In a city with some of the highest rental prices in the country, paired with inflation costs and the pandemic’s consequences on mental health, low-to-free health services play a critical role in our county’s residents’ lives.
From womens’ services to public health to dental hygiene, organizations are stepping in to fill gaps in health services for those who might otherwise forgo taking care of themselves, whether for costs or access.
That’s where these organizations are stepping in, as they work to provide residents with the services that might otherwise be unavailable.
The Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center
The Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center recently celebrated its 90th anniversary of serving women in the community—a remarkable accomplishment, but Development Director Sarah Hirshland is already looking towards the next 90 years.
“My goal is where can we be, and how many more people can we hopefully help in the next 90,” Hirshland says.
Over nearly a century, the center has expanded its services dramatically. It started as a Young Women’s Christian Association center, with women and children’s clubs and focusing on advocacy work around womens’ issues. Since then, it has transformed into a multi-purpose center that addresses needs for women and families. In 2015, the organization changed its name to Walnut Avenue Family and Women’s Center.
“We really want to make sure that the community knows that we serve all folks,” Hirshland says. “We are working with the diversity center to help people who are non-binary or trans know hey, we’re here for everybody.”
The organization fields calls from women who are survivors of domestic abuse, provides an income-based daycare center that gives early education for 29 families, and most recently offers a rehabilitation program for perpetrators of violence—among other things.
“We’re here to offer our participants autonomy and support and healing, but it’s really about being trauma informed and to end cycles of trauma completely,” Hirshland says.
The center currently provides services for up to 200 people a month, but she says the area that is in the highest demand is for its domestic violence services. The center has a call center, where 60-70% are calling in need of immediate shelter to leave a dangerous situation.
“We want to help support families at the time that they’re fleeing—and that doesn’t end at a hotel stay, right—it’s like, now we can hopefully move this participant into housing,” Hirshland says. “We want to be the segue to getting more support and helping these families further succeed.
That is the organization’s project for Santa Cruz Gives. The center has a program that provides accommodations for people in immediate need, through partnership with various hotels, but the goal is to turn these accommodations into more permanent housing solutions. Through its housing program, Walnut Ave is working with local landlords to help further assist our participants and find permanent housing.
“We have the funds to help, but we really need more,” Hirshland says. “It’s an expensive place to house, it’s an expensive place to stay in. There’s just too many people who need these kinds of services right now.”
Additional Health And Wellness Organizations
Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley
For its Santa Cruz Gives campaign, the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley is building a new community garden at Muzzio Park in Watsonville, which is a neighborhood that is adjacent to the Pajaro River levee with high rates of poverty and food insecurity. The Muzzio Park Community Garden will provide communal space for 29 low-income households to grow their own produce to enhance well-being and increase access to fresh and nutritious food.
Hospice of Santa Cruz County
Annually, the Hospice of Santa Cruz County provides care to 1200 patients, 450 grief support clients, 200 participants in Advance Directive and Death Cafe workshops, 57 children at Camp Erin.
The organization plans on using campaign funds to support outreach and awareness programs to break down barriers to care, youth grief support, Camp Erin for children aged 7-17 who have experienced the loss of a loved one, and adult grief support groups.
Dientes Community Dental Care
As the county’s largest dental care provider, Dientes is a critical part of the safety net, serving 16,000 people annually. Santa Cruz Gives will help Dientes provide equitable access to oral health care. Its program helps address cost as a barrier to care by offering affordable sliding scale fees and free care to those who need it most. The campaign funds will support uninsured, low-resourced families with vital dental care that could allow someone to chew without pain, laugh uninhibited, or smile confidently. Oral health is a fundamental part of overall well-being.
Dominican Hospital Foundation
Dominican Hospital is a not-for-profit acute care hospital started by the Adrian Dominican that has a 222-bed hospital annually treats more than 40,000 emergency department visitors and
admits 11,000 patients. Funding from the Santa Cruz Gives campaign would go towards its Mobile Wellness Clinic, a 38-foot mobile medical van that helps address community needs by providing patients with episodic health and preventive services at no cost. Its services focus on the underserved and uninsured population.
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte served more than 10,500 patients at its Watsonville and Westside Santa Cruz health centers in 2023. With December marking 18 months since the Dobbs decision took away the federal constitutional right to safe and legal abortion, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte has worked to deliver care to people seeking abortion traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles out of their state, endure longer wait times, and risk their health and safety.
In all 34 of our health centers, patients can also access gender-affirming care. It will use the funds from Santa Cruz Gives to expand services and train abortion providers so that it can continue to provide care to all people no matter what.