Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Grants as we Step into a New Year

Over the years , the Chavez Center has had to learn some hard lessons about funding. Like many nonprofits, the Chavez Center found the search for funding quite arduous. Fortunately, a hopeful future is on the horizon for 2011 as several organizations are funding us for the first time and others are renewing their funding. These funders have found value in the services we’ve worked hard to build, and they want to make sure that the community continues to have these opportunities.

·         PG&E is a first-time funder for the Chavez Center.  They are contributing to the new Career Track classes in the technology program. These classes are designed to integrate job readiness, technology training and ESL into one rigorous course. At PG&E that say “that a community's energy doesn't always arrive through power lines.”

·         San Francisco Foundation has accepted the Chavez Center in the second year of a three year Job Training and Placement program. Job training and creation grants expand training and employment opportunities for residents who have struggled the most to find work. We are thankful to SFF for fervently supporting nonprofits in a time when “joblessness remains high, home foreclosures persist and safety net providers…banks face more demand than ever.”

·         Anonymous donor from the East Bay Community Foundation provided a first-time donation to the Chavez Center for our work in economic development with immigrant and low-income communities.  The foundation itself works toward advancing economic opportunity for adults and families in need, particularly adults and families facing significant barriers to employment.

·         Thomas J Long Foundation visited the Chavez Center on December 8 to meet staff and present a check to us for the first time.  With admiral work in economic development, the Chavez Center is very grateful to have the Long Foundation’s support.

·         California Transplant Donor Network was referred to us by a currently enrolled Stride student.  Through his work and the CTDN’s generosity, the Chavez Center has received dozens of computers, printers and other technology to provide to community members who are lacking these valuable resources.  Find out more about our Adopt a Family: Tidings of Technology project and how you can help us pass these computers on.

·         Contra Costa County EHSD CalWorks will be utilizing the Chavez Center as a location for their Welfare-to-Work Program in 2012 for all non-English speaking clients. Welfare-to-Work is a comprehensive Employment and Training Program designed to promote self-sufficiency.

Our funders and supporters bring hope to our clients
as they work hard to transform their lives.

Save a Few Bucks: Drink Water!

Healthy and Active Before 5 (HAB45) kicked off December with great reminders on eating well, living actively and watching your health. They’re all things that you’ve heard before… Exercise is good for you. Make sure you eat a balanced diet. Avoid sugary drinks. …and so on. 

But when you’re with HAB45, there are suddenly tons of reasons to be listening to these messages. First of all, they’re fun. Creative tasks like mandatory standing ovations break up the everyday meetings and bring laughs and encouragements to everyone. The point is to get on your feet, get the blood pumping, and avoid becoming a desk-bound lump.  Just as their name says, it’s all about being healthy & active.

Many people think that staying healthy can be hard.  Well, it could be as simple as looking at what you drink.

And what should you drink? Water!

When you consider making healthy choices, maybe it’s not just about preferences.  It’s also about cost. Compare the price of a bottle of water to an equal sized bottle of soda, juice or Gatorade. If you’ve been to the store lately, then you already know that water is much cheaper. But what if we could take it a step further?  

Don’t you already pay for water?  That’s right.  The pipes and faucets are telling signs that you already have water coming straight into your house. Tap water in most of California is actually among the best in the country, and in Contra Costa County it’s even better. Just as the Contra Costa Water District.

And when you hash out the numbers, who could argue? Fiji water runs about $2-3 per bottle (about the same price as that Gatorade you might buy).  That amounts to about $32 per gallon.  And how much is your tap water?  One penny buys you 3 gallons! (And who said a penny doesn’t buy you anything these days?)

Next time you’re considering buying bottled water or juice or soda, think about the fact that each of those costs more than 300 times your water at home. Plus, that water at home is likely better for you.

At the Chavez Center we love the message that Healthy & Active Before 5 is spreading. Healthy and active living is great for anyone – whether you have a job, are looking or are a stay-at-home parent. 

5 HUGE Steps Forward in English

In the words of program manager, Elba Velasquez, “We’re making history!” On December 2, computer class students celebrated the completion of their ESL class.  This is the first time the Chavez Center opened ESL classes to technology students, and it proved to be a great experience for volunteers and students alike.  But don’t just take it from us, here are the 5 HUGE steps that our students have taken thanks to English:

·         “For a long, long time I have prayed for help and for English classes. I have been working for 14 years. Two weeks ago I had an evaluation and it was the first time I understood everything.” – Benilda

·         Leandro runs his own business and has children that he often helps with homework.  “I need to study English for my customers. I now know the past tense and can speak in more than just the present [tense].”

·         “This class helped me understand a lot with new verbs. When I go to my appointments with doctors and nurses, I have to speak English. I don’t speak a lot in class, but I have to speak in my appointments.”

·         The teacher pointed out that Sandra had the highest attendance and was always on time. Sandra thanks the class for giving her the English skills she needed to get her citizenship. She has been a U.S. Citizen for 6 weeks now.

·         “I feel comfortable talking to people at work. I’m sure of what I am saying. And I’m able to help my kids now.” -- Evila

Volunteer Spotlight: Zack

When we think of volunteering in the community, we often think of the people we are helping, the impact we are making and that amazing feeling of being a part of something big. Seeing eyes light up from your work can become an encouraging memory that sticks with you for life. These are the heart-warming intangibles that community service focusses on. What about the tangible benefits? When you play the role of the ever-important volunteer, you not only get the “feel goods,” but you often find yourself educated, helped and transformed by the experience. Many volunteers at the Chavez Center know this, including Zack Feere who basks in this Volunteer Spotlight.

One of the students Zack has
helped teach English.
Zack came to the Chavez Center with a clear understanding of his goals – he would be going abroad to teach English. “I always knew I wanted to teach abroad, and teaching ESL was the way to do that,” says Zack.  Along with a handful of others, when he came across the opportunity at the Chavez Center, he jumped on it. The project: give life to a new ESL class for technology students. There was neither a curriculum nor a textbook, just the understanding that the students must learn English skills they could apply to the workplace and getting a job.

There was one guiding light: Rosemary Slavin, who has become a beloved ESL teacher here at the Chavez Center. Zack, who had very limited experience in ESL expressed gratitude for her leadership in the class. “Rosemary was great in giving us the opportunity to teach our own classes,” he says.  As Zack became a regular instructor in the class, developing and leading his own lessons, he gained the experience that has launched him into the next chapter of his life in January.

After wrapping up his third master’s degree, Zack will embark on an adventure to spend a year in Colombia teaching English. He thanks the Chavez Center and this opportunity for how much this has helped and prepared him. Not only did volunteering qualify him for the program, but it also has set him up to pursue ESL certification.

What did Zack like most about the class? “It was chaotic and a lot of fun. The students were wonderful, and always in a good mood.” And if he does come back to the Bay Area when he gets back, Zack said he’d definitely be back to volunteer with us.

The moral of the story: never underestimate the help that volunteering can bring to all involved, those who serve and those served.  

The Chavez Center would like to give a huge thank you to all of the volunteers who made this first-ever ESL class possible: Rosemary, Donna, Kay, Miranda and Zack.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

H&R Block Recruits at the Chavez Center

The competition is stiff for finding employment in any industry these days, but computer students from the Chavez Center got themselves one step ahead of the game when recruiters from H&R Block visited in November. Their search for bilingual customer service representatives lead H&R Block to the Chavez Center, where Spanish-speakers can gain computer skills, learn English, gain confidence to qualify for jobs like these.

Several computer students looking for jobs in customer service met as a group with the recruiters to learn more about the opportunities within company and to make a good impression in hopes of landing an interview.
The meeting was a success for everyone involved. For the students it was a chance to practice all of the interviewing, networking and job search skills. This was the moment when all their practice came together for a real job opportunity. 

At the same time, representatives from H&R Block found it to be an equally valuable experience. Sharon Degener, the regional recruiting manager’s praised, “I was so impressed with all the students here today. Every single one will be passed through to the interview stage. Bilingual employees are in high demand for H&R Block and the computer students at the Michael Chavez Center have the language, computer, and customer service skills we are looking for.”

If your business is in need of Spanish-speaking employees, contact the Chavez Center to take advantage of our free placement services.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New offering: Spanish Literacy classes and the Dedication of a Teacher

By  Elba Velasquez

 "The ability to sense or see the need of a neighbor is truly a gift."

 Such gift and great heart, will describe Fabiola Cárdenas.  She has been part of this Center for many years, as a worker, student, volunteer, computer class instructor and now in her most recent roll of Spanish literacy instructor.  While teaching a class some time ago, Fabiola noticed the extreme difficulty that one of her students had because he lacked the ability to write or read his own language.

“Since I met Benito I knew we had to do something for him", expresses Fabiola, who has in the past taken trainings to teach Spanish Literacy.

Benito owns his own business, but because of this barrier has been a victim of fraud and deception.
 Also by   talking to Nati, our Day Labor Manager we realized that others could also benefit with this class. We then began to plan and take this challenge seriously.

One evening while sitting in the reception area, a young adult male came in, inquiring about a place where he could take Spanish Literacy classes.  I’m sure you have an idea of the person that didn’t hesitate to share the news that here at the Chavez Center we have those classes.  That was exactly what Fabiola did, and right then and there she scheduled Spanish literacy classes.

I can sincerely say that this was like a divine confirmation. We are truly convinced that the need in our community is huge and we as an organization can’t close our eyes. Fabiola has scheduled the classes on Mondays 3:30-5:00pm.   This time, we have the valuable cooperation of volunteers from our computer classes. “Thank you Fabiola, because  wisely you’re  using your talents in cooperation with Chavez Center towards the benefit of our community.”

Continue your learning: Why does it make sense to teach Spanish literacy when people in the U.S. really need English skills?

Research, experience, teachers, volunteers and others will all reinforce the same idea – it’s easier to learn a second language when you know how to read and write your own language.  The great thing about English and Spanish is that they have the same alphabet, which will make English learning much easier down the road.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Contra Costa Cup 2011

Decked out in brand-new jerseys, Concord Toyota’s team began arriving at Tesoro Fields nearly an hour before their game to scout out the competition. Since 9am Las Montañas and Dolan’s Lumber had been facing off on one field, while Liga Latina and the Concord Police were going head to head on the other. Despite the overcast, windy weather, the intensity and competition were brewing between companies and spectators set up their chairs to get in on the action.  This was the atmosphere of the first ever Contra Costa Cup soccer tournament.

This year the Chavez Center put a fun twist on traditional soccer tournaments pitting companies against each other for some friendly competition.  The short fields made for some fast-paced play exciting for the players and fans alike.

By midday, the weather and the rivalries were heating up.  In the end just a couple of points separated Las Montañas, Dolan Lumber and Liga Latina from the Championship game.  In the end, it came down to the number of goals scored and Dolan Lumber moved on to play Diablo Futbol Club.  In a tight championship game, ultimately Diablo Futbol Club emerged victorious.

Despite their early arrival and scouting, Concord Toyota’s record was 0-3 for the day.  Their bumps, bruises and sore muscles were testament to their hard play, and their enthusiasm did not dwindle.  “My guys have been out practicing for this event,” said Tony Ciarrocchi of Concord Toyota.  Tony and his team are talking about continuing to play soccer in a league.  “We may have lost here, but this event sparked something.”

Overall the Contra Costa Cup was a great community event all in support of the Chavez Center cause, providing employment connections, computer and job skill training and case management support.  With teams representing the local businesses and organizations, El Ranchero providing much-needed lunch and the many volunteering their day to the event, the Contra Costa Cup was a great picture of the unity of our community.

On behalf of the Chavez Center, we would like to than Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery for their invaluable support of the event providing security, cleanup and the fantastic venue.

For sponsoring teams for the event, the Chavez Center would like to extend a big thank you to:

Diablo FC took home thistrophy
as Contra Costa Cup Champions!
Also a thank you to Diablo Futbol Club, Dolan Lumber, and Liga Latina for handling the logistics of the event from the scoring to the refereeing.

We would also like to thank two of the refs from the first game for donating their day’s earnings to the Chavez Center cause.

All of you are helping our community step into a brighter future through your good work.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Heather

She moved from Tennessee to the Bay Area and one of the first things she did was search for a nonprofit serving Latinos.  The Chavez Center is proud to introduce our newest volunteer intern, Heather Scholes.

After living in Guatemala for just two months, Heather was moved personally and spiritually to serve immigrant populations.  She saw first-hand the war aftermath, hunger and suffering in Guatemala. She returned to the U.S. and continued working with Guatemalans.  It struck her how after all they had survived back home, they were still struggling with a difficult life here in the U.S.  Back in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Heather continued to work with immigrant groups teaching ESL at a local nonprofit and writing a thesis about immigration to the area.
When she learned that she would be moving out to the Bay Area, Heather was unwilling to let her work with immigrants fall aside.  She jumped on board with the Chavez Center and is continuing her work on immigration.  At the Chavez Center Heather is taking the lead on an immigration survey that will determine the great legal needs of our clients.  She is also assisting people in applying for jobs and creating resumes alongside the Career Development program.  

Now with us for more than two months, Heather says she already loves her work with the organization.  Unlike some nonprofits in Chattanooga, the Chavez Center has the network to be able to refer people to the right places to address their needs.  “That’s what drives me,” says Heather, “Seeing what we can do to help the community.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Celebrating Social Justice

When they called it a grant award celebration, they were not joking.  Each organization arrived with staff, board and clients.  The tables were decorated, the food was abundant, and, most of all, the enthusiasm was limitless.  Alexia Salvatierra stepped up to be the first speaker at the event, and the tone she set was nothing short of inspirational.  Her challenge to bring social justice through love resonated through the room with nods and amens from the audience reaffirming her message.

This is the scene that Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and Catholic Charities of the East Bay create when they are celebrating grant awards.  Yesterday, the Chavez Center sat among those organizations celebrated and supported by CCHD.  The sense of community support for those people so often overlooked was apparent.  Organizations supporting disabled, homeless, downtrodden, and unemployed were all among those awarded.  And the funds, where did they come from?  From one annual offering held in November.  That’s right, all of you helped make this funding possible. Thank you to everyone out there who is supporting CCHD.

The funding from CCHD will go to develop the Bedbug Home Services business that the Chavez Center helped develop earlier this year.  There are two-sided benefits for this program as clients receive a service they wouldn’t receive otherwise while the business provides the members with an income stream.  The project improves the quality of life for residents and workers alike.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pool Table Raffle Brings Thousands

It all started with a group of students seeing a need, and finding a way to meet it. With class offerings and staff being cut back because of lack of funds, the Technology Program students began brainstorming with Program Manager Elba Velasquez on ways to raise money.

Advanced class student Gerardo Martinez volunteered a pool table to be raffled off.  With that a fundraiser was born. Soon enough over 1,000 raffle tickets were distributed to the students, and everyone was asked to sell tickets to their friends and family at $5 each.  Slowly but surely, the envelopes of tickets returned with the money each student had raised.  Then the money was counted revealing a surprising feat.  In less than a month the students had raised over $3,000!

“They were so happy to help and contribute because it hurts them to see that we are struggling financially. They won’t wait to receive help, but instead they want to contribute because they know the value of the computer classes. Their support really made it possible!” explains Elba.

At the computer class graduation, the winner was announced.  The winning ticket had the mysterious nickname “El Lobo” scribbled on it. After about a week of searching, the winner was finally contacted and received his prize. Ever since the raffle students have continued to demonstrate their willingness to contribute, offering their time, cooking and music skills, and items to be raffled.

You can also be a part of the movement to keep the technology program going strong.  Donate today!

A "Small" Graduation

 by Elise Gelston

On Saturday, September 24th, students of the basic and intermediate computer courses received their diplomas in front of family and friends at the New Hope International Church. The Michael Chavez Center teachers, with thoughtful speeches, words of encouragement, and personal jokes, invited each student to walk in front of the audience. Guests cheered as graduates shook hands with their teachers, accepted their diplomas, and smiled for pictures. Since advanced classes now last 6 months, this graduation was a “small” graduation of only about 100 pupils.  Still there was plenty of pot luck food, representing many countries, laid out on the blue and white tables. We would like to praise our students not only for their mastery of computer skills, but for their fine cooking skills as well! Following this delicious chow-down, the raffle took place, with prizes consisting of computer-related items such as printers and USB flash drives. Saturday’s celebration at the New Hope International Church recognized the sacrifice of family or work time, and the sincere effort of each student. To our basic and intermediate course graduates, congratulations! We wish you the best!

Volunteers were also recognized for all of their contributions
to making the Technology program such a success!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Undoing the Chain Reaction of Poor Health for Men

For those of us who are in the loop, you know that healthcare seems to be  the topic of much debate, news and interest in the past year.  But what about those who are not in the loop.  Do they know the  importance of healthcare let alone how to access it?

In certain groups, this is the reality of the situation.  According to Contra Costa Health Services’ 2010 Community Health Indicators Report, Latinos are among the most uninsured in the Greater Bay Area.   In particular Latino men are affected.  They tend to avoid seeking health and medical care for a variety of reasons, including misinformation, insufficient education about health issues, lack of knowledge about the local health care systems, and a lack of supportive networks encouraging them to seek care. Perceived cost is another barrier many report. In addition, some immigrants avoid contacts with public institutions, including health services, fearing that they might attract the attention of law enforcement or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

At the same time , within the Latino community men typically are more at-risk.  According to a study done by La Clinica’s Maria Reyes, men tend to visit the doctor less and therefore do not catch diseases in early stages, leading to more serious health concerns.  Cultural factors and general isolation are often at play causing men to keep health needs and issues to themselves.

Men not seeking healthcare causes a chain reaction that spreads to families.  In the Latino culture, men act as the heads of the household and decision-makers for the family.  If men do not choose healthy lifestyles, it is likely that neither will their families.  By educating men about health services and access, entire families are changed for the better. 

Unfortunately, there is currently little being done to focus on men within the Monument community.  La Clinica’s health promoters are currently women, which according to Reyes’ study creates an environment in which men are less likely to discuss health issues.  The study is hopeful however in that there has been success elsewhere with male promoters.

The Chavez Center and La Clinica have joined forces to begin undoing this chain reaction.  Through combined efforts, we are putting together a team of male health promoters to educate their peers about healthy living for themselves and their families. The combination of outreach, presentations, on-site screening, and health education will help dispel misinformation and promote access to health services.  Through the promoters outreach and workshops, community members will become better educated about the healthcare system, resources available to them, and the effects of injury, disease and sickness. 

Last night the Chavez Center held the first information session to begin the training of these promoters.  La Clínica Monument will provide comprehensive training to the promoters, utilizing a 10-session curriculum called the Escuela para Promotores (School for Health Promoters) to provide participants with the philosophy of community action, an understanding of group dynamics, and the skills necessary for leadership.  They will learn to present culturally appropriate material on such topics as: nutrition and healthy eating, first aid, worker safety, diabetes prevention, asthma, hypertension, cardiovascular health, mental health, sexually transmitted diseases and drugs and alcohol use. 

Early next year the Chavez Center will also conduct preventive screening onsite, to address such health related concerns as blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, muscular/skeletal problems, arthritis, depression and work injuries.  This will give community members an opportunity to receive health services and connect with ongoing health care offered through La Clinica.

The Chavez Center sees a strong connection between health and sustainable employment, recognizing that its clients (and subsequently the whole community) benefit from the integration of education, training, access to health care and employment opportunities. When members of the community face disease and injury they often face employment limitations.  In addition, the population that we work with – and men in particular – tend to hold more dangerous jobs and thus face exposure to chemical toxins, injury and other health issues.  Further health education would catch these problems early and help community members access the services they need, allowing them to maintain stable employment.  In line with this view, the ultimate goal of the project is to improve health access and utilization of health services for immigrant and minority workers across the city of Concord and neighboring areas of Contra Costa County, with a particular emphasis on men.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kudos to the Day Laborers

The Day Laborers are constantly working hard to refine their skills and find work.  And we think they're doing an amazing job.  But don't just take it from us, here's what others had to say about their experience.

"We recently employed Jose A. through the Chavez Center to remodel my redwood deck (approx. 12' x 25') as it had several areas of dry rot due to the wear and tear over the last twenty years.  We found Jose A to be a reliable, hard working, conscientious, and a highly skilled carpenter whose background included about 20 years of construction carpentry work building frames for new homes, and also performing other types of carpentry work.  He was aware of the building codes and made appropriate corrections and strengthened the underlying foundation before putting in the new redwood deck.  He also performed several other miscellaneous carpentry projects for our home. We are completely satisfied with his skills and wouldn't hesitate to recommend Jose to do similar carpentry projects. Kudos to Jose A."
- Fred and Doris


Friday, September 2, 2011

Women's Rights Workshop Hits Home

by Elba Velasquez, Technology Program Manager

The need is big, the invitation was presented, ... the response was amazing!

Domestic violence is an ongoing problem in today’s society. But who knew? Save for a few nonprofits, the conversation around domestic violence is pretty scarce. It is emotional, reactionary and confusing. And when different cultural norms get in the mix, the conversation becomes even more muddled. Luckily, even in this complex area, there are ways that help can be found.

Working alongside Stand! For Families Free of Violence, the Michael Chavez Center hosted our first informative workshop directed specially to women. Together we worked to bring clarity to a topic largely kept in the dark by informing the community about signs of domestic violence and women’s rights.

Presenter Irene Van Der Laan a Legal Advocate for Stand! Brought enlightening information that drew on her extensive experience with this issue both at Stand! and from her work at the Concord Police Department. The more than 20 women in the audience receive valuable information and resources and were highly enriched by all the participants’ questions and testimonials.

Our participants left very satisfied with all the information they received. Some of them expressed that it’s a blessing to have a peaceful happy home, but sadly you never know when you might need the resources for a loved one.

“I’m a survivor… years ago I woke up and looked for help. Now I have my life back, and I’m a confident and happy woman. My kids are now growing up in a safe and loving atmosphere,” expressed Nuria, one of our participants.

The Chavez Center was proud to host this workshop and very thankful to Irene for donating her time and expertise to this center and our community.  It’s important to know that there’s hope and there’s help.

S-Comm /Trust Act Forum

by Nati Flores, Day Labor Program Manager 

On Saturday, August 27th, alongside day laborers Antonio Esparza and Jesus Nuñez, I attended the NorCal Forum on S-Comm. Hosted by the Asian Law Caucus, this two hour forum addressed the controversial program Secure Communities, or S-Comm. We arrived at the Unity Council to find representatives from various organizations and faith groups in the Bay Area. Since this was not our first time gathering to talk about S-Comm, we were not surprised by the more that 200 people in attendance, but still the diversity of the group was clear, as was the involvement from political leaders.

The S-Comm program, which was implemented in California in 2009 is now in effect in over 40 states. Along with much other information, we listened to testimonials and statistics, as well as the effects and fear this program has created in the community, the state, and the nation. While no one is opposed to deportation of criminals who are undocumented, it is rather the separation of families and the deportation of domestic violence victims which stirs the controversy. Another concern for many of the people at the forum has been the misleading information that the Department of Homeland Security has given many of the states, jurisdictions and counties to sign in to S-Comm.

The Trust Act is a bill being introduced in California that will allow counties to opt out of S-Comm, but if approved would report the information of undocumented individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes or are repeat offenders, and still protect the victims of domestic violence. This is in hopes that this program will not erase the years of effort that many police departments have put forward in working with the community, to create a safe and secure California.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wells Fargo presents...

At the Chavez Center we have a very diverse group of people and requests that come to our doors.  There are the usual requests for jobs, public restrooms or food.  Then there are the more rare needs for a notary or a translation.  Some come in asking for help with a court summons.  Sometimes people need help typing and sending an e-mail.  Others need health care, housing, legal, or language help.  The list goes on and on.  But one thing is for sure: it’s not every day that a giant check comes walking through the door. 

On August 16, that’s exactly what happened at the Chavez Center.  Representatives from Wells Fargo met with staff and students to present a mammoth-sized check for $15,000.  Community Development Officer, Agnes Briones Ubalde expressed her gratitude to the Chavez Center in saying, “I have a privilege of securing money to make sure that the Chavez Center continues working in the community.”  We are also thankful for the ongoing support from Wells Fargo.  Not only does the bank support us financially, but they also have a representative on our Board of Directors and have come out to teach financial literacy to our members.  There is hope that we can further integrate financial literacy into our classes and “further build a strong relationship with Wells Fargo,” commented Executive Directore Mike Van Hofwegen.  Wells Fargo is an organization that is truly giving back to the community.

A huge thank you to Wells Fargo for their support.  You’ll be happy to know that just two days later, we had an amazing success story of someone finding a full-time job!

The Pizza Promise

On warm Thursday afternoon the Chavez Center was in a bit of a lull.   Classes had wrapped up for the time being and the day laborers had already left.  It was quiet as staff members plugged away at their work.  That all changed when Tony walked in.

The commotion was too much; I had to go get the scoop for myself.  “I’ve got a job,” Tony exclaimed.  When I asked him if I could get his story, he replied, “Oh yea you can!  This Center is the reason I have this job!”  Right then, Tony launched into his story with details and stories thrown in.

Tony had been unemployed for 2 years, searching for a job constantly.  Coming from a nonprofit background, Tony knew he wanted to continue this line of work, but of course he was applying everywhere.  As money got tight and he became more and more nervous for his future, Tony came to the Chavez Center four months ago to use public computers to look for work.  While at the computers, he’d always ask questions of “La Señora” as he calls her.  Amalia would oblige and help him in any way she possibly could.  When La Señora was not around, he’d call on Nati and sometimes other staff for advice and help.  Nati and Amalia would do everything they could, answering his questions and sending him job leads.
Tony with La Senora Amalia.

In the last couple of months, things began to get really hard for Tony.  He kept getting job leads, but nothing ever came of them. He’d get to the second interview and just wouldn’t quite make it.  Then Tony received his last unemployment check.  “I was literally at the end of my rope.  Down to my last $300.”  Still Tony remained persistent and hopeful.  “I even told Nati on Monday that I would bring everyone at the Center pizza as soon as I got a job,” Tony recalled, remarking at the irony of how soon it'd all happen.

On Wednesday Tony received word of a rejection.  “It was a tough day.  There is nothing harder than getting to that second interview, knowing you’re almost there, and getting turned down,” Tony recalls.  Fortunately his luck changed overnight.  On Thursday he received a job offer.  He accepted immediately.

Beginning Monday, just one week after he’d made the promise for pizza, Tony will start work at a hospice house in San Francisco’s tenderloin.  It’s an organization that Tony had been in contact with a lot over the year.  “I’d interviewed with them a couple of months before for a different position that I didn’t get.  But I stayed in contact with them.  Calling them about openings and letting them know I was still looking.”  Then they called him in for an interview again and he landed a full-time job complete with benefits.

When he stopped by the Chavez Center, Tony said goodbye to the public computers he called his friends – “every computer I know by heart,” he’d said – and to the staff who had encouraged him and helped him so much.  He also came to tell us he’d be bringing us pizza as soon as he can.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Clean Up Event: Successes Done, Changes to Come

June 25th was a shining example of how partnerships and combined efforts achieve so much more than working solo. Norcal Transitions, Concord Disposal, Contra Costa County, the Chavez Center and Monument Community Partnership all combined forces to create a community clean up event that not only resulted in a cleaner, healthier community, but also encouraged community cooperation and solidarity. Several dumpsters were placed around the Monument community to help residents dispose of their unwanted items and to encourage community members to help clean up public areas.

The idea was born out of a discussion with Monument residents who utilize the Chavez Center.  One of the biggest complaints that they hear about the area is the cleanliness.  A community-wide event might inspire people to begin changing the face of their neighborhood.  Well, this proved to be true.  Over 30 volunteers came out to facilitate the logistics of the day and help collect trash in the streets.  In addition tons of community residents took advantage of the opportunity to haul out their trash and take part in the cleanup.

Although the event went off without a hitch, there was one important piece of feedback from the community.  As a community-based organization the Chavez Center is constantly trying to listen to people in the Monument area and be responsive to their needs. Many residents expressed that there is a great need for information and resources regarding disposal of non-conventional waste items like electronics, hazardous waste and large objects such as mattresses. These items are not typically allowed in normal dumpsters and we not accepted during this event, but it was clear that many residents did not know their options for disposing of these items. Flyers were passed out at the event listing different locations where these items are accepted, but it is clear there needs to be a more large scale educational outreach effort to pass on this information so that the Monument community can be the clean, healthy community that the residents desire.

You can bet that next time your ideas will become a reality.  The Chavez Center has already talked about ways to expand the disposal options to reach the needs of area residents.

Overall, participants had fun coming together and working in unison to reach a common goal. If you are interested in volunteering at future Chavez Center events, you can find more information here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gems of the Monument: 1800 Cafe

On a bright Concord morning the Chavez Center team decided to grab breakfast together after hearing one staff member give rave reviews of a local restaurant.  We all just HAD to see for ourselves!  I am not a morning person, so the idea of putting all that extra effort to rise and shine extra early sounded daunting.  “This had better be worthwhile,” I thought.  Well…It definitely was.

I arrived at the 1800 Café, not sure where I was going until I spotted the eye catching signs from across the road.  I turned into a tight parking area and once I entered the restaurant I got a whiff of fresh brewing coffee as a waitress with menus in hand welcomed me into a very aesthetically pleasing dining area. As a stager by hobby, environment is as important to me as customer service.  Both were off to a great start!

My boss was already seated and doing what he does best… working while the waitress attentively refilled water glasses and offered some of that fresh brewed morning goodness. The coffee was robust, fragrant and bold, a perfect cup. As the rest of our team started to arrive, the owner came out to greet us and welcome us to her restaurant, or should I say her friendly neighborhood diner.  Mae was so warm and engaging as she filled us in on the breakfast specials.  More coffee and iced water as our orders were taken and placed before we knew it.

Our food came out in a timely fashion, on large warm plates. The bacon was crisp to perfection, the eggs just right, the potatoes golden brown and biscuits and gravy seemed straight out of the South.  Everyone stopped talking and dug in to the tasty meal before us.  We wiped our plates clean of the delicious comfort food as the coffee continued pouring.  What a satisfying dining experience.

Once the staff retreated back to our center, I sat and chatted with Miss Mae and I learned she is a formerly trained traditional ballet dancer and actress from China! She came to this country hoping to continue her career, but after a fruitless job search she decided to go to a culinary school and hone her natural skills to become a chef.  Mae became anxious to feed her creative soul and was itching to get her newest dream started. Mae envisioned a neighborhood diner that served the freshest produce, home cooked meals that would tickle the fancy of children and adults alike.  It would serve American cuisine with style and healthy choices.  After convincing her husband, they agreed to start “1800 Café” the only American style diner on the Monument!

Mae prides herself, her staff and her restaurant on making you feel welcomed, at home,  and comfortable with their personal service.  At 1800 Café, you find a place where “everybody is a friend!”  This had to be true, as I noticed all of the patrons coming in greeting each other and shouting a warm hello to Mae -- from young construction types to casually dressed business types and cheery seniors as well. They all seemed to know her and she impressively greeted each of the by name!

Mae has hosted many business breakfasts with the Concord Police Department as well as participating in the Non-Profit “Meals on Wheels” project.   “1800” offers daily specials for Breakfast and Lunch. $5.00 certificates for all 1st time clients!   The amazing dining experience makes me want to go back to visit this “friendly neighborhood diner!”  But don’t just take it from me; here’s what other people are saying about 1800 Café!

“5 out 5 star kind of place.”
“Very family friendly.”
“Breakfast…off of Monument?  Could this be true?  1800 Café makes you feel at home with open seating and welcoming smiles from the staff.  They even have free wi-fi and 2 plasma screens.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Building a Shed can Lead to Finding Work

Learning in a classroom is nothing compared to hands-on experience.  This became clear on Saturday when the day laborers built a shed from the ground up.  Some of the men came in with backgrounds in restaurants and hotels with no practice in construction.  “I’d taken classes about using a saw before,” reported one day labor.  “But I’d never used one in my life.”  He had started out passing the cutting off to everyone else until the instructor came over and make him practice cutting small pieces of wood on his own.  Soon the jagged cuts smoothed out in to straight, clean movements.  This is the practical experience that our members find in the trainings at the Chavez Center.

The shed building project started last month with a workshop where the instructor, a day labor member himself, laid out the plan for building a shed.  As the instructor, Jose Luis Amador brings mastery in carpentry to share with the members.  His patience and thorough explanations to his students did not just start in this workshop, but rather over the years he has apprenticed several members taking them under his wing to teach them valuable skills in construction.  In the workshop it was no different.  Each student received the individual attention he needed to overcome the reluctance and confusion they had when it came to construction.  Not only that, but at the same time, they were learning the safest, more effective ways to carry out their shed building project.

Great teachers.  Great hand-on experience.  But "why sheds?" you might ask.  It actually serves as a perfect training ground for any construction project.  A shed follow much the same pattern as building a house, only on a smaller scale -- foundations are created, walls erected, doors and windows installed, siding attached, and a roof to top it off.  The steps involved in the process gave the students an opportunity to learn and practice a variety of specific skills that apply not just to shed building, but also to a wide array of construction jobs.  With this new skills set, the members can go out to work more often as employers come to the Chavez Center requesting specific skills.

But the skill set is not the only reason for doing a shed-building project!  Pretty soon, you could be the owner of one of these sheds.  Keep an eye out for more information coming soon.

Technology is Constantly Changing, and at the Chavez Center it's no Exception

Each quarter a new group of students starts classes at the Chavez Center. The process is always the same: a line out the door on the first day of enrollment, classes filling in just a week, friends of students signing up, turning people away as we reach capacity and advising them to come earlier the next quarter. One thing is for certain, a lack of demand has never been an issue for Chavez Center computer classes. This time around, however, the demand was perhaps even greater with new classes on the list.

Starting nearly 6 months ago, the Chavez Center surveyed the technology students to give our students a voice in what they wanted their program to offer them. The message came back loud and clear -- jobs. Without computer skills these days, you can count yourself out of a vast majority of jobs. Not only that, but our job seekers also need to be able to impress employers with a variety of skills and applicable knowledge. Technology skills are just one barrier though. Our Monument community clients also attempt to maneuver through job searches lacking the English skills to ever catch an employer's attention, let alone hold down a job. So language also had to be on the table.

With our scribbled notes on the results of the survey, we went to the drawing board. Accompanied by a focus group of computer class students and teachers, we got to work putting together the logistics and working out the kinks of this new idea. Career Track computer classes are what they came to be called. An intensive 6-month commitment complete with ESL. Students will walk away knowing the ins and outs of several software programs vital to their employment and English.

How did this go over with our students? At an open forum of more than 40 students, the focus group proposed the idea with unanimous positive feedback. The only complaint they received was, "Why can't you start this sooner?"

This month the Career Track launched for the first time -- just four months after the open forum. The Microsoft Office Suite track poured over the new textbooks they'd be using, unable to contain their excitement. Meanwhile the Media & Marketing track jumped at the opportunity to learn skills to help their business. Both have reached -- and even surpassed -- capacity, and both are taking advantage of the new workplace ESL classes.

The Career Track classes are a huge change to the face of the technology program, but one ushered in by our very own students and made possible by several dedicated volunteers. It was a long time in the making, but at last our students are getting what they wanted and needed.

The Biggest Flag in the Parade

“And here comes the biggest flag in the parade,” boasts the announcer whose voice is quickly replaced by the roar of the crowd clapping and cheering as the group representing Michael Chavez Center proceeds through the parade around Todos Santos Plaza, proudly displaying what is perhaps the largest flag I have ever seen.

The group had met on the 4th of July at an uncharacteristically early time in unusually cool weather.  Students from computer classes, members of the day labor program, owners of businesses, staff and instructors came together to represent the Chavez Center. Walking down the streets shouts erupted at every turn for the staff, the members and of course for the giant flag. Chavez center families and friends lined the streets as spectators excited to see their place of training, classes, or resources marching through the streets.

For many this celebration has become a tradition. Many members come back just to tote around the largest flag known to Concord -- other than perhaps a giant singing one -- and joining family and friends for a barbecue in the park. This year the festivities did not disappoint. After finishing their march through the parade route, the members packed up their signs and the flag to head out to the park where other members already had the meat cooking for them.

July 4th is a day of pride for the Chavez Center and its members. As they walk down the streets, they experience encouragement, cheers and pride for the people in their city and for the country they call home. For them the holiday is bigger even than the flag they carry can show. It is pride for the Chavez Center as they represent it, pride for their families as they gather to spend lunch together, and pride for their country as they lift the banner high. For on Independence Day they are visible in the community and they are praise as part of the immigrant nation created on that day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Immigrant Day -- "One California: Many Peoples, One Future"

May 24 marked a unique day at the Capitol.  Normally a place strictly dedicated to politics, lobbying and debate, the atmosphere is very serious and often polarized.   But on this particular day, the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) brought the faces of our immigrant nation to the capitol grounds in a celebration of diversity and community at their annual Immigrant Day event.  To start off the day’s activities, a religious service was held featuring religious leaders of all faiths.  “This really showed people coming together,” commented Nati Flores who attended the event on behalf of the Michael Chavez Center.  “Religion often causes tension.  It was great to see it really bring people together.”

The service set the tone of the day.  As the day pressed on, performances and presentations took place bringing a lighter air to Sacramento.  Then the group broke off to visit representatives and members of the Senate to bring personal stories to the attention of our state’s and country’s leaders.  Covering more than just immigration issues, the groups talked about healthcare, childcare, workers’ rights, the TRUST Act, and many others.  The people represented at the Capital that day were “working for all the things they want to accomplish together,” Nati said of the event.  “It wasn’t just immigration issues, though many face that.  It’s about everyone finding a better future.”

This was the first time that the Chavez Center attended Immigrant Day, but it will likely not be the last.  Taking along a few day labor members, our role in advocacy for our community is growing.  Several other organizations went to the event representing Contra Costa County.  Among their ranks were First 5 Contra Costa and Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO).

Read more about Immigrant Day on the CIPC website.

Staff and Students Build Careers

The clients at the Chavez Center aren’t the only ones taking classes to build their careers.  The Career Development staff has put their own lessons to the test, earning a professional certification for their careers.

Back in May Career Development staff stepped into the shoes of their students, embarking on an 8-month long journey with others working in workforce development fields.  Their course covered everything from customer service and technology to the labor market and diversity.  Topped off with a final project and book report, the course brought together all of the material they had learned in the program.

Chavez Center staff with fellow GCDF
graduate.  Congratulations!
What did the Chavez Center staff do for their project?  Any Career Development client knows the material they developed – in fact in their training they use this tool every day.  It’s a client handbook full of resources to launch a job search.  Anything from identifying skills and barriers to putting together a sharp resume, and even determining whether you’re a type A or B personality – this book has it all.  Better yet, the intent is to “make each client his own career manager,” according Program Facilitator Tess Gellerman.

Though the handbook is quite the benefit to Chavez Center clients, what the staff walked away with was something much bigger than that.  In working with the diverse backgrounds, styles and techniques, it quickly became apparent that there is no right or wrong answer in dealing with each individual job seeker.  In fact, it challenges creative capacities in coming up with new ways to address age-old barriers to employment such as age discrimination and long unemployment gaps.  That’s right, our staff is trained in a number of approaches to help job seekers overcome these and infinite other problems.

Did you know?

The course that our staff took is called Global Career Development Facilitator – try saying that 10 times fast!  So what is this course known as GCDF?

The course sets a baseline of knowledge for professionals in workforce development.  That’s right, there is no degree for anything like this.  So how do you know that the information your career counselor or case manager is giving you is good information?  GCDF establishes a standard for career coaches, making sure that clients are served in the best way possible.  Find out more about the GCDF course.

What do a janitor, teacher and dental technician have in common?

 No, this is not the beginning of a joke with a good punch line.  But it is an interesting question.  What do a janitor, teach and dental technician have in common?  In this case, they were all graduates of our Professional Growth workshops.

On May 20th these 3 individuals, along with 9 of their fellow students, graduated from the Professional Growth workshop series at the Center. This workshop series includes an intensive 4 weeks of learning and practicing job search techniques that build confidence and determination to tackle the rough job market. From resume writing, to networking, to navigating job search websites, graduates gained a wide variety of skills that they will utilize to find jobs and further their careers.  Not only that, but just by completing the program, graduates received a free interview outfit courtesy of Wardrobe for Opportunity.

Going into a mock interview.
Although other job search resources are offered in the area, these workshops are unique because they are offered in Spanish. “This makes it a welcoming environment for Spanish speakers in the community who often don’t take advantage of community resources because of the language barrier,” says workshop facilitator, Tess Gellerman. “However, within the workshop series we integrate English language learning to equip them to enter an English-speaking job market.” Resume writing, networking and interviewing activities help students learn English skills and gain confidence in utilizing it.

Graduates get together and network for their job search.
A significant improvement from previous workshop series was the addition of laptop computers. A donation of 12 laptops from the Technology Training Foundation of America allowed students to become familiar with the technology that is essential to utilize in today’s job market. Many students had never filled out an application online before and these computers served as an invaluable resource in increasing their access to open positions.

Workshops focus not only job search techniques, but also on confidence building. During the graduation ceremony, one graduate, Ana Irma Angulo, shared, “It was very helpful to have someone explain how to write a resume and perform well on an interview, but the most important thing I gained from the workshops was the encouragement and support to have confidence in realizing the skills I have to offer.”

Career Corner: Why the “Right” Interview Answers are Wrong

A simple search on the internet for “how to interview” will provide you with about 427 million pages of people telling you how to best answer common interview questions. Preparing for an interview by reviewing your answers to common questions is a great idea—but beware. Many websites, books, articles and blogs offer advice on the “best” answers to those common questions; however the worst way to answer a common questions is with a common answer. Here’s why:
Think about the interviewing process from the interviewer’s perspective. They, most likely, will be asking dozens of people the same exact questions and the “right” answers can become rote and unmemorable. With so much competition in today’s job market and so many qualified applicants for every opening, being memorable is becoming increasingly important. Standing out in an interview (of course, standing out in a good way) is essential, so think about how your answers leave an impression. The applicants with the most memorable answers will be on the forefront of the interviewers’ minds, even if they aren’t necessarily the most qualified. Here are some interviewing tips to make sure you stand out:
1)      Showing not telling: Anyone can say they take initiative or solve problems effectively, but just saying you can do something isn’t very memorable (or convincing).  Provide specific examples and tell short stories to back up what you say about yourself. This will make you more memorable and gives credence to the statements you make. For example, when asked if you  are a self-starter saying, “Yes” is not as convincing or as memorable as saying, “Yes, in fact in my last position I noticed a need for a sales tracking system so I took the initiative to create a spread sheet that was approved by my supervisor and they still use it to this day.”
2)      Enthusiasm: Be excited! Interviewers are also scouting out potential coworkers, so be someone they want to be around. Having a joyful personality and a positive attitude may even trump having extensive experience.
3)      Great questions: Ask questions that showcase your knowledge of the industry or company like, “Since the competition has a 68% share of the market, how does that affect your strategic plan?”
4)      Career Portfolio: Bring a portfolio that showcases your skills and achievements. Fill a binder with examples of work you have done in the past like reports, event flyers, certificates, awards, newspaper articles, brochures from workshops you attended, letters of reference from coworkers or happy clients, or a piece of writing on an industry related topic. These visuals stick in the interviewers mind.