A Message From Our CEO
Dear Safe Passages Allies,
The world is radically different from the writing of our last newsletter. We are navigating the greatest public health, political, and socioeconomic crisis of our lifetime. COVID-19 exponentially amplifies the disparities experienced by people of color in America.
The disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection and morbidity among the Latinx/o and African American populations tell the familiar story of structural inequities. And although all Americas face unprecedented challenges, families of color must navigate the uniquely American intersection of historical economic, education, health, and political disparties. This intersection of disparity is where Safe Passages exists. As the families we serve are battered by the ongoing crisis we pivot to build crosswalks to lifelines of support. We are stretching our nimbleness to meet this moment and we can use your support.
Moving forward in this moment of unprecedented need, Safe Passages’ highest and most immediate priority is the physical and mental wellbeing of the families and children that we serve. While our mission of disrupting the cycle of poverty in Alameda County remains the same, the organization has shifted its immediate focus to meet the demand for basic needs and services in our communities; both during the pandemic and in the post-virus economy.
Josefina Alvarado-Mena, J.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Safe Passages
Families at the Center of Online Instruction and Health Support Transitions
“Safe Passages disrupts the cycle of poverty by engaging youth and families to build and drive a continuum of services that supports student success and community development”
More than words, the mission statement of Safe Passages represents a deep intentional commitment to the concept of mutual aid. We are the community we serve and that community serves us. Our families and community members “drive” the solutions, the services, and their futures. This is a key principle in the development of all community programs, whether related to education, socio-emotional development, public health, prevention, and intervention. No other principle is more relevant during this pandemic as we trust in our families to continue to move our children’s education forward. There is a common statement in Spanish that translates to “the community saves the community.”
As schools and instruction shifted to online learning, we have become increasingly aware of the need to have families as key partners in the both academic and socio-emotional learning and development of our children. At Safe Passages, we migrated to multiple online platforms almost seamlessly as we partner with schools and families to ensure that technology tools and one-on-one software training is provided to every family we serve.
This work has not occurred overnight, just like relationships do not grow in the course of one day or even three months. The ability of Safe Passages staff/families to stay engaged and actively participate in children’s education is the outcome resulting from years of practicing family engagement tenets that include:
- Respect for parents/caregivers as the first and most important teacher in a child’s life;
- Respect of cultural based practices and norms;
- Trust in that every parent wants the best for their children;
- Serve every family through an assets-based approach;
- Reliance on mutual aid practices;
- Programs that are designed and driven by users of services themselves are more effective; and
- Remove barriers to participation by meeting basic needs first; this allows all parents to be more engaged with their children’s learning and education.
Overcoming Obstacles and Delivering High Quality Online Summer Programs
Over the course of the last three months, Safe Passages programs have successfully migrated to online platforms with the support of families and have witnessed tremendous success. Below, please find examples of how our families and students have remained engaged with our programs in the last three months.
Angel, a student at Esperanza Elementary School works with mom and dad on a “worm” engineering project.
“It was so much fun to do these activities. My favorite part was that my husband was finally able to participate on a school activity with my son. They were so happy watching dad help them finish their “worm” activity. Then they all played together; even our cat jumped in. ”
-Familia Sanches Flores
Get Active Urban Arts Program:
During Shelter in Place, the Get Active program operated with success using Zoom, Google Classroom, and cellular communications.
Our projects for the youth during virtual learning time included: organizing youth entrepreneurial projects to further their personal brands, providing access to life coaches and economic resources, and creating youth driven mural projects to give back to struggling businesses.
In addition, several members of the Get Active and co-owners of the Community Network Solutions COOP, developed a COVID-19 coloring book for children instructing them on public health/safety lessons.
From April through July, Safe Passages distributed over 250,000 pounds of food to over 2,000 families weekly. We wish to extend our gratitude to our food security partners and funders who made this effort possible: The Oakland-Alameda County- Community Action Partnership, the Alameda County Food Bank, California Family Resource Association, and the countless community donors that have contributed to our GoFundMe Accounts. If you would like to contribute to these efforts, please click on the links below. Any contribution is welcome. Just a $10 contribution can leverage 2 bags of staples and fresh vegetables for a family of four.
Announcing Super Stars Literacy Program at Safe Passages
Safe Passages is excited to welcome a new program, Super Stars Literacy and new partners. Launched in 2002 by a group of warm-hearted individuals seeking to improve academic outcomes for low income children, Super Stars Literacy provides extended learning time intervention services to K-2nd grade students, helping them develop the literacy and social skills that are the foundation for future learning.
In the Fall of 2019, Super Stars Literacy (SSL) approached Safe Passages in their search for a new organization to continue and expand their work. The vision of SSL is for every child to possess the necessary reading and social-emotional skills to realize their full potential and transform their future. Realizing that SSL’s vision is greatly aligned with that of Safe Passages’ we heeded the call. We are excited to launch this program in some of our existing schools as well as in new partner schools this fall.
We are also grateful to have several of the former Super Stars Board members continue their commitment to this effort as an Advisory Board to Safe Passages supporting the fundraising efforts and development of this innovative work. Josefina Alvarado Mena, CEO of Safe Passages announces, “We are excited to be part of this new chapter of Super Stars Literacy and committed to integrating this effort into a continuum of services that keeps families and their children at the center of the work.”
The program will deliver virtual reading intervention programs to young children in small group settings, provide additional family supports and trainings, and build strong partnerships with school communities to ensure that every child has the literacy tools necessary to reach their full potential. The efforts will be launched this school year at the following Oakland Unified School District sites: Esperanza and Bridges Elementary Schools, and at New Haven Unified School District: Searles and Guy Emmanuelle Elementary Schools.
VISTA Family Resource Centers Committed to Service
Only five years ago, Safe Passages had a vision for expanding and sustaining the efforts of Family Resource Centers that were developed as part of a larger Elev8 Full-Service Community School initiative in five middle schools in Oakland. To achieve this vision, Safe Passages entered into an innovative partnership with the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) AmeriCorps VISTA Program. During this time, Safe Passages has hosted over 45 VISTA members, many of who have either stayed for a second year of service and/ or have become program managers at Safe Passages. Others have ventured on to graduate programs, including MSW, law, teaching, and medical school, with the promise of returning to the communities they served to continue their lifelong commitment to giving back.
As we close the 2019-2020 school year and prepare for a new challenging year ahead, we pause to review what these efforts have yielded:
- Safe Passages recruited, onboarded and trained 17 VISTA members: 7 year-round members, and 10 Summer VISTA.
- Safe Passages VISTA served 1735 families regularly (prior to Covid 19) through six Family Resource Centers,
- Recruited over 350 volunteers (who provided over 840 hours of service),
- Raised $410,000 in grants and $351,000 in in-kind services for families and schools.
California Reducing Disparities Project Statewide Briefings
At Safe Passages we recently participated in a Mental Health Media Forum exploring the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health services in the Oakland community. Anchored by our CEO Josefina Alvarado and Jonathan Brumfield, Program Director for our CRDP Law and Social Justice Life Coaching Project, other panelists included members of the larger California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP). They included La Clinica de La Raza, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, the Native American Health Center, Gender Spectrum and the California Black Women’s Health Project. This initiative is the first in the nation to elevate community defined evidence based practices in mental health services in the African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinos/x, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ+), and Native American communities.
Participating on the panel was California Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Tasneem Raja of the newly launched local journalism nonprofit-Oaklandside. Please check out and follow this important new resource covering critical issues in Oakland.
AmeriCorps Recruitment Underway
Now more than ever our communities need you. You can be a part of the solution and heed the call for action. Through Safe Passages’ Elev8 Youth Initiative, AmeriCorps members provide academic intervention to small groups of students with the goal of improving their academic achievement by one full functional grade level. Members are placed in our partner schools throughout Oakland and New Haven Unified School Districts. In return for your service, you will gain valuable professional skills, a modest living stipend, and an education award to support your college studies. If you are interested in applying, please contact Alyssa Mamaclay, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.