By Ashley Glazebrook
Traveling down East Cliff Drive, it’s easy to miss the small red building with the neat white trim and cheerful green foliage. But to those in desperate need of food, medical or legal help, the Familia Center is known as a sanctuary.
Created in 1983, the Familia Center started as a health clinic for low-income Latinos, and quickly morphed into a high-demand resource center that met all the basic needs that a low-income living could not.
Despite a few changes in management and purpose, the center now steadily provides services for bimonthly food distributions, daycare, medical testing, translation and legal advocacy.
In terms of clientele, the center serves over 800 families a year, 99 percent of which earn less than an annual income of $20,000 to support an average family of six.
Yolanda Henry, the center’s executive director, said that many of the patrons have limited resources, such as a family of four sharing a room.
“Some of them are in crisis, some of them would qualify as desperate,” Henry said. “Most of our clients come to us for very simple things, such as reading some forms in English, helping them fill out a job application, housing, or issues that have to do with non-payment for their work.”
The center helps anyone in need, regardless of nationality, but one of its main focuses is integrating Latinos and immigrants into American life as easily as possible.
It provides workshops in Spanish about domestic violence, drug abuse, food stamps and family principles, as well as parenting classes. It also offers after-school homework clubs for children and teens.
Narcisco Deleon, the youth programs coordinator, said the staff and volunteers try to have a variety of activities to stimulate young children who have working parents, and might otherwise not have help with their homework.
“Most of the activities we do are to help the kids with their homework and to provide good supervision,” Deleon said. “We keep them busy with extra work about the positive issues. Besides homework, we have recreational activities, such as arts and crafts or organized games. We give them a snack, and the volunteers plan before they come, like reading programs or extracurricular homework.”
The volunteers, most of whom are from UC Santa Cruz, help the children with their homework or play games with them.
“I love to volunteer. It’s investing in other people’s futures, as well as mine,” said Elizabeth Dominguez, a Familia Center volunteer. “It brings me to life, because I love what I do for the kids.”
The Familia Center was created to serve those in need, and it gathers fiscal and social support from the community to do so.
“Our mission is to empower those that struggle with poverty, exclusion and racism,” Henry said. “And that’s what we do.”