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.