.Community Ties

cover01Five nonprofits pave the way for transformation in our annual Community Fund issue

A community is only as strong as the individuals who inhabit it. Therefore, it only makes sense that communities should work together to empower their residents and provide a safe haven for children to grow up in. Such is the shared ambition of the five family resource centers throughout Santa Cruz County, each dedicated to serving the members surrounding their specific geographic location. There’s the Davenport Resource Service Center to provide services to families on the North Coast, Mountain Community Resources in the San Lorenzo Valley, Live Oak Family Resource Center located mid- county, Familia Center in Santa Cruz and La Manzana Community Resources in Watsonville. Together, these family resource centers provide a host of helpful programs to ensure parents, children and individuals have the opportunity to lead safe, healthy and constructive lives. See donation guide at bottom

How do all the resource centers collaborate to build stronger communities? By banding together with the shared principles that families and individuals have the resources they need to improve themselves, the centers offer a wide array of services and programs ranging from car seat distribution to resume writing services. In addition to providing family resources like parent education or healthcare for children, the centers also work jointly with other local non-profits including Second Harvest Food Bank or Planned Parenthood to ensure needy people receive assistance. “We have multiple missions out of the different centers, but they all serve to strengthen family and community,” says Elizabeth Schilling, director of the Live Oak Family Resource Center. With the four core areas of focus being strong families, strong youth, engaged communities and strong communities, there is no doubt that the family resource centers of Santa Cruz County will achieve the common goal of building a brighter future for all residents. Spotlights on the nonprofits are featured on the following pages, but take note of information located at the end of each article, which specifically lists ways to contribute. | Leslie Patrick



No matter what sorts of financial difficulties you’ve had this year, you need only think of all the hungry, forlorn homeless people camping out in the bitter cold of winter to feel grateful for what you have. These people’s concerns aren’t for how they’re going to pay their Comcast bills or afford presents for their loved ones this year—they’re fighting for mere survival.
That’s where Davenport Resources Service Center (DRSC) comes in. For nearly 30 years, DRSC has been providing services to underprivileged people from the edges of Westside Santa Cruz all the way north along the Highway 1 corridor to the San Mateo County line. The main program at DRSC is the Food Pantry: The facility’s faculty works closely with Second Harvest Food Bank to provide food for people in need. The center’s other services include transportation assistance for seniors as well as medical clinics and clothing distribution for the low-income and farm worker population.
DRSC Program Director Francisco Serna tells of a homeless woman who was very sick when she came to the facility. After cooking warm soup for her, helping her get cleaned up and getting her some over-the-counter meds, the center’s faculty took the woman to a clinic in town. About two weeks later, she dropped by DRSC with the news that she’d had pneumonia and had been in grave danger. “Had she not come into the center and gotten attention, things may have taken a turn for the worse,” Serna notes. 
The program director also recalls the time a young man came to the DRSC’s health clinic complaining of having low energy and generally not feeling well. The clinic’s health practitioners discovered that the man had a heart condition. Within 24 hours, he was undergoing heart surgery in a Bay Area hospital. “They said he would not have lasted very long, because he had severe heart problems,” Serna states. “Had he not come in here, he probably would have died very soon.”
DRSC isn’t solely devoted to helping the homeless, however. Its teen program offers various educational and recreational services to kids and adolescents having difficulties with parents, school and community. “At the teen center, they take an interest and get involved in civic engagement, volunteering and helping the community out,” Serna explains.
“Eventually they get interested in school again, and they do well.” Serna shares an example of a success story from earlier this year: As a result of her tutoring assistance and involvement in the teen center, a high school girl who had been doing poorly in school for the past eight years walked into his office and showed him a report card consisting of straight “A”s.
DRSC also provides space for the North Coast’s senior population. In addition to holding gatherings for these seniors every other month, the center checks up on their well-being via phone calls, visits, and grocery deliveries.
In recent times, DRSC has also been involved in the efforts to fight the fires at Lockheed and on Martin Road in Bonny Doon, and the center served as a Red Cross evacuation center during this past October’s storm.
Not surprisingly, the center is going through financial hardships right along with the rest of us. According to Serna, budget cuts are taking place year after year. “Health-wise, that’s a big issue, because a lot of the families up here don’t have coverage for medical situations,” he says. “People come to us expecting to receive services, and it just becomes very, very challenging to try to meet those needs with the limited resources that we have.”
Along with donating blankets and clothing (especially jackets), people can help DRSC by contributing money to help purchase clothing and over-the-counter meds for the families of farm workers out in the fields. Serna notes that for these people, poor living conditions often lead to health problems such as pneumonia and bronchitis. “They’re the ones who pick our crops; they’re the ones who keep our organic produce on the shelves,” Serna points out. “So, a big plus would be to get some assistance to help them.”  | J.D. Ramey

Give: to the Davenport Resource Service Center through the Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.

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It’s that time of year. The communal spirit is in the air. But it seems to be always be in the air for Familia Center of Santa Cruz.
“We’re one of the few non-profits that does a food program of this size,” says Yolanda Henry, executive director of the center. She says the center distributes food twice a month to 50 households. That works out to 300 households a year on average, providing roughly 1200 to 1300 individuals with meals.
The meals that the center provides to families in need in the community are only part of its devotion to public health. They also offer health screenings, including anemia, blood pressure, and glucose screenings (which, given the prevalence of diabetes among Latinos, are of great importance).
“It’s worked out really well,” says Henry. “It gives to people who, no matter what happens in Washington, are still going to be excluded from access to health care.”
The center offers classes and programs designed to inform people about the importance of eating healthily, which they augment by assisting with applications for food stamps. “You can tell a person to eat healthy,” says Henry. “But if they don’t have the income to do that they go back to the $1 hamburger … so food stamps are a way to mitigate that.”
But let’s not get too caught up in the spirit of the holidays when Familia Center brings so much more than food to the table. Some of their other programs and services include a variety of workshops, dealing with topics from domestic violence to drug abuse, form and application assistance, translation, after school tutoring, summer youth programs, and parenting classes in Spanish.
“We provide a lot of advocacy for people on a variety of issues,” says Henry, speaking specifically about helping individuals with employee rights issues. “Sometimes we don’t have to do any more than just give them the information, because they feel empowered then, they’ve come to this trusted reliable source.”
Henry, who runs the center with the help of only five dedicated employees, says they’ve only seen the public need for their services increase over time. “If we serve a thousand households a year there’s probably a thousand that we’re not seeing.”
Familia Center is always looking for volunteers from the community to help with any of their myriad programs, and Henry mentioned that they are very grateful to the students from UCSC who volunteer every year.
Donations are always appreciated, especially at this time of year when the holidays can be particularly hard on low-income families. One of the holiday services the center provides is giving gift cards to impoverished youth at Christmas.
It’s a time of year that can be as hard for some as it is joyful for others, a fact that the recent slide in economy and statewide funding cuts have done nothing to help. Still, Henry seems confident in Familia Center’s ability to help those in need, and with their role in the community.
“In the City of Santa Cruz we’re really, with 25 years, a full fledged family resource center,” says Henry. | Ezra Koch

Give: to the Familia Center through the Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.


Lending a Hand La Manzana Community Resources

Imagine yourself uprooted from all that you’ve known. Imagine, through some unforeseeable combination of necessity, desperation, and hope, finding yourself in a foreign land of high crime rates and higher prices where not many people speak your language. Now imagine a doorway opening in front of you, someone with a smiling face extending a helping hand. Imagine that and you’ll begin to have some idea of what La Manzana Community Resources (LMCR) is all about.
The grounds of LMCR isn’t what you might expect of a non-profit dedicated to helping those in need, though maybe it should be. The bright colors, murals, and open courtyard create a beautiful setting, one to inspire hope in people in despair.
“Usually people, if they have a question or they have a need, they wind up here,” says Celia Organista, director of LMCR.
The center holds several workshops regularly, including Spanish Literacy, Parent Education, Kinder Tutoring, Summer Lunch and Snack Program, and a community leadership program. But these programs are only part of the whole picture.
“Assistance, information, and referral: that’s the core of what we do,” says Organista. “Within a radius of two blocks of here there are 15 different organizations we interact with in dealing with our clients.”
Since LMCR’s creation more than 20 years ago, it has strived to help people in the community and at large with nearly any problem presented to them. From referring people to physicians and lawyers, to providing nutritious food to those in need, to tutoring children and adults, to filling out official documents; LMCR has done it all. Their work, however, is far from over.
“Unfortunately, the need has continued to grow,” says Organista. “Even though, for instance, the forms we were filling out 20 years ago were in English, and now maybe they’re in Spanish, if you have a population that’s basically illiterate it doesn’t do any good.”
LMCR was the first resource center in Santa Cruz County, at a time when the idea of a resource center itself was still very new.  Since then the center has grown from two people in a little office off Main Street in Watsonville to the largest center of its kind in the county.  While Organista is extremely proud of the progress LMCR has been able to make, she says their primary function hasn’t changed since then. “It was just a couple of us doing pretty much what’s done at the drop-in center still; just basically helping.”
Organista says the center would love to expand its education and workshop programs in the long term, however given the current economic climate its main goal for the time being is to maintain their current programs and do them well. Donations from the community, whether monetary or in the form of volunteering, are very much appreciated and can be essential in this particularly tough time.
When asked about the cause of many societal problems (i.e. crime, abuse) in local communities, Organista’s response reveals the ground-level sympathy and understanding that has made LMCR so good at what it does:
“The core problem is that people are living in situations that are very stressful and little things that might not mean a lot at one point are going to be monumental if you don’t have your basic needs met. I think from there come all other social problems; when you don’t have the security that everybody needs.”
LMCR’s Drop-In Center is open Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is one door you never need a “foot-in” to get through.  The center’s philosophy is one of empowerment, not enabling. That they are there to help people grow in the community, not just to do things for them, is an important distinction to make.
“Our whole way of looking at things is first how do you help people,” says Organista, “but then how do you help them move beyond needing you.” |  Ezra Koch

Give: to the La Manzana Community Resources through the Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.



For thousands of years, people living in the same geographic locations have formed tight knit communities that attempted to protect their members from threats such as wild animals, famine, and even war. A community working together to help each other in times of need is certainly not a new concept. What has changed over the years are the threats facing such communities—instead of warding off bears or foreign armies, communities face growing social and economic pressures that can be just
as damaging.
Many citizens of the Live Oak community in Santa Cruz County face a constant struggle against factors such as gang violence, poverty and hunger. But there is no need to struggle through such threats alone. For the past nine years, the Live Oak Family Resource Center (part of the Community Bridges family of programs) has been striving to provide services and information that will positively impact people’s lives.
A crew of eight staff members and scores of volunteers run myriad programs and services that encourage a safe and healthy community. Childbirth preparation classes, youth mentoring, food distribution, ESL classes, parent education courses and healthcare enrollment are a mere smattering of the helpful services offered free of charge or on a sliding scale basis to families and individuals in need.
“People come in to find out how to get help,” says Elizabeth Schilling, director of the Live Oak Family Resource Center. “We help them get connected through information and referrals.” But more than just an informational hub, the center wants to engage people to step up and really participate in activities and legislation that will in turn enrich their lives. “Civic engagement is tied in with everything we do,” Schilling continues. “We look for leaders—people who want to work and who want to make changes.”
One such person is Jorge Savala. As both a volunteer at the center and a leader within the Live Oak community, Savala works diligently on public safety issues. His inexorable dedication to the center is based on his recollection of the struggles he had growing up in Live Oak. “The only thing my friends and I would do was head to the mall after school,” Savala says. “We would hang out at the arcade and the gang bangers would come there wearing red and blue. At age 17 I had been to six funerals. I had no hopes of getting to age 21.”
Despite his fear, Savala did indeed make it into his twenties, but not without extreme pain and suffering—his best friend was murdered six years ago in a case that still remains unsolved. “I became very enraged,” Savala remembers. At this point, Savala’s neighbor, a martial arts enthusiast, took Savala under his wing, helping him recognize that the answer to violence is not more violence. “It was an intervention for me,” Savala says. “He taught me how to use my brain to think positively and change my life. He kept me from going to prison or maybe even dying.” 
Savala has devoted his life to public safety and to helping the youth of Live Oak. “The reason I do this work is because I don’t want these kids to go through the same crap that I did,” Savala says. Had Savala been a child or young adult in Live Oak today, he could have participated in one of the center’s plethora of youth programs, thus perhaps saving himself the heartache he has faced due to violence in our community.
Construction has begun on a new community center that will be the Live Oak Family Resource Center’s new home as of September 2010, at which time Live Oak youth will have a productive and healthy place to congregate. “It will add a great boost to the Live Oak community,” Schilling, the center’s director says. To have something like this, brand new for our families, is going to be a real incentive to bring people to the Live Oak Family Resource Center.”
Although it is funded by a variety of sources including grants and government funds, the Live Oak Family Resource Center also relies on the generous giving done by members of our community. “The funding is always changing, but the desire to support families doesn’t change,” Schilling concludes. Although we don’t know what pressures the future holds, history tells us that if we pull together as a community, we will be well able to weather any type of storm that could possibly blow in. | Leslie Patrick

Give: to the Live Oak Family Resources through the Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.



Serving the rural San Lorenzo Valley, Mountain Community Resources is, one of “the only shows in town,” according to Executive Director Jennifer Anderson-Bähr. Started 28 years ago in response to major flooding, the organization was founded to help the local community respond to natural disasters.
These days, while emergency preparedness is still a major focus, MCR provides many more services to the community. Helping individuals find housing, health care, drug treatment and shelter from domestic violence are among some of the other major issues MCR addresses. The organization’s ultimate goal, however, according to Anderson-Bähr, is to empower people.
“We’re not a charity organization,” she says. “It’s not sustainable to just give handouts. We’re here to help people help themselves.”
Anderson-Bähr says MCR helps people identify how to reach their goals and points them in the right direction to do just that. If there is a longer-term need, MCR has advocates that can spend more time with individuals to ensure that those in need get where they want to go.
Mountain Community Resources teams with other local and national aid programs to provide services, including Santa Cruz AIDS Project, W.I.C. (Women, Infants and Children) and Santa Cruz County Mental Health Services.
The organization is a vital community link to many of its outside partners. Living in the small towns of the San Lorenzo Valley means community members may not be eligible for resources in Santa Cruz. Those who are eligible may have trouble getting to town. By partnering with other aid organizations, MCR provides remote access to such services.
One of the organization’s most recent challenges has been a rising Latino population in the San Lorenzo Valley. MCR provides services in Spanish at their facility and elsewhere throughout the community. When the Brookdale Lodge caught fire in August, many Spanish-speaking tenants living in the lodge’s apartments had to evacuate. MCR helped them fill out paperwork and find housing.
MCR has currently suspended ESL classes but plans to begin a new program utilizing a one-on-one approach soon. A recent donation of 15 computers will soon compliment the center’s two existing community computer stations, where people may drop in to access the Internet. MCR also has a telephone available for those who need it.
The rural nature of the surrounding communities has posed challenges to MCR. But, Anderson-Bähr says, it has also worked to her organization’s advantage. “This community is very close-knit,” she says. “Because of that, there was a strong network of neighbors helping neighbors before we even started.”
This rural community spirit also works as a communications organ for MCR—spreading the organization’s message by word of mouth. Anderson-Bähr says that few find out about MCR’s services on the Internet. Instead, people hear about MCR from friends, neighbors and other concerned community members. Mountain Community Resources also maintains a high profile throughout the San Lorenzo Valley by sending representatives to community events where they hand out literature on services and emergency preparedness.
All programs offered directly through MCR are free; independent, low-cost counselors operate out of MCR’s main office.
Anderson-Bähr has worked in the non-profit sector for 25 years. She spent many years in Africa, working for the American government and other international aid organizations, before she began working in Santa Cruz. She decided to come to MCR because she saw that many of the issues she was working to address in Africa were the very same issues residents in the San Lorenzo Valley were working to overcome.
She is proud of her work at Mountain Community Resources, saying that her staff strives to “make sure that MCR is really driving the course that it should. We are fulfilling a need within the community.” | Nick Veronin

Give: to Mountain Community Resources through the Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.

YOUR Involvement Matters!

Especially during this holiday season.

Please consider donating to one of these good causes we have researched and recommend all of them.
Good Times Community Fund online
or call 477-0800.


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