Friday, April 29, 2011

Bedbugs no More Thanks to “Chinches no Mas”

Each day, the team brings back stories of their work, and some days they even bring evidence.  Hundreds of bedbugs from just one bed is cause for disgust, but also points to the need for projects like this one.

The Bedbug Project, called “Chinches no Mas” is a combination of education and support in the treatment and prevention of bedbugs in at least 40 low-income Monument residences by June 2011.  We do not use any pesticides, and instead we teach the residents how to inspect their own homes and prevent new or re-infestations.   Seven members of the Day Labor program and Nati Flores began training on Monday March 7th. The training took members from the anatomy of bedbugs and techniques for handling an infestation to hands-on field testing.  In addition, trainer Ray Lopez led the participants though a day of promoting the service among Monument community residents.
Thousands of bedbugs from
just one bed.

After finishing the training, the members broke into teams of 3 to begin taking on clients.  March 17th marked the launch of the project, but very quickly they found a huge obstacle: most people will not readily admit to having bedbugs.  The stigma attached to having bedbugs kept many silent, fearing that they might be judged as being dirty and unsanitary.  Therefore the members of this project must able to communicate and relate to the residents we are helping.

Initially just a couple of residents took advantage of the service.  They were fed up with bedbugs and ready to learn how to keep the pests away.  Seeing their peers confess to having infestations, slowly but surely others came to “Chinches no Mas” for help. 

Less than two weeks later, the project was well underway completing fourteen units by the end of March.  Appointments have now booked up Monday through Friday peaking at a steady 18 units each week – a number to easily sustain the working members of the project at a living wage.  Those numbers also show the demand and need to work on the growing number of infestations.   

The community outreach about the issue of bedbugs in the Monument Corridor along with the diminishing the stigmas of bedbugs have proven crucial to the success of this project.  And still, their outreach efforts continue as word of the service spreads.

 The benefits of the project have been numerous.  Not only have more than forty units been freed of bedbugs to date, but the members of “Chinches no Mas” have also been able to find steady work at a living wage.  The project, funded by grant money, has brought valuable education, stigmas removed, better living standards, and much needed work opportunities to the Monument community.

Career Corner: Networking for Introverts

For introverts, “networking” is a four letter word. It is a torturous, traumatic experience and a tool of manipulation that should be avoided at all costs. Extreme introverts like myself would rather be stuck in a burning building with no way out than be forced to create conversation with a stranger.

As a struggling introvert, I have learned that networking doesn’t have to be scary or purely self-serving, and in today’s job market it is a MUST for job seekers. The majority of all job openings are not  advertised so your chances of finding an open position are increased dramatically when you engage in networking.

Here are some tips to make networking easier and more effective for my fellow introverts:

Before you network:
Start with who you know: You don’t necessarily have to meet new people to be networking. Start with people you already know and are comfortable with. Simply let them know you are looking for a job and they instantly become your personal job scouts. Don't think you know many people?  Make a list of all your family members, friends, neighbors, doctors, dentists, past coworkers and bosses, barbers, and anyone else you come in contact with on a regular basis.  You might be surprises by how big your network currently is.
Understand it is quality over quantity: Some job seekers think networking means meeting as many people as possible and leaving an event with a gigantic stack of business cards. Au contraire my friend! Networking is all about lasting relationships.  Meeting one person that you will stay in touch with is infinitely more effective than knowing the name of every person in the room but never seeing them again.

At an event:
Baby Steps: Go to an event with the goal of approaching just ONE person or staying for just ONE hour. You will see it’s not so scary and be empowered next time to network even more.
Be yourself: Don’t go into an event thinking you need to be the life of the party. Be who you are, think about what you ARE good at, and capitalize on it. Are you a good listener? People love being listened to. Are you naturally curious? Ask people more about why they chose their occupation. Are you friendly? Just give a big smile and people will naturally be enticed to approach you.
Look for other introverts: Research says about 50% of the population is actually introverted*, so it’s likely there will be other introverts in the room with you. Look for the shyest person in the room—they will be happy to be relieved of the pressure of having to start conversation!

After the event:
Congratulate yourself: Give yourself kudos for just showing up! Introverts tend to replay in their mind a thousand times over the moments they think came off as silly or embarrassing. Focus on that fact that you are overcoming your fears and treat yourself for a job well done.
Follow up: Contact the people you made a connection with the next day through an email or phone call. This is a crucial step in transforming a stranger to a contact.

See, not so bad right?  Start small, be positive and you will soon be on your way to marketing success.

*Myers, I.D., McCaulley, M.H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1988). MBTI Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Trip to Sacramento to Bring Back TRUST

On Tuesday, April 26, 2011 members and staff of the Chavez Center joined the effort in Sacramento to restore trust between immigrants and authorities.

In 2009, the first of California’s counties joined Obama’s Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprinting at local police stations to “focus enforcement efforts on arresting serious immigrant criminals.”  In other words, the goal of the program is to find and deport undocumented criminal immigrants.

However the actual implementation of the program has proven to lack protocol and limitations as anyone who is processed and fingerprinted at a local level is automatically run through ICE’s (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) database to determine immigration status.  This leaves the program open for many abuses that stray away from its original intent.  For example, victims of domestic violence, minors, those calling 911, and others with no charges or convictions are at risk to quick and sudden deportation – often in just two days.  And in fact all of these have happened through Secure Communities.

With no line drawn between immigrant criminals and victims in the program, distrust is brewing in immigrant communities.  The day labor members of the Chavez Center, aware and educated of Secure Communities in light of the recent spike in deportations, have expressed that they are more afraid of police officials, according to Day Labor program Nati Flores. And they have reason to be.  Contra Costa County ranks fourth in California as far as deportations -- only behind Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties. (See All of California now linked up to immigration enforcement network)

The police have also recognized that their integrity is in jeopardy under this system, and many have voiced their disapproval.  Concord Police Sergeant who regularly visits the Chavez Center to make presentations to members has tried to maintain the positive relationship with reassurances that the top priority of the Concord Police Department is safety, not immigration status.

On Wednesday, a forum held at the Capitol in Sacramento brought these issues to light and demonstrated tremendous support for the Trust Act, which would amend many of these flaws in the system.  The Act, sponsored by San Francisco’s Tom Ammiano would “give counties the opportunities to opt out of the Secure Communities program.”  The option to opt out of the program is actually a point of controversy around ICE.  Recently conflicting information has emerged.  As certain counties attempted to resist the program, they were told it was mandatory, contrary to the information originally circulated. (See California Congresswomen: Immigration officials lied‘Voluntary’ immigration program not so voluntaryICE Gave Conflicting Info on Fingerprint Program, Emails Show)

Representing the Chavez Center and our involvement in the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), Nati and two members made the trek to Sacramento in support of the passing of the bill through the Public Safety Committee.  According to Veronica Federovsky of NDLON, “It was a powerful moment.  The room and hallway were full of people and kids.  …. There were more than 200 people and I’m guessing around 30 organizations.”  Nati commented that among those present were associations, some representing more than 250 other organizations across California.

The day was one step in the right direction to restore trust to the authorities in our communities.  From here the bill must go to the Appropriations Committee (probably on May 24 according to NDLON) and from there to the Assembly Floor.  The Chavez Center plans to follow and support this bill throughout its journey, so stay tuned!

Learn more!

Taking Cooking Matters to New Levels

Today’s eating habits draw community members the plethora of restaurants, markets and fast food selling cheap, satisfying foods.  Without the knowledge of how to shop, cook and eat in this environment, high-fat foods are a staple.  This is why cooking matters.

On Wednesday, April 20, the first Cooking Matters class started at the Chavez Center.  The goal of Cooking Matters Bay Area is to empower families with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to prepare healthy and affordable meals.  Participants learn about nutrition, cooking, food safety, and financial planning to make healthy food choices and good financial decisions on a low-income budget.   At this first session, each person played a role in making their first healthy meal – vegetarian tacos and fruit smoothies.  “They were delicious,” exclaimed Audrey McKee, Chavez Center Program Manager.  After each session, students take home the extra food that they make as well as a bag of fresh food.  This time the bags were full of fresh veggies from the farmer’s market as well as some surprise gifts from Kaiser Permanente to help the students in their new journey.

Unlike other Cooking Matters classes, this one has a slightly different twist.  While other classes educate students to incorporate healthy foods in their diets, this class is training promoters to teach others across the community.

La Clinica de La Raza gathered 19 promoters to learn about nutritional recommendations; ideas of balance, variety and moderation; and the five food groups.  “Chef Educator, Ana Villalobos, with the spark of energy and passion that she brings to teaching nutrition and culinary skills motivated the whole group to get serious about bringing this same training back to their communities at La Clinica de Las Raza Monument, Pittsburg, and Vallejo,” commented La Clinica Health Educator Lalo Duran.   As leaders in their community, graduates from this program will reach out to the other agencies to offer the Cooking Matters class.

At the Chavez Center, we support the education and empowerment of residents to build a vital and healthy community.  Fewer health problems means that residents can avoid spending on costly medical needs and can save to support the growth of themselves and their families. By promoting a healthy community, we are promoting a thriving community built on self-sufficiency.  We look forward to the impact that the new promoters will have in the community as they spread knowledge of healthy practices.

We would like to extend a special thank you to Ana Villalobos the Chef Educator and visionary behind the project, Liza Ruzer the coordinator from Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market and the Cooking Matters Program, Nati Flores Program Manager at the Chavez Center for providing space for the project, Marianne Balim from Kaiser Permanente for program support, and Lalo from La Clinica de La Raza for bringing this idea to life with the promoters.  “A true community effort to make a healthier life for all families in the region!”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Changing Byte by Byte

Two new classes, and one big plan for computer classes in 2011.

Kicking off the year, the Technology Empowerment program made it a priority to create new computer classes for the varying job interests and needs of the more than 200 students who enroll each year.  First came a photo editing class.  Photoshop is by far one of the most common program for professional-grade photo editing, but like many it is both costly and difficult to learn.  Fortunately the Chavez Center has found a remedy for both.  Using  an open source photo editing program called Gimp, students learn skills that would easily translate into Photoshop, only this program they can get for free to use at home.  As for the difficulty – we believe that with our knowledgeable and talented teacher, quality classes and dedicated students, that can be easily conquered.

Photo editing was not the only addition to the Chavez Center’s repertoire of classes.  This quarter also marked the first running of a QuickBooks class.  Equipped with Simple Start a free edition of the business accounting software, students learn the same skills such as estimating, invoicing, accepting payments, and tracking finances.  The class is perfect for those going into accounting or managing a business, which as the waitlist proves, is in high demand despite its late Saturday night time slot.  Taught by respected business owner and Women’s Initiative employee Maribel Delgado, the class is well underway and going strong.

With more opportunities for specific job interests, the Technology Empowerment program took a step back to evaluate its other advanced classes, which have traditionally covered all of the Microsoft Office programs.   What could possibly be done to make those classes better?  The answer will be coming this July.  But to give you a sneak preview, it will save time, money, and lead to many more job prospects.  More info will be coming your way soon!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Learning the Power of Organization: What One Student has Brought to the Center

Organization is key.  If anyone were to stand by this motto, it would be none other than computer class student Eva Chena.  Cutting across programs, Eva has brought organization lessons to staff and members alike.

In March, Eva took her organization strengths and put them on display in a presentation to members of the Day Labor program.  As part of the goal of developing life skills and civic engagement, Eva’s workshop fit in well and impacted many participants.  She talked about organizing not only your space, but also your mind, and your time.  “I see people sitting around all of the time not doing anything.  They could be doing something with their time.  They need to think, ‘What could I be doing?’” Eva said of her plans for the workshop.  With an emphasis on being productive in all aspects of their lives – at home, at the Center, and at work – Eva brought the lesson full circle.  Still the workshop didn’t stop here.  “I didn’t just want to talk to them,” Eva commented, “I actually wanted to prove to them that organization works.”  She not only gave them ideas for being organized, but she also put them to the test.  With a stop watch in hand, Eva timed how long it took one of the members to locate papers in files that were completely out of order.  Then she repeated the exercise with the papers organized.  The difference?  A matter of minutes – and that’s just for organizing papers!  Imagine your productivity if you were organized in all aspects of your life.

Her great lesson to the men was just one make on her great track record in organization – let’s just say this is not the first time she has shown us this side of her.  Beginning her first quarter as a teacher in January, Technology Program Manager, Elba Velasquez admired how Eva had gotten all of her students so organized, “They all have their own binders with the class lessons!”

The Day Labor members are already asking for another lesson from Eva.  She jokes with them saying, “Not until I see that you’re practicing what I taught you.”  Still it is clear that the members learned something that they will take with them.

Winter Graduations: A Picture Worthy of Praise

Graduates showing off their certificates and the
centerpiece they helped make.
Spread out at tables across the room, students sat with their friends and families clapping for their fellow classmates receiving their graduation certificates and seeing their hard work displayed throughout the room. In the week off before graduation, still many came to the Center. Rather than putting in their time behind a computer, they were preparing their work for the ceremony. An assembly line of students chatting away worked together to tape up boxes and affixed student work to them. The end result was a work of beauty, pride and admiration at the graduation. Poster projects and professional reports hung on the walls, while centerpieces covered in the printed t-shirts and bags designed by Intermediate students decorated each table.

The decor was just part of the ceremony though. The main event was the chance for each student to march up to the stage to receive a hard-earned certificate – feeling a source of self-confidence and empowerment in what they had achieved. The beaming faces and uncontainable smiles said it all.

All of the computer class graduates.
Todos los graduados de computacion.
Many had put their hearts into their work. Basic students put together detailed biographies and Intermediate students created elaborate designs around pictures of their loved ones. Meanwhile Microsoft Word students embarked on an entirely new final project: a report on the Chavez Center. They could choose a program, a service or any aspect that interested them. Then began the scavenger hunt for the information they needed. Suddenly the Center had dozens of students asking around, navigating the website, interviewing staff and members, and collecting various brochures and publications for their projects. After weeks of hard work, professional-grade projects emerged. The project was so successful that one of the reports was translated and is being edited into a Michael Chavez Center handbook. “I wanted to create something that could be used outside of the class,” Eva, the author of the report commented. And now her wish is coming true.

This is the sort of self-assurance that students gain in these classes. Their ideas and effort are worthy of being shown off and praised – in the presence of their classmates, teachers, staff, and the community.

Congratulations graduates!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The New Face for Business Development

Do you dream of opening your own business?

This is the slogan for Women’s Initiative, and for many, this dream will become a reality.  We welcome Women's Initiative to the Chavez Center bringing a new face to our Business Development program.

Beginning this June, the Chavez Center will launch the first of a brand-new business development model called ALAS (or Simple Steps).  In partnership with Women’s Initiative, the business development classes new to the Chavez Center are the most comprehensive in the Bay Area.  From business management skills and strategic planning to a boost in confidence, the can give you the tools to make your great business idea into a profiting one.  The ALAS program has proven so successful that in just one year, the course graduates reported creating nearly 800 new jobs at an average wage of $16.80.  And for the first time ALAS will open its doors to men as well.
Women's Initiative staff with Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.

So what’s your business aspiration?  Manufacturing?  Photography?  Whatever field you want to go into, this course will work for you.  The Women’s Initiative model has helped start and grow more than 1,600 businesses in a variety of fields such as motorcycle repair, beauty, catering, event planning, restaurants, web development and so much more. 

How do you qualify for this amazing opportunity? All you need is the desire and drive to be a successful entrepreneur, the aspiration to become financially independent, and a business idea that excites you.  The ALAS program also has an income requirement, which you can find on their website

Orientations are going on now.  Sign up for an orientation to make sure you get into this course.  The course will run in the evenings Monday to Friday beginning June 13.Don’t miss out on this chance to make your business happen.  For more information call Maribel Delgado at 925-603-2770.

Note: The class offered at the Chavez Center is in Spanish only.  The Simple Steps course by Women’s Initiative is the English counterpart, and is available throughout the Bay Area.  Contact the Concord office at 925-603-2770 to find where a Simple Steps class is near you.

Awarding Community Change

The night of April 8 proved to be a time of celebration and color at the Agave Cantina and Grill in downtown Concord where the Michael Chavez Center for Economic Opportunity held one of its first major fundraising events. The evening’s festivities honored Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla for her years of dedication to making a difference in the community, along with Supervisor Karen Mitchoff for continuing the work to transform the Monument and Concord community.

The Chavez Center is a nonprofit organization situated in the Monument Corridor working to bring job opportunities and training to residents.  The organization recognized two important women for their contributions to the Center and to the wellbeing of the entire community.  Assemblywoman Bonilla has been a long-time supporter, dedicated to bringing employment opportunities to the community.  As District County Supervisor, she had been a strong advocate of the Chavez Center and other community organizations.  In the last election, Bonilla won her way into the State Assembly, and Mitchoff has taken over her role as District Supervisor, committing herself to further the quest for self-sufficiency in the community.

The evening of April 8 began with a time for the nearly 100 attendees to enjoy appetizers and beverages as they networked with other community supporters.  Guests such as City Councilmember Tim Grayson and City of Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister were greeted by Chavez Center staff and given a virtual tour of center activities through overhead monitors playing a slideshow throughout the venue.   At 6:00pm the awards ceremony began with the presentation of awards to Assemblywoman Bonilla and Supervisor Mitchoff.  Each took the mic to express their gratitude and to impress upon the audience the importance of being involved advocates for their community and organizations like the Michael Chavez Center. 

Assemblywoman Bonilla with Chavez Center
 members Philip and Fabiola.
Following the speeches, local residents stepped to the podium to express their heartfelt gratitude for how their lives have been changed by the work of the Chavez Center.  Philip Acheampong,a volunteer, training class graduate and Career Development client, shared how the programs and staff at the Center allowed him to reach his highest potential and open up his own computer repair business. Fabiola Cardenas also shared her journey; taking advantage of several program services over the years as she realized her dream of becoming a computer class teacher and launching her own business.

Reyes Ramos, owner of Agave, assured a smooth and elegant evening for all guests, saying he “was honored to have an opportunity to support such a worthy program that gives back to the community.”

Overall, the event was visually pleasing to the eye, satisfying to the palette and warming to the heart.  With many more exciting events coming this year, be sure to stay tuned for the next opportunity to see how the Chavez Center empowers community members to succeed.