November 2020 Newsletter


A Message From Our CEO

Dear Safe Passages Allies,

More than ever, I am extremely grateful to all of you for the tremendous support over the past six months. You have helped us help thousands of families with children in critical need of community and a helping hand.  While we continue to walk with our families in this time of unprecedented need, we recognize the resiliency and commitment of our communities to families.

In this newsletter, we highlight the work of our partnerships over the past two months and highlight individuals who have leaned into this tremendous endeavor. From food distributions to online tutoring and classroom support to pumpkin patches for little ones, to continued immigration outreach and education, to simply a kind word, we have all amplified the meaning to being in it together.

Thanksgiving has never had a greater meaning. We reach out to you once again to help us continue to bring relief and hope to so many families who have lost their jobs, their health, and loved ones. We are seeking support for continued food distributions, toy and coat drives for the holidays, and overall support for our mentoring programs for our most vulnerable children and youth.

In Service,

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

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Supporting Students, Families, and Teachers with Online Learning

Education goes beyond the classroom, and this year it has become more evident than ever. As we all continue to navigate the world during an uncertain pandemic, Safe Passages continues to stay committed to supporting students, teachers, and their families. AmeriCorps members have been assigned to work in partnership with teachers to support small breakout room sessions during online classroom time. Our members are also available to support small, in-person learning pods at several high-needs schools in Oakland, Emeryville, and Union City. For teachers, this has been a great relief, as teaching 30+ students over a screen can be daunting.

Jonathan Soria leads a drawing class via zoom, as students color in the coloring books they received as part of the Get Active Urban Arts Initiative to educate and bring families together.  

As we try to support students and their families, we also cannot forget about the educators on the other side of the screen. Safe Passages continues to find ways to show our appreciation. One way that we are trying to convey our gratitude is by participating in the Teacher Thank You Shout Out, created by the non-profit ‘One Percent for Education’, where we are taking to social media to acknowledge the teachers who have made an impact in our lives. By nominating and tagging others to participate, we hope to trend this initiative worldwide and show how much we care about our educators

A #teacherthankyoushoutout video of Randy Hamati, Safe Passages AmeriCorps Director and passionate Oakland Educator. Click the video to watch!


Baby Learning Celebrates 10 Years of Serving Our Communities

Time flies when you’re having fun, and what a decade it has been. 2020 marks the 10th year anniversary of our Baby Learning Communities Collaborative Program. It has been an extraordinary experience watching young babies come into the program and being able to see their growth and development ten years later. At Safe Passages, we understand the support a child needs from the very first few months after birth, all the way through grade school and into higher education. Not only has it been rewarding to see their growth, but it has been impactful and moving to hear from parents on how the Baby Learning program has supported them through the years.

Children and families attend a pumpkin patch where they were able to pick their own pumpkins in time for Halloween at Esperanza Elementary as part of the Baby Learning initiative. 

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AmeriCorps Member Highlight

Diego Cisneros, speaks about his experience working with 3rd grade students and how educational programs from Safe Passages have helped him and his siblings. 

Our efforts to nurture the community from the first months of birth, through high school, college, and early adulthood, has reached a full-circle moment for Diego Cisneros.

His start with AmeriCorps and Safe Passages first began with his brothers, who received help from Safe Passages while in high school. After he saw the positive impact Safe Passages had on his own family, he decided to join the program, but little did he know how much of an impact he would make as an educator and the effect that Safe Passages would have on him. Diego now works as an AmeriCorps Elev8 member with 3rd grade students. As a member of the Safe Passages academic mentoring team, he is helping students in his own community succeed in school despite the obstacles they face.

“Safe Passages is a really good organization. I have met all kinds of people working here. I have bonded with all kind of people, and it’s brought me to places that I didn’t think there were.”

This is the kind of work our program brings to members of our own community, who now work as agents of change.

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Emeryville Unified School District Super Stars Literacy Program

Teaching young children can be a challenging task, especially now that the virtual learning environment has created new obstacles for teachers, students, and their families. Recently, Safe Passages has acquired the Super Star Literacy Program, further committing Safe Passages to continue supporting students to reach their  reading goals.

The new partnership between Safe Passages will expand to additional schools within the Emeryville Union School District, where we will be able to reach more students and propel them to reach their proficiency levels. This new partnership will extend beyond the 4,200 students and their families that Safe Passages currently serves and will allow us to provide additional academic support throughout Alameda County.  

This year, the Safe Passages Super Star Literacy project expanded to Bridges at Melrose Elementary School, Esperanza Elementary School, Laurel Elementary School in Oakland Unified, Anna Yates TK through 8th grade school in Emery Unified,  and Searles Elementary School and Guy Emanuele Elementary School in New Haven Unified.

SSL AmeriCorps members are working diligently to make sure students reach literacy proficiency by the 3rd grade, understanding that preparing students at an early age ensures that they thrive throughout their academic career.

“Third grade literacy matters. It indicates if a student will be able to graduate from high school on time and if they’re able to be successful later on in life.” – Katie Brym, Early Literacy AmeriCorps Manager.

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Continued Food Distribution Efforts

As Thanksgiving approaches, we would like to give thanks to the Alameda-Oakland Community Action Partnership for assisting in our efforts to bring some much needed relief to families this holiday season. We would also like to thank Alameda County Community Food Bank and their volunteers for their efforts to help families bring food to their tables.

We are thankful that we have been able to help so many families from our Oakland Community these past few months. During the months of September and October, we were able to distribute 90,290 pounds of food to our families at Coliseum College Prep Academy, Esperanza Elementary, Greenleaf Elementary, and United for Success Academy.  

We understand the need for our Oakland families is oftentimes great. We also understand that due to the pandemic and all of its long-lasting effects, the need in our city has never been greater. Our work would not be possible without all those who help us, our dedicated staff, and the the communities we call home.

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Annual Toy Drive Campaign

Safe Passages is fundraising for our annual toy drive! Every year, we partner with the City of Oakland to distribute hundreds of toys to our families in Alameda County through an exciting annual toy-giving event.

This year, due to COVID-19 health and safety reasons, we will not be able to hold our annual gift-giving event, but we are still keeping the giving spirit alive and delivering gifts directly to families in our community!

The need in our communities is higher than ever. With the added stress and economic pressures from COVID-19, many families that we work with will not be able to purchase toys for their children this holiday season.  At Safe Passages, we believe that every child has the right to play. Toys and playing have been proven as developmentally appropriate tools for positive mental health during times of crisis. Now more than ever do we understand the value and importance of play in a child’s life.

We are currently seeking funds to make sure that all our families and youth are able to play and receive gifts this year. Please consider making a donation to help us with this effort. Every donation, small or large, will make a massive impact in the lives of our youngest community members.

This fundraiser will help us serve over 650 families in Alameda County.


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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, for more information.


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August 2020 Newsletter

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.
In Service,

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

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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:

  1. Respect for parents/caregivers as the first and most important teacher in a child’s life;
  2. Respect of cultural based practices and norms;
  3. Trust in that every parent wants the best for their children;
  4. Serve every family through an assets-based approach;
  5. Reliance on mutual aid practices;
  6. Programs that are designed and driven by users of services themselves are more effective; and
  7. 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.

View book

Food Distributions

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.

Go to the GoFundMelink

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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.

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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.

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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.

View Brochure

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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, for more information.

Elev8 Oakland – A Youth Led Urban Arts Enterprise

In the summer of 2013, Safe Passages joined forces with youth residents of the Havenscourt neighborhood in Oakland to create an urban arts movement dedicated to uplifting the consciousness of how our city is portrayed. The youth of this movement seek to Elev8 Oakland by portraying images of peace, hope and strength through their art. This video gives voice to the youth in this movement.

See here for more info

Elev8 – Overview

Elev8 is a national initiative dedicated to providing middle-school age youth and their families with a coordinated array of services to support student success in school and life by providing a powerful combination of high-quality supports. Safe Passages in Oakland was selected by Atlantic Philanthropies in 2008 to lead this full service community schools initiative along with the cities of Chicago and Baltimore and the State of New Mexico. This video highlights the components of Elev8 – Academic, Health, Family Supports and accomplishments to date.

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After-School Landscape, Analysis, & Recommendations: Sustainability in Oakland

The purpose of this document is to answer the following questions regarding after-school programming in the City of Oakland:

1) What is the after-school context in Oakland?
2) What are the existing resources?
3) Who is being served?
4) Who is not being served?
5) What should be the priorities?
6) What are new resources and how to target them?

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Safe Passages After-School Efficacy: A Guide To Evaluating What Works For Kids

This guide identifies questions that cities are currently addressing in their evaluations, and provides definitions of research terms and activities used in program evaluation, a comprehensive list of common outcomes and processes that have been measured in past after-school evaluations, a summary of recent after-school outcome evaluation findings, and a discussion of these findings. Finally, this paper presents the next steps in Oakland’s evaluation efforts, based on this information, for the Oakland Comprehensive After-School Program Initiative and other city funded after-school programs.

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Safe Passages 2014 Annual Report

The Safe Passages Annual Reports provide a comprehensive review of accomplishments during the year. The 2014 report includes initiative and program descriptions, numbers of clients served, outcome evaluation data and program resources.

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Five Cities are Improving the Odds for Their Children. Here’s How!

The Urban Health Initiative (UHI) is a decade-long, $65 million national program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to improve the health and safety of children in five cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Richmond. The Foundation established UHI in 1995 — partly in response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots — to determine whether a concerted, collaborative effort could bring about citywide improvements in multiple measures of child well being.


Elev8 Oakland Community Schools Cost Benefit Analysis

In 2009, Safe Passages became the lead entity for the implementation of the Elev8 Oakland Full Service Community Schools Initiative, a national initiative dedicated to providing middle-school age youth and their families with a coordinated array of services to support student success in school and life by providing a powerful combination of high-quality supports. In this policy brief, Bright Research Group documents the costs and benefits of Community Schools based on an analysis of expenditures for 2011-12 for Elev8 Oakland. This policy brief demonstrates that benefits to investing in community schools extend beyond direct and short term impacts on the students and families accessing resources through them. Investments in community schools allow sites to leverage additional investments and generate long term cost savings to society through reduced reliance on public systems and increased lifetime earnings.

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