Thursday, July 26, 2012

Job-Seekers' Field Trip Leads to Employment

As July winds down, the Career Development job search winds up as three job-seekers hopped in the car and headed to some local businesses with the Career Development Program Manager.

What prompted the trip?

"The other day we were talking about ways to save money, and I realized that none of them knew about the cheaper local businesses," said Program Manager Romina. As recent immigrants and refugees, they must find ways to make ends meet, and what better way than getting quality items at a low price.

Being job-seekers as well, the lessons extended beyond just visiting stores like Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory, Ross and Subway. "On our way to each of the stores, we practiced how to ask for an application," Romina explained. During the drive each one rehearsed the words to say – putting their English lessons to the test. At each business they put this practice to work, walking away with job applications.

One student, Osama, was motivated by the trip and went out on his own to apply at other nearby locations, including local sandwich shopTogos. A few days later he heard back from Togos and found out he got the job! He started this week and is doing fabulously.

The very proud Program Manager Romina visited Osama at his new work this week and spoke with the Togos branch manager who said he sees Osama as a hard-working and very bright employee. He expects Osama will become a general manager at the store in the future. The amazing abilities and commitment of Career Development students and staff is truly inspiring!

Ex'pression Features Chavez Center in a Documentary Video

Those of you following our facebook page already know that group of students from Ex'pression College for Digital Arts paid a visit to the Chavez Center.  This group of aspiring artists and future movie-makers came to film a documentary about immigrants. While they were here, they not only gained valuable practice for their respective majors, but they also learned a little more about the Center and what impact we are enacting on the community.

The group filmed some of our programs in action and sat down for personal interviews with a few staff and clients. Eager to learn more, the students asked all sorts of very inspired questions. They were sure surprised and touched by what they heard! Upon leaving the center, the group truly had a renewed sense of the voice that they are giving this under-served population. We thank them for their great work!

You can do your part to support these students and the work of MCP/Chavez Center – just watch the video for yourself!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lead Poisoning: An Education and Test of Health

A warm, healthy breakfast; a video; and doctors-- a unique picture on Monday morning here at the Chavez Center. But all was for an important cause-- lead poisoning education.  

We held a workshop outlining the dangers of lead poisoning and the importance of protecting our health and well-being. Since we have added a lot of new clients at the Chavez Center, this particular health lesson was eye-opening. They learned about the symptoms, ways to prevent lead poisoning, and what to do if you have it. Construction workers were awed by the many unexpected ways they could get lead poisoning. Even our computer students were surprised to learn that computer parts can also have lead!

 Why stop with just education though? Phlebotomy students were brought in to test our members and practice their skills as well. Twenty-Three of our members and community residents were tested for lead poisoning as part of the workshop, so they could get treatment if needed. For one man, the test was a challenge as anxiety gripped him. With the encouraging teasing from other members, he snuck in as the last of the twenty-three, and his peers cheered for him when he was done.

The hope is to educate our clients about hidden health risks and help them find ways to stay safe and keep their families safe in the future. Even the doctor from OSHA was surprise by the need for this sort of education in the community. 

We would like to especially thank the Community Wellness and Prevention Program, Carrington College and OSHA.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Antonio's Story of Struggle, Story of Survival, Story of Success

Day Labor member Antonio rarely gets hired for the jobs he loves. His slow, stumbling words and older appearance quickly causes employers to hesitate calling on him for precise tiling work. What they don’t know is that Antonio suffered several strokes that put him here.

In his time with the Day Labor Program, Antonio has found the support of the members as he suffered and underwent recovery. The strokes left him unable to walk and talk. As someone whose expertise relies heavily on physical ability, this was a true struggle for Antonio. He worked diligently for months to rehabilitate and to relearn these basic skills.

Today, he is able to get around easily, although a little more slowly. And today we ask ourselves where would Antonio have gone if he hadn’t been with us, and what others might be going through this too? While the answers are scary, we are just thankful that Antonio found the support and empowerment he needed.

At the center Antonio is among the most social and compassionate members even though he recognizes that his speech and actions lag. Because of this seemingly clumsy motion, many people are reluctant to hire his highly-regarded expertise, even though his talents have not suffered one bit!

But with enough hard work and dedication, it’s only a matter of time before opportunity will come knocking. In July Antonio as he was given the chance to do the work that is near and dear to his heart. As a skilled worker with a true passion for working with tile, stone, granite and marble Antonio was very excited to accept this job assignment. His work was impeccable as his excitement for the job carried him through.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Passionate Volunteer Brings Classes Closer Than Ever

The Career Development Program has been truly grateful for the energy of our newest volunteer, Nadia. Such energy and knowledge that she brings complements the already lively Career Development Program Manager, Romina. Putting her enthusiasm and expertise to work, Nadia jumped in to teach job preparation to the Career Track computer students. This series of in-class workshops, presentations and assignments will cover resume writing, an essential tool for our hardworking, computer-savvy, job-seeking students.  With a polished resume in hand, students will move on to tackle bigger lessons in customer service classes.

Nadia's first day with all of the staff.
All the students were very impressed and happy to meet Nadia, who has a great deal of experience as an instructor and business developer in her native Nicaragua. This is what students had to say after only the first class with Nadia, “This is the perfect complement to our classes to think and have a better picture of what is next,” stated Norberto, a Career Track student. This just shows how Nadia has really become the link that joins the Career Development and Technology Empowerment programs at the Chavez Center.

Our advanced class students will graduate in mid-June with great knowledge of Microsoft Office programs, customer service and their resume ready to start their job search. What an amazing experience to gain all of these skills in one class!

Interested in getting in on the next session of classes? Enrollment is starting June 18! Make sure you sign up! Call 925-682-8248 for more information.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother's Day Cards

Intermediate Class shows off their Mother's Day Cards!

Instructor Fabiola Cardenas took our Intermediate class to Kinkos/Fed Ex Office on a field trip last Tuesday! The idea was for all the students to learn to use services and become more independent. In the introduction to Microsoft Word class, they had made Mother’s day cards and saved their work into their flash drives. After picking out their paper, everyone was able to print their work by themselves.

Fabiola explains, “to see my students fly with their own wings is the best compensation to my work. Our work is truly gratifying, no question about it!” Great job Fabiola, you’re great at inspiring your students!

Estela, an intermediate student, proudly shared her cards among family and friends. Then, orders started rushing her way. She now has two clients, one ordering a set of 50 birthday cards and a second person ordering 50 baptismal cards. Great job Estela, the Chavez Center is very proud of you and every committed, hard-working student!
Estela creates her famous card!
Students help each other learn to
work the printer for the first time
Proud students finally have their
work in hand!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Power Points and Professionalism

Right on time and dressed for success, last Wednesday our Microsoft Office students presented their formal PowerPoint slide shows.  Some were excited, some nervous, but everyone proudly shared their work. We started with Norberto who taught us how to manage our money and the importance of a budget.  Other presentations covered taking responsibility as a citizen, growing hydrangeas, El Salvador, Mexico, disaster readiness and many other great presentations.

It was amazing to see the students’ pride and how hard they are working. We’re all very thankful to their instructor Eduardo for his knowledge, dedication and great passion to each and every student. Career Development Manager Romina explains, “To see what our students are doing is really a great motivation for all the staff to wake up and drive to work with a big smile, knowing that what we’re doing is really transforming lives.”

- Written by: Elba Velasquez, Program Manager

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Welcome to the Team, Blanca!

After her welcome party, Blanca and some of the staff joined the
Cooking Matters class outside for some stretches and exercises.
 Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) is already
becoming a part of daily life here!

We are pleased to announce that Blanca Campos, a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Masters in Public Health, joined our team on May 7, 2012 as the Healthy Living Program Manager! Born in Mexico and longtime Concord resident, Blanca has spent her entire career promoting a healthy lifestyle to low income, Spanish-speaking communities. Locally, she has worked with the Monument Community for over 16 years, and is well known in the county for her nutrition education and physical activity workshops.

As a Senior Health Educator at the County Public Health Department, she coordinated a county-wide social marketing campaign, encouraging residents to eat fruits and vegetables and practice daily physical activity. At Cambridge Community Center, a large child care provider in the heart of the Monument Community, she kicked off the passage of a well-known Food Policy and multifaceted nutrition and physical activity program, eventually changing how parents and staff think about food as it relates to setting a healthy foundation for their children and families.

With Monument Community Partnership and the Chavez Center, Blanca will primarily working on the HEAL Zone project, which aims to make the healthy choice the easy choice for residents and businesses in the Monument Community.

Welcome to the team, Blanca!

Blanca (center right) started as our HEAL Zone
Healthy Living Manager May 7th 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tax Season's Over- Time to Celebrate!

Mariachi music filled the Chavez Center last week as we celebrated our 25 much appreciated volunteers who helped create the massive success for our part in the United Way’s tax preparation program, Earn It! Keep It! Save It! By providing low to moderate income households with free, quality tax return preparation, MCP and the Chavez Center were able to assist 381 community members, and bring back a whapping $552,176 to the Monument area.

IRS representative Katia O'Sullivan presented a certificate, thank you card, and United Way gift bag to each volunteer. Claudia Velasco, MCP’s Community Activity Coordinator who organized the program, expressed her gratitude: “I have no words to thank all the volunteers for all the work they did and really appreciate their time and interest in helping our community!”

County-wide the program was a huge success as well. Throughout the 18 sites, 3,209 returns were completed and $4.4 million in refunds were given back, a 32% increase over last year! Thank you to all the devoted volunteers who helped make this possible, and thank you to the United Way and their continual work to “live united!”

Friday, May 4, 2012

Taking Technology Above and Beyond

A group of technology students snuck across to the grocery store during break last week after finding out it was Elena’s birthday. Bringing back a beautiful cake, the class enthusiastically sang “Happy Birthday” to Elena, surrounding her with love and appreciation.

This gave their instructor, Elba, an idea. For their assignment that day, she emailed the class a picture of the celebration, and told them to crop their face from the photo and email it back to her. Well, Miguel did this right away, and then kept going. While the rest of the students finished up their assignment, Miguel got creative with some Word Art, Clip Art, borders and colors! When Elba went to check her email, both she and birthday-girl Elena had a wonderful surprise in their inboxes!

This sweet birthday wish is just an example of the family atmosphere of these classes, and how students who have never touched computers before are immediately putting their skills to work. “Miguel has such a great curiosity; he doesn’t let anything limit him. He makes no excuses and dedicates his time to go above and beyond what is expected of him.”

This is what inspires us.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Exploring the Concord Library

Half a dozen Career Development students from around the world piled into cars with a few translators and headed to the Concord Library last Thursday. Librarian Chris Brown warmly welcomed our group to the library, showing us around. As we gathered around a table in the children’s section, Chris explained the many benefits of having a library card and utilizing the many library programs available. For example, they have free legal consultation nights, English as Second Language resources, children’s programs, DVD rentals, and computer and Wi-Fi access. The students were thrilled by how much the library has to offer and surprised to find out how easy it is to get involved.

Since most of the Career Development students hadn’t been to the library yet, Chris set us up on computers and within minutes Sandy had filled out her application and received her library card! As the rest of the group received their cards, Program Manager Romina Gonzalez explained that after seeing everyone's enthusiasm for getting out in the community, they would be doing many more field trips in the future!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cooking Matters

Early Tuesday morning MCP was brought to life with dozens of bags of fresh produce. As instructor Ana and her team quickly set up each station with fresh cilantro, carrots, avocados, and lemons, the participants in their second week of the Coooking Matters workshop eagerly took their places to help cook this week’s menu. With washed hands, aprons, hair nets, and big smiles, each participant grabbed a vegetable to chop as Ana led them in conversation about the health benefits of each ingredient.

The scent of the veggie tacos with yams and black beans, guacamole and fresh salsa quickly filled the room along with laughter. One participant named Mr. Peni explained “I’ve cooked the meal we learned last class three times this week! My first try was not so good. But by the second one my kids were asking for seconds and said they really liked it!” Another participant explained that her daughter usually hates celery, “but last week she was reading in my workbook about all the health benefits of celery, and when she tried them in the meal I made, she said it tasted pretty good! So the next night we made ceviche with lots of celery in it and we loved it.”

Soon enough, all the fresh produce was chopped and 
sautéed and it was time to start eating! As Ana served up plates of food for everyone to try, a nutritionist shared lots of tips for reading nutrition labels and making sure you get enough whole grains. Everyone was engaged asking her questions about different kinds of sugar and oil, even as they ate their delicious tacos. It’s clear that Cooking Matters, one of MCP’s HEAL Zone health projects, is transforming community attitudes about healthy eating and living.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Highlighting St. Agnes' JustFaith Group

On a rainy Thursday morning last week, we were happy to see some familiar faces walk in to the Chavez Center. Carrying platters of home-cooked food, five members of the JustFaith group faithfully provided their monthly breakfast to our Day Labor members. JustFaith is a group from St. Agnes that has been volunteering with the Chavez Center since November 2010. Each month they bring an early morning breakfast to the members, who believe it or not get to the center around 6:00am.

As always, their care for our members was evidenced by their conversations. Asking how each member made it to the center that morning, they showed concern for the members who had to ride bikes or walk in the rain to get here. Desiring to help them practice English, we discussed the most beautiful places everyone had been, with answers such a Yosemite, Sausalito, and Malecón, Cuba.

Each month, the JustFaith group usually celebrates birthdays with the members, but this month nobody present had an April birthday. That was until Flor, Natural Home Cleaning (formerly Green & Clean) member, walked through the door. When the JustFaith group found out her birthday was that weekend, the whole room burst out into two rounds of “Happy Birthday,” first in English and then in Spanish. Presenting her with a chocolate muffin lit with a single candle, Flor was overwhelmed by the excitement.

It is obvious to all of us here at the Chavez Center that JustFatih has a genuine passion for serving our members.  Thank you for brightening everyone's day each month with your encouragement and love!

Funders from Early 2012

2012 has brought some exciting new grants and donations, and we are proud  to announce several of our recent funders:
  •  The Chevron Corporation contributed $25,000 at the end of February to the Stride Computer Repair Program. This rigorous 6-month long course prepares students to pass the A+ computer repair certification exam and jump into an IT career. As a long-time funder of the Chavez Center, Chevron “recognizes that business success is deeply linked to society's progress.”
  •  The Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company granted a much appreciated donation of $10,000 in April. We want to thank the Tesoro Corporation for its long-standing relationship with the Chavez Center. They continually demonstrate their commitment through their contributions to improving the quality of life of the broader community and for being a part of the movement for a better future!
  • Cliff Consulting, Inc. made an unexpected donation just last week as a first-time funder for the Chavez Center! As part of their 40th Anniversary Community Giving Program, the Chavez Center was nominated to receive a $100 donation in honor of "The Valued Clients and Staff of Cliff Consulting, Inc."

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

Thumbs Up for Technology

Students were excited to share some news with Program Manager Elba when she walked into the Intermediate Computer class Saturday morning. Though they had been quietly exploring how to format and insert images into a garage sale flyer, hands shot into the air when they were asked to share how their new skills had become useful lately.  

Susanna spoke up first, explaining that her work had caught the attention of her boss. All the students had recently created and printed their own iron-on designs to create a shirt, apron, or tote as a class project. When Susanna wore the shirt she created to work, her boss was so impressed that she asked if Susanna would sell one to her as well. “It makes me feel proud to know that I can use what I've learned and make some money at the same time.” Once she was able to sell one to her boss, Susanna was inspired to make a bunch more and send them home to her friends and family in Ecuador. 

Maricel then jumped in with her own story. She explained that for the project she had created an apron for her sister’s birthday. When her sister wore it to work, all of her coworkers were so impressed they asked Maricel to make one for each of them as well. “I was not so sure, but through Susana’s story I’ve realized that yes, I can do it and even bring some income home. I’m learning that I can do things I never would have imagined.” 

Students' Projects on Display in Computer Lab

Friday, April 6, 2012

Safety Net Funders Visit Monument Community

Thursday morning there was nothing but hustle and bustle as staff prepared for a visit from the Safety Net Funders Network. Membership in the network consists of more than 25 funders -- some that already give to MCP and the Chavez Center and others that do not. On Thursday, their destination was the Monument community and their goal was to learn about the organizations serving this at-risk population.

Their tour of the Monument area began with an hour spent at MCP. Our very own Elba delivered a moving story of her experiences as an introduction to the characteristics of the Monument. Then MCP’s staff and partners showed how they were serving this community, explaining their various programs. The group them popped their heads into First 5 to see the classes and services at work there.

The next stop on their trip brought them to the Chavez Center. In a whirlwind adventure the funders met with each program manager and saw each at work with clients. ESL classes, poster board presentations and computer classes were all on display for the group to see. In fact, while learning about the Day Labor program, they actually witnessed the program in action as two members were hired at that very moment.

Funders look in on ESL classes.
The Safety Net Funders Network participants asked several questions as they rushed out the door with their press kits in hand. From the Chavez Center, the group went on to visit other very valuable safety net organizations serving the at-risk Monument population. These were the MonumentCrisis Center, La Clinica and Shelter Inc.

De La Salle Teachers Spend a Day at the Chavez Center

Some time ago a teacher from De La Salle High School asked the Chavez Center to host some teachers who would like to volunteer for a day. April 4 was that day.

Tasked with making our ESL classroom an inviting and exciting place to learn, the De La Salle teachers brought tremendous enthusiasm. Tapping into their creative genius the two volunteers, Andrew and Jay, put their paper-cutting and gluing skills to work. While their contributions to the ESL room gave new life and organization to the white walls, their greatest gifts were the conversations with staff.

It was clear their minds were searching for more ways to help beyond this single day. Andrew asked about our volunteer opportunities, taking to heart our biggest needs. Suddenly they began throwing out names of students and staff who could be great fits.

Then a big discovery happened – one of these teachers held the title of Director of Technology. Mike, the Executive Director of the Chavez Center, drummed up conversation with this teacher explaining how our tremendous growth over the past years has put our IT at capacity. Poking around our IT setup, he had just the equipment we had been looking for. He also volunteered to guide IT strategy for our merged organization. What an amazing offer!

The teachers imparted a strong dose of encouragement and inspiration. Marveling at the Chavez Center’s work, Jay remarked a few times that he was glad to have learned about us and wished he had known about us sooner. We could say the same thing!

Thank you to De La Salle for arranging this fantastic volunteer day and thinking of the Chavez Center.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day Laborers Learn Vocabulary for Tools

There was an exciting twist in ESL this Tuesday. With props covering the table, Day Laborers learned the vocabulary for many of the tools they use every day in their jobs. This special workshop gave the Day Laborers a chance to practice practical English, with examples of picks, shovels, pitchforks, facemasks, ear protection, and much more. They even explored idioms and different meanings of words such as “give me a break,” and “I’m taking my break.”

Pedro, Day Labor Program Assistant was impressed by the quality of the workshop, “I thought it was amazing—I even learned a few new words myself! The instructors kept it very interesting, and I hope we can do it again sometime.” For about an hour and a half, ESL instructors Fran and Kristin kept the men engaged and the feedback from all the men was overwhelmingly positive. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boldly Becoming Tech Savvy

Computer classes seem to be brimming with stories lately, and we couldn’t help wanting to share our excitement! Here are just a few:

Miguel, a welder and one of the Beginner Computer Class students, had never touched a computer before he came to the Chavez Center. “Computers were intimidating to me before, but now that I’ve started classes I’m not afraid anymore.” This new spirit of confidence and determination caused him to go home and look around on the family computer. To his surprise, it had all of the Microsoft Office programs he had been learning about. Not really knowing what he was doing, he opened up Publisher and started exploring. Soon enough he had inserted text, images, and successfully created a business card for himself. Elba Velasquez, Technology Empowerment Program Manager, explains, “Now that he’s not afraid of computers anymore, he has this fabulous curiosity combined with the confidence that will enable him to do anything. I’m really happy with the remarkable progress he has already made.”

 Arturo, an intermediate computer student, had been working for a company doing manual labor for some time. But just last week an exciting change happened. Noticing the hard work that Arturo had been putting in, his boss gave him a promotion. Now Arturo works for a higher wage in an office where he puts his computer skills to good use. "He is really noticing the changes he can have in his life with hard work," commented Program Manager Elba. Staff has also noticed how Arturo has become a lot more self-assured in class and is no longer the quiet, reserved student he once was.

In the beginner class Adela put into practice her new skills in a very critical moment. With her family back in Peru facing legal issues, she was put in a situation where she needed to get documents to the Peruvian embassy in San Francisco urgently. Even though she has been learning computer for just three months, these skills suddenly became vital to helping her family.  All on her own, Adela was able to prepare and save documents and send attachments to the embassy. Once signed and legally processed, she’ll travel to Peru to see her family, and will hand deliver the document, which will resolve the problem. What amazing timing for such key skills!

The Chavez Center is proud to see such rapid progress in the Technology students. Each day lives are being changed for the better through the fresh outlook on life these new skills and confidence bring. This empowerment is transforming the students’ families and the broader community, and we are very thankful to the many people who make it possible through volunteering, donations, partnerships, and spreading the word about what the Chavez Center!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cindy's Going Away Party

Although last Tuesday morning marked a bittersweet farewell as Cindy Molander retired from the Day Labor English classes, we were glad to celebrate her many years of dedication. Over the past three years, she touched the lives of the staff, her fellow teachers, and many students, and while we will miss her faithful presence at the Chavez Center every Wednesday and Friday, her students are grateful for the English skills she has equipped them with.
As one of her former students explained, “When I first came to the Chavez Center, I took my Basic English class with Cindy. It was the skills I learned in that class that were the foundation for my success through each of the following classes. What she taught me was so valuable, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Thank you very much for all of your help, Cindy. Thank you.” Other former students handed her a bouquet of red roses and said thank you, making it clear through the whole morning what an impact Cindy has made in each of their lives, and how valuable was the time she had spent at the Chavez Center.

Thank you Cindy, for your dedication, your passion, and the countless lives you’ve changed through your work here. You truly embody our mission to empower the people of Monument Community to become financially self-sufficient, realize their personal potential and actively participate in the community!

We would also like to take a moment and thank the many volunteers who, like Cindy, tirelessly work to transform the community through economic opportunity. We couldn’t do it without you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NDLON: Dignity and Respect for All Day Laborers

The life of a day laborer can be described in many ways, but inspirational or united are few of the words ever associated with them. For us, these are word we use to describe the Day Labor Program members nearly every day. Their stories of finding work, becoming health promoters, teaching one another valuable construction skills, planning an “English day”, and suggesting website updates are just some of the ways that we see the valuable contributions they can and do make to our community. These are just some examples of how members here in Concord are inspiring change in their community. Could you imagine what stories nationwide would be like?

Well in February, a group of day laborers had the opportunity to meet with people just like themselves from across the nation. Staff and members  representing the Chavez Center attended the 6th National Assembly put on by the Nation Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON). In a movement to “turn the tides,” NDLON’s event drew hundreds of day laborers from all states with diverse backgrounds. Staff and members met with leaders from worker centers across the nation as well as the men and women who are part of these centers.

Then the air of solidarity set in. Workers gave workshops, held presentations, and led trainings. Speakers covered topics about rights, working conditions and safety. Sharing their pains as well as their triumphs brought the group together with the common vision of upholding dignity and justice for one another. To show just how far they had come, the group took their united front into the public eye as they marched the streets with signs declaring their optimism for a better future.

Following the National Assembly, our members presented to their peers everything they had learned from the experience. Most importantly, there is a renewed sense of motivation and pride among the day laborers. They are proud to be at the Chavez Center and call Concord their home. Many other worker centers are not welcome in their communities. With that in mind, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of you, our supporters and advocates, for supporting the Chavez Center's work in the community.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Employment Trend Signals “Genuine Recovery”

The U.S. unemployment rate, from Feb. 2007 to Feb. 2012.
The U.S. unemployment rate 
has been receding from its highest
point, reached in late 2009.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: NPR
With the Labor Department reporting 227,000 workers hired in February, and more than 200,000 jobs added in each of the last three months, the past six months of job growth have been the strongest in almost six years. It looks like recovery and growth are in the future, which is excellent news for the more than 800 job-seekers who come to the Michael Chavez Center each year. In fact for them, the previous year of slow economic growth was not as apparent. This is because 2011 marked record high employment numbers for Chavez Center clients with 105 finding new part-time and full-time positions to support themselves and their families.

Seeing the incredible resilience and passion in the community, the Chavez Center has adopted new, creative strategies and programs to continue to bring opportunities to the community. Job seekers are finding the support and training that puts them on a pathway to stability. Whether computer training, manual labor, English classes, business development, job search skills, or one-on-one career guidance, clients can find a service tailored to their individual career goals. “Our vision is for more and more people to get jobs locally, so that they can contribute to the local economy. It really is a benefit to everyone,” says Executive Director Mike Van Hofwegen.

President Obama explained Friday that, "Day by day, we're creating new jobs. But we can't stop there, not until everybody who's out there pounding the pavement, sending out their resumes, has a chance to land one of those jobs." The Chavez Center is proud to be excelling in this mission. 

To read more about the recent trends in the American Job Market, go to NPR: Job Trend.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Stride of Success

On Monday Feb. 27th, many of our Stride Computer Repair students were able to attend the Friends and Family Event. Many brought their children, spouses, parents, and even grandparents, and it was an opportunity for students to show their loved ones around the center and introduce them to the instructors. While everyone was beaming, proudly showing their friends and families around the Center, we ran into Concord A+ Generation-5 student, James O’Hanrahan. He had only good things to say about his experience with the Chavez Center’s Stride class:

"Currently, I am attending the Stride Center’s A+ certification prep class at the Michael Chavez Center in Concord, and I find it very helpful and inspiring.

Before I was allowed in the A+ program, Technology Program Manager Elba Velasquez tested me to see if the course was the right level for me, and that I would fit with the other students in the class. This is evidence to me that the Stride and Michael Chavez Centers really care about who they represent and who they let represent them. The other students in my class are friendly, fun, willing to help me learn, and very hardworking—this must be because the Stride Center and the Michael Chavez Center encourage this kind of thinking and a safe environment. Other than providing a safe environment for scholarly learning, such as how to prep for the A+ test, the Stride and Michael Chavez Centers also teach soft-skills, like how to communicate effectively, to represent oneself well, to listen to others effectively, and to deal with time-management and stress. These soft-skills will ensure that the Stride Center and the Michael Chavez Center students are marketable and ready for employment when the time comes.

My A+ prep teacher, Mr. Norman Trudeau , actively encourages students to participate and to learn. I have never known such an experience—I now know that I want to learn, and feel motivated because I can see what my learning’s end result will be: a career. I know that I have the support I need from the Stride Center and the Michael Chavez Center to reach that goal. I have developed feelings of purpose and of hope.        
A big Thank You to the Stride Center and Michael Chavez Center!"

2,000 Hours of Dedication

This past week, dozens of Chavez Center staff and guests gathered for a luncheon to thank the men and women who generously volunteered their time last year to the center. The 2nd Annual Thanks for Giving Luncheon took place on Friday the 24th at the Faith Christian Fellowship Church in Walnut Creek. There was a spirit of cheerfulness in the air between the smiling faces, bright seasonal decorations, and warm early spring sunshine coming through the windows.

After some initial mingling, the guests all sat down to enjoy a festive and delicious lunch brought from Chopan Kabob, an Afghani restaurant in Concord near the Chavez Center. Then different Staff members each took time to present certificates of appreciation to the volunteers and to say a few words of gratitude. As current volunteer Elise Gelston notes, not all who help out at the center are formal volunteers, but contribute a great deal nonetheless: “I also liked that the staff acknowledged the hours of help received from day laborers and others who use the center-- people who don't sign a volunteer log but fix things around the center so that it runs smoothly on a daily basis!”

As a non-profit organization, the Chavez Center relies on community-minded volunteers to help with a variety of tasks which supplement and support the hard work done by staff members in all programs. From the Day Labor Program, to ESL, Computer Classes and general office support, volunteers logged about 1,400 hours of work at the center! The work put in ranged from a variety of tasks such as covering the front desk, maintaining the center in general, translating written materials into Spanish, assisting in the computer courses, working one-on-one with clients in the fast growing career development program, and in countless other ways.

However, those 1,400 hours only count the time actually tracked throughout the year. When one takes into consideration the hours put in by board members and others which are not accounted for in the Volunteer Log, the numbers are actually estimated at 2,000! That’s all time kindly donated by community members who are truly dedicated to seeing Concord thrive and prosper as a community. The Chavez Center is truly grateful to all of the volunteers who make that end goal all the more possible through their generosity and commitment. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Change in Progress: Elbert's Story

For many people, the current economy has been a challenge, but Elbert, one of our current Stride students, has been able to overcome

In the food industry, Elbert found himself at a dead-end and under extreme situations of stress. “A person can only take so much…, so I needed a career change,” recalls Elbert. His new career choice? Office work. He picked up Microsoft Office for Dummies book and taught himself the computer skills he needed. From here he worked several years in office jobs. His last job with Longs Drugs ended when the company closed their doors. That’s when things got tough. While severance money covered his rent for several months, his job search was turning up fruitless. Eventually money ran out and he lost his apartment and was homeless for about a year. When a family member took him in, his nights spent sleeping in parks and trails came to an end, but his job search did not. His story continues…

“I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and I was becoming discouraged. I felt like giving up being in my 40s and homeless. It felt like my life was over, but I’m one who never gives up. So I continued to look for a job with no success. I applied with a temp agency and was informed that since I have been out of work for 3 years that I need to establish work experience to secure a position with the agency. After talking to my niece, she suggested that since I had repaired a few computers, I should try to get some type of training. But I needed a job, I needed my life back. I continued looking for a job at the career center, when I ran the Stride Center website and I saw the classes that were offered.

The one that caught my attention was the A+ Technician class. I was very happy and made the call right away to the Stride Center. Carley from the Stride in Oakland made an appointment for me right away, I went to the orientation in October 2011 where I was given information about the class. I went home feeling good about the information that I had received. I then came to the Concord Campus and spoke to Elba. She was very professional and kind. They informed me that I was accepted into the A+ technical class. I cried for a moment because this was like a dream come true. On my bus ride home, I was thinking about how after three years of being homeless, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

His resilience and can-do attitude inspired Stride Center and Chavez Center staff alike. Navigating through the public transit system, Elbert makes sure he does not miss a class. In fact, he shows up early for his class every day as he puts his all into this training experience.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Numbers are In!

It looks like 2011 was a year of leaps and bounds at the Chavez Center. Last year the Chavez Center had more programs, partners, staff, volunteers, and donors than ever, which meant that we could touch the lives of more people than ever.  Thank you to everyone who made this year such a success! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Going for Greatness: Oak Grove Middle at the Chavez Center

A group of middle school students came through the doors of the Chavez Center bringing heart-warming news. With them they had boxes of warm clothing to donate to the members.

On the morning of February 8, a group of students from Oak Grove Middle School, accompanied by their Principal and staff, came to the Chavez Center to donate clothes and to meet our members. After the Day Labor members helped carry in several boxes of sweatshirts and sweat pants, the two groups exchanges some inspiring words.

“It’s hard to find warm winter clothes,” one Day Labor member explained to the group. “And after a day of working, our clothes are often very dirty.” Beyond thanking Oak Grove Middle School for the clothes, the members also expressed how grateful they were for generous people like them who identify with the needs of our community.

Principal Lisa Murphy Oates explained that the theme for the year is “Going for Greatness” and as part of that movement, Oak Grove Middle School is putting in a full effort, doing all they can. As part of this, they want to make it a priority to get students connected to their community. “We want to show our students that it’s important to give,” said Principal Murphy Oates.

Although this was their first time visiting the Chavez Center, it is not the first time that Oak Grove Middle School has reached out the Chavez Center. In the past they have provided donations to our members. We look forward to building an ongoing relationship as we move forward. We would like to thank Principal Lisa Murphy Oates, Martha Potts, Oak Grove Middle school Students and staff, and the board – your generosity in the community is an inspiration to us.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Free Tax Return Service is Back

Free tax service to the community! That’s right. Just like past years, the Chavez Center is home to an Earn it! Keep it! Save it! tax return service. Tax professionals are volunteering their time to help our community members file their taxes and get the credits back that you need.

Get your taxes done today!
Chavez Center hours for 
tax services are:
Thursday 4:00-8:00pm
Friday 4:00-8:00pm
Saturday 12:00-6:00pm

Call to make an appointment today!

If you have any questions, contact or call 925-682-8248.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

CalWorks at Work in People's Lives

Monday, January 16 marked the beginning of Career Development’s new government partnership as a Calworks Welfare-to-Work site. Our new staff in the program had been hard at work preparing material and lessons to have a huge impact on our first cohort of clients. As we come to an end with the first group of clients, we are happy to see them walk away with a pathway they are set to follow.

Two women made up this first group of the many to come. Although they were two different stories, they did share a lot in common as low-income single moms with no one encouraging them to achieve something. Then there was a transformation. They have goals and they are going places. One of them aims to be the star of her own business as she takes a business development course through Women’s Initiative. The other is hitting the books as she heads back to school to earn a GED.

Romina and her Career Development staff will continue to support these two women and see how they progress toward their employment goals.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Technology Classes: What's New?

Today is the day. January 17, 2012 students are pouring back into the Chavez Center. Unlike other sessions of classes, this is the first that is really focusing on jobs. What’s new in these classes? What makes them different? Here are 5 reasons why this semester of classes will lead to great things.
  1. They are 6 months long. Meaning that our teachers, staff and case managers have more time to support and help students fulfill their personal and professional goals. This also gives us more time to squeeze in more important lessons.
  2. More English. While computer skills are excellent tools for just about anything – from communicating and researching to applying for jobs and doing homework – English is just as important. School and job applications can be very difficult here in the U.S. without English knowledge. Plus, most of the computers you work with function in English. Overall, it’s just a great skill to have. The best part about the English instruction? It’s integrated into students’ classes ever day, so they don’t have to struggle with scheduling conflicts that might keep them from taking classes.
  3. Job search help in class. Speaking of integration, here is another great idea hatched at the Chavez Center. While students are learning computer skills, they’ll practice them through assignments that are applicable to their job search or to the workplace environment. With internet skills, why not practice searching for job openings? Or those new Microsoft Word skills could really be put to the test in developing a resume. Not only that, but Career Development staff will also regularly visit the classes to provide direction and guidance to students.
  4. Work experience. Sitting in the classroom is great to learn the skills, but to really know it, you have to practice it. This year, for the first time, students in the Career Track classes will have the opportunity to gain work experience by volunteering, interning or job shadowing with the Chavez Center and partner organizations.
  5. New lessons. Our team of Technology Program staff and instructors has been hard at work putting together new lesson plans that are exciting and job-focused. Don’t worry… they’re not too much different. But we hope that you’ll find the changes helpful to yourself, your family and your community.

There you have it. If you’re not convinced by now, let me give you one more reason. We care. At the Chavez Center, we want each and every one of our students to be successful and achieve their potential. We aim to stay in contact with each of our students and make sure that they are on the right track and have the right resources to get where they need to go.

We’ll let you know how it all goes. In the meantime, think about whether you or someone you know might be interested in these classes. Visit our technology program’s webpage to find out more.
Do you have input about our classes and how they’re going? Send an e-mail our way, and we’ll be happy to hear your thoughts.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The gifts we give, the gifts we receive

Thank you to everyone who has given a gift this holiday season. We have seen gifts of it be friendship, hygiene kits, computers or money abound. The Chavez Center is privileged to be a part of your giving. Here’s your recap on all of the giving that you did for our community through the Chavez Center this holiday season…

On December 19 you came to the Chavez Center to wrap and fill boxes for the Adopt a Family: Tidings of Technology. With friends and family you managed to cover the oddest shaped boxes with festive wrapping paper. You also worked out a great loading system, filling the boxes with a computer, mouse, monitor, cables, and keyboard – everything a grateful family needed to get setup on their new computer.

Before we could get together for wrapping, we had to get the computers from somewhere. Turns out a lot of organizations, people and businesses had a lot to pass on. So here’s a big shout out to each of you! City of Concord provided tons of computers for us to repair and upgrade. A student in our computer repair course put us in contact with CA Transplant Donor Network stepped in and gave some nice equipment and parts (including much needed monitors!) to continue the endeavor. And a church member had her company donate monitors (yay!) to help the cause as well.

This next story requires a little backstory. JustFaith is a group from St. Agnes that has been volunteering with the Chavez Center for more than a year. Each month they bring an early morning breakfast to the day laborers, who believe it or not get to the center around 6:00am. Over their time with us, JustFaith has constantly found more ways to give. This year they brought hygiene kits for the day labor members – just a little extra something for the holidays that makes a big difference in our clients’ self-confidence and motivation.

One of our favorite holiday stories this year comes from our clients. While Chavez Center staff, volunteers, donors and supports have given so much, this holiday season the members gave us a precious gift. As part of the day labor program, members commit to learning specialized skills, which are usually related to manual labor. In a moment of inspiration our day labor members decided to begin a unique training opportunity. Over the course of two days the workers transformed a pile of wood into a 15-foot Christmas tree, complete with star, lights and ornaments. Out for everyone to see, this was the day laborers expression of the Christmas spirit as they gave what they could.

Thank you all – clients and community alike – for all of the ways that make the holidays such a blessing at the Chavez Center.