented of the food.
Staff member Nati Flores presents the Aromas sign.

Equipped with a plan and financial backing provided by the Chavez Center, Aromas members were prepared and excited for their first catering event.  “This is only the beginning,” commented cooperative member Marta Esteban, who is enthusiastic for a bright future.

Over the summer the Aromas members were just one of the many potential businesses that participated in our cooperative development training classes.  Learning about business plans, marketing and more, the members of the catering enterprise emerged with a strong, viable proposal for the future.  The Chavez Center invested in Aromas, not only creating jobs for these worker-owners, but also stimulating the local economy.

After planning, developing and launching their business, the timing could not have been better.  Just two months after finishing their cooperative development classes, we approached Aromas to cater our Thanks for Giving event and to give them the opportunity to officially launch their business. The volunteers were impressed by Aromas and surprised to learn that it had been their first event based on the level of professionalism and the quality of the food.

Aromas already has two opportunities to cater Christmas parties.  If you, your office or a friend are looking for someone to cater your holiday party Aromas is ready to add to your holiday cheer!

Contact Aromas today!
(925) 413-7145

Aromas' choice in serving healthy foods is an attempt to reverse problems of obesity in the Latino community.  Traditional foods tend to be unhealthy or unbalanced, which leads to improper nutrition and oftentimes an excess of fatty foods.  All of Aromas' food is balanced and nutritious to promote better eating habits.

Wardrobe for Opportunity Outfits Career Development Job Seekers

By Audrey McKee

Ken works with Miss Mahogany to pick out a pair of work shoes.
Each client puts in a lot of time and effort to land a job – from building and refining a resume to hours of networking and job searching.  Perhaps the most daunting task for job seekers is the interview.  A one-on-one interaction with a potential employer often unnerves the interviewee in the hot seat as he strives to string together words that best articulate his experience.  To add to the pre-interview nerves is the question of what to wear.  Two Career Development program clients found themselves face to face with the clothing dilemma after working to reach the interview. 

Aware of the fact that attire plays a significant role in how a candidate is perceived in an interview, the Chavez Center has partnered with Wardrobe for Opportunity to alleviate the stress of buying appropriate work and interview attire.

Ken Dias had an upcoming interview with The Home Depot as a department manager, and needed to sharpen his professional image.  After a visit to the Wardrobe for Opportunity store, Ken walked away with business suits, shirts, sports jacket, shoes and accessories to make that all too important first impression.  Ken expressed his deep gratitude saying, “It was a great experience. They really cheered me on and helped me feel at ease with the process.”
Alana thanks everyone who helped her put together a new wardrobe.

Alana Dynes is hoping to land a position with the Oakley Unified School District as an assistant teacher.  She has been through many life changes over this past year, but has found a huge dose of encouragement at the Chavez Center.  According to Career Development Program Manager, Audrey McKee, Wardrobe for Opportunity equipped Alana with outstanding customer service by Miss Barbara and Miss Ruth. “They were caring, encouraging and fun!”

The partnership with Wardrobe for Opportunity has proven an empowering addition to the Chavez Center in showing our clients that they are important and in giving them a shopping experience they will not soon forget.  With professional outfits, these job seekers can focus their attention on preparing for interview questions rather than obtaining interview clothes.  Reflecting on her shopping adventure, Alana revealed, “I never thought I’d be in need of this kind of service. I am really thankful and humbled.”

We would like to give a big thank you to Wardrobe for Opportunity and the confidence they inspire in the clients we serve at the Michael Chavez Center.

You can help us build confidence and create hope.  By donating just $50 to the Michael Chavez Center we can equip one of our many job seekers with the wardrobe they need in their pursuit of employment.
Alana radiates confidence in her new outfit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanks to all for Giving

Special thank you to Aromas for catering the event.
El Yahualica, Korean Bul Go Gi House and Luigi’s Delicatessen also donated to making the event a success. Thank you!

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for.  At the Chavez Center, we give thanks for so  much – the funders, the members, the staff and of course the volunteers that enable the Center to be so successful in reaching and transforming the community.  The Chavez Center took its own twist on the traditional Thanksgiving, hosting a “Thanks for Giving” event to recognize all of the volunteers who have given their hearts, minds, time and effort to the Center and the community.

On November 19 volunteers from the past year reunited at the Chavez Center to enjoy a delicious lunch catered by Aromas – the business that the Chavez Center most recently helped develop.  Bul Go Gi and El Yahualica also donated food to thank volunteers for the significant role they have played in serving the community.  While they enjoyed the lunch, volunteers from all different backgrounds and programs mingled, sharing their experiences in working with the Chavez Center and the Monument community.  Volunteers then received a certificate and a gift of appreciation for the considerable hours of work that they have put in to the Chavez Center.

In the past year, more than 50 volunteers have donated more than 700 hours as board members, ESL teachers, IT assistants, office support, childcare providers and in countless other positions.  Through these community efforts the staff and Center as a whole has been able to reach out to nearly 1000 community residents.  Following the presentation of certificates and dessert, volunteers lingered to mingle with community members, find out the recent updates from the Chavez Center and express their passion for serving. 

The Chavez Center looks forward to building stronger relationships with our volunteers as we go into the next year.  Their service to the community has been tremendous and we honestly could not do what we do without them.

Are you interested in getting involved?  The Chavez Center offers rewarding volunteer experiences in ways that fit anyone’s passions and ambitions.  Our current needs include ESL teacher, SSL (Spanish as a Second Language) teacher, computer class assistants, general office support, skills training workshop teacher and more.  If you or your organization is interested in volunteering time to serve the Monument community, e-mail, call 925-682-8248 or visit us in person.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CEO Impressed by Computer Repair Students

With 5 months completed in their 6-month long training, students in the A+ computer repair course put their training to the test last Wednesday when they visited Ascent Services Group for a mock interview.

To prepare for the this interview, as part of their training each Friday participants learn and practice professional skills that will enable them to dive into a career in IT after graduating the course and earning their certification. Working in groups and one-on-one the class has learned skills in networking, preparing a 30-second commercial, building a resume and practicing interview questions. For some, these Friday sessions hold a significant importance as they come from fields that are very different from technology.

When it came to interview skills, many found the mere thought of a one-on-one drill down of questions a very intimidating process. Putting in many days of hard work, the task became less daunting for the students.

With hours of training under their belts, on November 3, the students walked into Ascent confident in their abilities and skills. When they met with the staff, student Juan Moreno recalls, “They were very nice to everyone and they made everyone feel comfortable. That set the tone and made me feel comfortable." The students took turns in one-on-one interviews with two different people from the company. Following the mock interviews each participant received personalized feedback to refine the many skills that make a successful interview leave a lasting impression. Moreno says that his interviewer “provided some helpful tips on how I should respond to certain questions and how my posture should be. After the interview, I was so excited that I wanted to go through another one.”

Overall the Ascent evaluated the group as doing an excellent job and asked for their resumes to refer the students to other companies. The CEO of the company expressed how impressed he was with how the course has trained them and prepared them for the interview.
Going into the interviews Heri Garcia was intimidated with the added fact that he was entering a field he had little experience in. Still he was glad he went commenting, “I left feeling empowered, and more capable of tackling the job market.”

With just one month left of the 15-hour a week training, the students are buckling down on their studies as they turn their eyes toward the certification test and the careers that lay ahead. The students, Stride Center and Chavez Center would like to extend a thank you to all of those at Ascent Services Group for empowering them with the confidence and capabilities that will enable them to succeed in the job market.

by Heri Garcia & Jacqueline Elliott

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chavez Center Speaks at the Immigration Forum

On Wednesday October, 20 2010 Nati Flores, the Day Labor Program Manager, represented the Michael Chavez Center as part of an immigration forum at Carondelet High School. The forum aimed to provide a comprehensive discussion of immigration issues. In addition to our very own Nati Flores, five other panelists attended to give their expert and personal opinions.  Among the panelists were:
  • Rick Oltman, the media director of a nonprofit organization that pushes for enforcement of the borders through state and local government
  • Sister Maureen Duignan, Executive Director of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, which is a nonprofit organization that’s raises funds to protect, support and advocate for low-income immigrants and refugees in need
  • Shannon Connolly and Claire Logan, two students representing Carondelet High School

In some way or another nearly everyone is affected by immigration issues.  As the different perspectives were voiced, some tear-filled eyes showed that for some it is an issue that hits close to home.
Attracting over 600 Carondelet students and staff the forum lasted an hour and a half.  Each panelist began with a short introduction to describe themselves and to express their views on the numerous issues surrounding immigration.  Topics included reform and why it is taking so long, the current status of undocumented immigrants in the United States, the value of border control, anchor babies and the cultural enrichment brought by immigrants.  Following the introduction, panelists field what seemed like an endless supply of questions. Nati commented on how “oftentimes the distinction between immigration and discrimination disappears.  A forum like this provides useful information that illustrated this issue.” 
All in all the forum was a success bring to light many issues that affect us right here in Concord.  The city is home to more than 34,000 immigrants who face daily the legal, economic, social and cultural barriers that come with relocating to a new country.
“It was gratifying seeing all those young minds working together,” Nati reflected on the event.  “After all, the goal was to show the students both sides of the coin so they can form their own opinion and have a more open vision of our community.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Breakfast Break

On Wednesday the day laborers filed into the Chavez Center at 6am as they do every day, but on this day they were met with a special surprise – breakfast!  Many of the workers were thankful to grab a bite to eat before they headed out to work for the day.

The breakfast that the members stumbled upon that morning was the result of collaboration between St. Agnes Church and the Chavez Center.  Members from the church approached the Center with the desire to serve their community.  They had an inspired idea to bring the members homemade breakfast with ingredients from their own home gardens.  After delivering the nutritional meal of eggs, bananas, cinnamon, and muffins -- complete with the necessary bottle of hot sauce – the church members lingered around the Center to visit with the members.  One of the day laborers, Manuel, shared stories of a job he had trimming palm trees.  He impressed the guests with pictures showing him perched in the top of one of the towering trees.  Others mingled with the generous members from St. Agnes, exchanging the stories and expressing their gratitude for the delicious food.  The workers look forward to the now monthly visits from the church.

St. Agnes is just the newest partnership with groups who are ambitious to serve our community.  Others like East Bay Formosan United Methodist Church and Faith Christian Fellowship have also worked with the Center to provide regular lunches and Holiday dinner respectively.  Some even take on the endeavor on their own.  Frequenting the Chavez Center at least once a week, Hilda brings various meals for members.  Another volunteer stops by the Center to provide fresh produce.

The members and staff alike are thankful for these relationships we have built that give back to the community.  We look forward to working with other groups as they seek to find more ways to sponsor projects aimed to serve.

If you or your organization is looking for a way to get involved, contact the Chavez Center by e-mail or by phone today!