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.”