April 2021 Newsletter


A Message From Our CEO

Dear Friends,

It has been over a year of COVID. As we begin to turn the page on our next chapter that thankfully includes vaccines, we must reflect on where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. We have experienced unprecedented loss and grief. Equally, undeniably we have demonstrated unprecedented resiliency and even as the pandemic exacerbated the health, educational, and economic disparities experienced by our communities, those communities leveraged every asset to work through the worst global pandemic of our lifetimes.

As we continue to share our stories of resiliency and innovation, we honor the contributions of those that came before us and acknowledge that we have leveraged their courage and examples to get us through each day. MLK Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Cesar Chavez Day provided us with the opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, but perhaps more importantly, how far we still need to go.

I remain honored to lead Safe Passages through this year of volatility and work side by side with so many heroes who stretched beyond capacity to provide youth and families at the center of our work with an anchor as the waves crashed upon us all.

In Community,

Josefina Alvarado-Mena, J.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Safe Passages

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Through our collaborative efforts with community partners and families, we’ve managed to maintain high levels of service, outreach and opportunity.

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Andy attended the Baby Learning program when he was just a few months old.

Ten years later, Andy is 11 years-old and his mother credits the program with strengthening their relationship.

The Baby Learning Community Collaborative program began as a foundational program to bring families and mothers together with their newborn babies. The program provides parents with educational resources and an opportunity to support each other. For over a decade now, the Baby Learning program has served over 8,000 children and parents through community-building activities, parenting workshops, infant playgroups, case management and mental health supports.

As we celebrate the growth of the Baby Learning program, we wanted to ask our families for a retrospective look at how the program has supported them and their children.

In 2010, Dinora Velarde brought her baby Andy, who at the time was only a few months old, to the program. Talking with other mothers, Dinora learned about different strategies of care, while also sharing her own personal experience of motherhood with new mothers.

“The best part of the program was the communication we had as mothers. It provided a space for us to get to know one another, vent, share experiences and more importantly spend time with our babies,” Dinora says.

Dinora also recalls that spending time with other mothers and babies created opportunities for the social development of her child.

“I remember a moment, where Andy was playing with another child, and one grabbed a toy from the other. I saw how they interacted with each other in that situation and they began to share the toy and proceeded to play together,” Dinora recalled.

For more than 10 years, the program has served as a supportive and educational space for new and experienced mothers alike to learn from one another and spend valuable quality time with their children. The time spent between mothers and their babies has long-lasting emotional and psychological effects, this has been evident in the strong relationship Dinora and her son Andy have 10 years later.


Two young children engage in an Easter “book hunt” at Anna Yates Elementary School in Emeryville.

In March of 2020, when we all went remote and our communication turned virtual, students, teachers, parents, and academic mentors had to quickly adapt to attend school and work from behind a screen. Now, one year later, not only have we adjusted to virtual learning, but we have made great gains supporting students reaching their academic goals.

The Super Stars Literacy program (SSL) supports Kindergarten through-2nd grade students at 6 different schools across 3 different districts. To serve high-need students during in-person learning, the SSL program shifted to provide 3 hours a day of academic and social-emotional support. In addition, the Esperanza SSL school team brought on two bilingual speakers to deliver lessons in English and Spanish.

To date, the SSL literacy intervention program serves a total of 250 students in grades K-2nd in small groups and one-on-one mentoring facilitated by AmeriCorps members. Through these small group breakout sessions, students are able to interact with each other in a positive and constructive way.

Randal Hamati, Safe Passages AmeriCorps Director, points out, “We often find that students really like helping each other either with homework assignments or with social situations. During this time of social distancing, these efforts greatly support the social development of our young students.”

While we have enjoyed every minute spent online with our students, we look forward to seeing them again in person and celebrating their accomplishments.


Community member Cassandra Lindrop, reads Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly as part of the Safe Passages read-aloud virtual library for Black History Month.

As we continue to educate our children from behind a computer screen, Safe Passages is committed to developing innovative learning strategies so that our students do not fall behind. This was the intent for the development of the Safe Passages Virtual Library, an online offering of over two-dozen read-aloud videos by teachers, staff, mentors and community members.

Students may select from a wide range of books related to Black History Month, the work of American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, as well as an all-inclusive array of stories. Young readers can follow word for word at home or just relax and enjoy a story being read to them sometimes even in their home language.

“We are so appreciative of all the members and volunteers who have created videos for this virtual library. In January, when we began this project, we only had 3 videos and now we have over 30 videos of people reading books,” says Volunteer Management VISTA Jocelyn Lombera.

Not only is there a diverse variety of stories, but there are stories being read in two different languages to ensure that videos represent the home languages spoken by our communities. There are also plans for additional read-alouds to be created in more languages.

“Being a part of the project is important because we get to share great books with our youth while following Covid regulations. With every read-aloud, we are reaching more and more students,” said AmeriCoprs member Justin Tovar.

The Safe Passages Virtual Library can be found in our YouTube channel1.



Through social media posts and other platforms, Safe Passages is keeping our community current on vaccine eligibility information and appointment availability.

“As vaccine eligibility continues to expand throughout California, Safe Passages has developed a COVID-19 Response Team that verifies information, distributes eligibility/vaccination site updates and assists in scheduling vaccine appointments for interested community members.

Meeting multiple times a week, the response team receives updates with the latest information given by Chidi Uwaeme, M.S.W., R.N., Safe Passages Health Outreach Coordinator. Once updates are provided, information is distributed in multiple languages across all social media platforms, at food distribution sites, school sites and through hundreds of individual phone calls to families. The goal of the response team is to ensure equitable access to information and vaccine appointments.

“We want our community the be protected, and have the most up-to-date information and resources so they can protect their families,” says Mario Argueta, Extended Day School-Based VISTA.

As of mid-February, the Safe Passages team has conducted over 3,000 phone calls in various languages and scheduled over 880 vaccination appointments for the most vulnerable members of our community.

“Working with people that speak the same language as me, makes my work more personal. I see them physically relax when they hear me speak Spanish and it reminds me of my own family. They feel more comfortable asking questions that they didn’t think they would be able to ask otherwise. This gives them more reason to come back and ask for help,” says Family Resource VISTA Guadalupe Jimenez.


Current and former AmeriCorps members share their experiences and what they’ve learned along the way.

Safe Passages is recruiting AmeriCorps Academic Intervention Specialists for the 2021-2022 school year. By choosing a year of service with AmeriCorps, you will have the opportunity to help meet critical needs for vulnerable populations in Alameda County, CA. As a member of our Elev8 AmeriCorps team, you will develop professional skills, gain hands-on experience that will reshape your worldview, and change the way you engage with your community — all while making a difference!

“The past few months have been incredibly enriching. I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of an altruistic collective. The best part of this whole experience is contributing to the empowerment of a community, that is an experience that I will carry with me forever,” says Extended Day VISTA Karina Lopez.

Apply Now

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 at 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, amamaclay@safepassages.org for more information.


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