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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why is Green so Popular?

Just a month ago the Chavez Center was invited to a special recognition by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.  The occasion was celebrating green businesses in the area.  The Chavez Center was just certified with this honor a year ago by the Bay Area Green Business Program, and so our staff attended representing the center as well as the two green businesses – Green & Clean and Evergreen Landscaping -- that we have helped start.  But why is green so popular?  Why do we throw parties celebrating it?  And what’s this Bay Area Green Business Program about?

It’s a good question really.  One color has really taken on life as a national movement, a marketing scheme, and a political party.  But when we talk about going green, it actually holds a lot of implications – let’s just say it’s not as easy as it sounds.  When a business really goes green, they are committing to the health and environment of themselves, their community, and the world.  Oftentimes this means a sacrifice to the convenience or the checkbook.  It means special toilets, washing dishes instead of paper products, printing on recycled paper, and oh so much more.

But this didn’t really answer the question did it?  Why is going green so popular?  There are many reasons.  One is that environmental issues are gaining traction nationwide.  Just look at hybrid cars and your water bottles that use “30% less plastic!”  Piggybacking on the national green movement is a great marketing scheme.  Suddenly saying that your cups are 80% recycled paper is a statement you need your customers to hear.  But don’t worry.  With the Bay Area Green Business Program there is a standard for green business – not just anyone can do it.  In fact it is quite a process to prove just how green you can be.  Verify that the true color of the business is in fact green, and to keep it that way.

As an economic development center, the Chavez Center truly believes in sustainability.  It is an idea that doesn’t just apply to being financially sustainable, but also environmentally.  In the long-term, being mindful of resources doesn’t just help your health, but also that of your community, making a better future for everyone.

Did you know?

The Chavez Center aims to bring green education to the entire community.  Let’s start by cleaning up our streets and homes!   Join us for our event Clean Concord --> Healthy Families and show your commitment to going green and making our city a healthy, beautiful place to live.
Chavez Center staff (on left) being recognized with
County and Green Business representatives.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Clean Concord --> Healthy Families

Coming soon to Concord -- a community-wide clean up effort.

As the budget is cut to offer only those most important services, the community is taking the initiative to fill the gap.  On June 25, in a wide-reaching effort, volunteers from all over the community will come together to clean up one of Concord's communities.  Thanks to the many partners for this event, dumpsters will be placed throughout the Monument area where people can bring trash from their homes or businesses.  The plan also calls for some volunteers to work on cleaning up the streets.

When the idea came up, the members at the Chavez Center were eager to take action.  They jumped at the opportunity knowing that it would benefit themselves and their families.  When deciding on a name for the event, they wanted to highlight this idea to point out just how important clean communities are.  It's not just an aesthetic appeal, but a personal impact.

The community needs your help in cleaning the city for healthy families.  There will be plenty of ways you can lend a hand.  Join our event on facebook to find out more information!  Or call 925-682-8248.
Pass it on!  Print this flyer and share with your friends!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

High School Graduations -- What they Tell you About the Chavez Center

The music starts up.  “Oh I love this song,” comments an elderly woman as her eyes close and she drifts into the song, reopening them just in time for the procession to pass by.  Draped in their cap and gowns 2011’s high school graduates show nothing but eagerness for the ceremony to mark their passage into the “real world.”

Last night’s high school graduation was a pleasant reminder of the diversity and sheer size of our community as they came together to celebrate.  As the ceremony played out, I couldn’t help but notice parallels with the work that we do at the Chavez Center.  In fact, even economic woes permeated graduation speeches.  But just like the Chavez Center, they took it as a cue to work harder and end on a note of happiness and hope.  He spoke of the hundreds of awards the band, choir and drama had brought home from competitions throughout the state and nation.  He highlighted the record number of volunteer hours donated to the community.  And of course he pointed out the highest sports achievement that the school had seen in decades.  All of this in the time of extraordinary cutbacks in our public schools.  Impressive.

Listening to the hope that this particular teacher spoke of, it struck me how both this school and the Chavez Center have seen huge – even monumental – accomplishments even in the face of setbacks.  But this night was not about the organization’s success, but rather the students’.  At the Chavez Center, we have seen their success.  Dozens have found long-term jobs.  Hundreds show off their top-notch reports.  One designed new promotional flyers distributed to the community.  And each year despite their lack of resources, our clients donate hundreds of volunteer hours.  All in the midst of funding reductions and poor job markets.  Impressive.

Come June 18, it will be our computer students’ turn to be recognized.  And as I see it, the ceremony will hold the same passion and fervor as the one I attended last night.  Though our graduates may not wear the traditional graduation garb, their faces beam with the same excitement and pride at achieving something substantial in their lives.  Though no audience of thousands packs into a pavilion to see them and no television highlights the moment, those who are important would not miss the memorable occasion.  Though it may not be a diploma that they receive, it is still helps them in the “real world” and still helps them find a job.  And like their high school graduate counterparts, for many, it is the first certificate they have received for their education.

Did you know?
More than half of Monument community residents lack a high school diploma.  This makes education especially important in opening doors for this community.  Be a part of the change!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nothing but Sunny Days

This morning I got up to go to work as I always do.  Hitting snooze 3 or 4 times, jumping into the shower and then into fresh clothes, celebrating the extra time to pack lunch, and maneuvering the short, but always traffic jammed, trip to work.  Each morning is relatively the same with few differences.  This morning on my drive to work, something struck me differently.  It was something that had not happened in a long time – I found myself squinting into the sun.
Based on the conversations I’ve had I know I’m not the only one anxiously awaiting the warmer summer days that we would’ve expected by now.  When it didn’t come in May, we thought, well, hopefully June will bring the sun.  And lo and behold, June 1st rained.  In fact, on the first day of June alone we surpassed the month’s average rainfall.  But a week later, things are looking up.  This morning marks what appears to be a string of sunny days, and just in time.

Around the Chavez Center, the sunny weather has brought a new kind of vibrant energy.  Perhaps nobody has shown this energy quite as much as the Technology Empowerment program.  In the last week of classes, students are thrilled to be on the brink of receiving their certificates and certifications.  Computer repair students are bounding through the doors announcing their certification, while beginner, intermediate and advanced computer classes hurry to finish their final projects.  In each case, the good weather reflects the students’ renewed energy and optimism as they work extra hard in finishing the final week of classes.  But for many, this year in classes has not been easy.

As if taking cues from the weather to bring gloom on the classes, IT problems have been seemingly unstoppable in the computer lab.  Each week some new problem arose.  Internet issues, access to folders, disappearing work all disrupted the classes.  At one point even logging into a computer became quite the challenge.  At the end of the day though, each student walked away remembering not the problems that she had encountered, but the new skills she had learned.

This is the mentality that I think we can all learn from these students.  Even when the rainy days and frustrations seem endless, eventually the sun will come out – and that is where we need to focus our attention.

Our graduates walk across the stage next week, and their near futures forecast nothing but sunny days.