Making the Most of Change: Marthe’s Story

By Jonathan Bash December 27, 2018

Breaking poverty takes multiple strategies – and an affinity for change. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

That’s why Rubicon Programs has developed multiple approaches tailored to meet the needs of individuals, and of different East Bay communities.

In Oakland and Hayward, Rubicon offers job placement and career development services to those working to rise out of unemployment. Marthe is one of these individuals, and she’s striving to break poverty, make change and accomplish the goals she’s set for her life in a new land.

“I escaped violence in my home country of Cameroon,” Marthe says. “My family – my daughter, my grandson, and my sisters, nephews and nieces – brought me to Hayward.”

In Cameroon, Marthe was a nurse in a large hospital. She helped people. She made them well again.

“I like to take care of people,” she says. “I’ve been doing that my whole life. It makes me happy.”

Unfortunately, her back can no longer take the long hours on her feet, picking up patients and moving heavy equipment. She has come to the realization that she’s going to have to make a career change to start earning a living in her new home.

“Before Rubicon, I had been going to adult school to learn English, all while taking care of my grandson, she says. “Then, when I got here, I met with Ms. Celeste. She listened to me and connected me with my Career Advisor, Amabella.”

Marthe and Amabella soon went over her work history and strengths, and talked over her career options. Marthe wanted to continue helping people, but she had to find a workplace that could accommodate her back issues.

Together, they arrived at a solution: a new(ish) career in phlebotomy. As a phlebotomist, she could do similar work – drawing blood from patients – while staying off of her feet.

To become a phlebotomist though, she would need to learn the latest office technology, take phlebotomy classes and get certified.

“I don’t really have much experience with computers,” she adds. “So, I’ve been taking basic computer classes here every Thursday. I’m learning Outlook and Excel.”

All of these courses and certifications take time. In the meantime, she would still need to pay her bills.

Marthe and the Rubicon team decided to first focus on getting her into a more accessible job for the near future, as a caregiver, taking care of children with disabilities. Recently, she has begun applying for positions in this new field.

Amabella has helped her prepare her resume, and has taught her interview skills, as well as tips on how to ace a phone interview. They’ve done mock interviews and she has received one-one-one coaching sessions that have strengthened her soft skills and improved her confidence.

“Amabella makes me feel comfortable,” she says. “I can tell her anything. I can share anything.”

In other words, she meets her where she is.

“Since my first day, I have worried about my accent. But she assured me that it isn’t an issue. She’s an immigrant, too. She knows what I’m going through.”

Marthe is beyond grateful for all of this support.

“I feel more confident. I’m getting over the anxiety of it all.”

Amabella always says, “You’re going to win in that interview!” And it is that enthusiasm that keeps Marthe going as she tackles this sometimes daunting process.

“I’ve never taken care of children with disabilities,” she says. “But I’m eager to learn. And I’m optimistic for the future.”

Help Rubicon continue to break poverty by donating or explore the full participant journey here.

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The Reentry Success Center: Breaking Barriers to Break Poverty

By Jonathan Bash December 18, 2018

One in three Americans have interacted with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. This one touchpoint can be life-changing, introducing dozens of new barriers that can follow an individual throughout their life, making it a challenge to get a job, rent a home or raise a child.

These barriers not only hold them back, but their children and the community, perpetuating intergenerational poverty. That’s where the Reentry Success Center (RSC) – a collaboration between Rubicon Programs and community partners – comes in.
The RSC is there for those reentering society after incarceration, as well as their families during – and after – their loved one is in prison or jail. While at the Center, staff, volunteers, community members and fellow returning residents work together to help people transition into a good job, put a deposit on an apartment, and reconnect with their friends and family.

“I was released from jail three weeks ago after a ten month sentence at West County,” says Michelle, a new member of the Reentry Success Center. “The Center was talked about a lot while there. I heard so many success stories, so I came here two days after my release.”

Michelle says she knew she needed a support network to get back on her feet. The Center sounded like the perfect fit.

“In jail, we don’t have to talk to each other. You are isolated. You push people away. But you have to work together to move forward in the community,” she says. “We come out uninformed about our rights. We don’t have the direction or structure to do what we need to yet.”

At the Center, she found the structure she was looking for; she soon signed-up for classes that have helped her move forward, including a Life Skills course, a Cognitive Skills class, and Trauma and Grief Therapy sessions. These opportunities have helped her acclimate to the workforce and manage some of the challenges in her personal life.

“My 9-year-old son tells me that I need to communicate better, so for now, I’m focusing on that. I’m also working to collect some of the skills that I need to thrive in my career.”

Another priority is learning how to navigate the job search process with a criminal record. “It’s hard to find a great job or get a career started,” she says. “There are many obstacles. Some employers look at me like a criminal. They put me in a box.”

Luckily, changes to California’s employment laws have made it a bit easier for her to have a fair chance. A.B. 1008, “Ban the Box” legislation signed in 2017 by Governor Jerry Brown, became law after a coalition of formerly incarcerated advocates came together to push for change.

Now, employers are no longer allowed to ask about an applicant’s criminal background until a conditional offer of employment is made, allowing people to show who they really are without preconceived notions and prejudices clouding an employer’s judgement.

“This allows people to sell themselves,” says Lawrence, the Reentry Center’s Volunteer Mentor Coordinator. The law has already helped some employers see the light.  “Now, there are many so-called ‘felon-friendly’ employers out there.”

Getting a job can still be a challenge, but those challenges are often overcome with hard work and dedication. “People have no job history and no references, so we try to take the skills they’ve learned on the street and apply them to today’s job market.”

Lawrence recruits and manages volunteers and mentors who help Center members build new careers – and lives. He’s seen many of his friends, family and colleagues go in and out of the system, and knows from experience what they have to do to succeed.

“It’s been documented that what happens in the first 72 hours after release has the greatest impact on whether an individual recidivates,” he says. “That timeframe is critical: You either go to a shelter, go home to your family, or you fall back in with the ‘homies’ who got you into jail in the first place.”

That’s why housing and community support go hand-in-hand during the reentry process.

“We’re fortunate to have a relationship with the probation department. They often bring newly-released individuals to the Center so they can get the resources they need and avoid their old ways.”

Richmond residents also benefit from a fair-chance policy that makes it more difficult for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants with a criminal record.  This increases access to housing, which in turn makes it easier to get and keep a job.

“When you first come home, you often stay at a shelter and get a temp job. But soon enough, you find out your shelter has residency cap – 30 days. How can potential employers contact you if you’re bouncing back-and-forth without a phone or mailing address?”

Having a stable home makes a world of difference. No one knows this better than Tommy, a participant who has completed the Center’s 8-week Alpha Program, a comprehensive curriculum that serves people who are at the highest risk of recidivating. “I’ve been living in shelters so that I can save my wages for a deposit, and now I’m in the process of looking for a permanent place to stay, a studio in Richmond,” he says.

Tommy says that the Alpha Program changed his life, helping make jobs and housing accessible. “I learned to reenter home life and work life. Then, I got a full-time job – just one month after Alpha.”

“It gave me a second chance at a first-class life,” he says.

After nearly a decade in incarceration, Tommy knew there had to be a better way. “Being told what to do, when to eat…letting someone take control of your life…it’s no way to live. I robbed myself of so many opportunities to advance and be happy. But now, I feel different. I look different. I talk different. I’m out of the unemployment line, and that feels great.”

“Everyone has struggles, but when you surround yourself with positivity, you can overcome those struggles,” he says. “I’m so grateful for the Center’s positive environment, all of these positive people, and all of this new information that has brought so many good things into my life.”

Tommy ties most of his success to the people he has kept around him. “I always had emotional support from my family,” he says. “But the Center had my back. They told me I don’t have to go into this alone, and they stayed by my side.”

 “When you get out of jail, it can feel like you are a newborn baby. You’re naked. You have nothing. But you don’t have to see it that way. It’s only temporary. And you don’t have to fall back on your old ways, or with old, negative people.” You have to make a conscious choice.

“I’m an Eagle. And Eagles can fly. There’s a reason Eagles don’t hang out with Turkeys. Turkeys can’t fly. You have to keep people around you that give you strength.”

In other words, he draws energy – and strength – from the Center.

“I’m going to keep coming here until it closes down. And I hope that day never comes.”

Help Rubicon break poverty by donating or explore the full participant journey here.

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Unlocking Anwar’s Assets, One Month at a Time

By Jonathan Bash December 5, 2018

I was at the end of my rope,” Anwar says with a pensive look in his eyes. “I was looking for jobs. I was even doing well in the interview process. But at the last stage, I just couldn’t get past the background check.”

This recurring roadblock posed a serious challenge to his well-being after an already bumpy couple of years. A workplace accident had triggered a depression that lingered.

“I couldn’t leave the house some days,” he says. “It started to affect my relationships.”

Feelings of worthlessness crept in. He knew he needed to shake that off and try something new. That’s when he made the decision to visit Rubicon Programs.

“I’m willing to do the hard work. I just need a little direction, a little boost. Rubicon assured me that things would come together.”

This gave him the confidence he needed to keep going.

“As soon as I left my first meeting, my Impact Coach, Eric, was texting me to remind me that he’s here to help me out whenever I need it. From there, everything just took off!”

Anwar spent the next few weeks in workshops covering core pathways to change: developing income, building assets, fostering wellness and forging connections. He soon got the boost he needed – advice on how to navigate the job search with a criminal record – and eventually secured a good job with growth potential in the hospitality industry.

“I’m now making the most money I have ever made in my life,” he says. This economic stability finally allowed him to focus on building financial assets and setting the groundwork for a better future.

​To actualize that vision, Anwar met with his Financial Coach, Ken. Together, they checked his credit report.

“I saw everything on my credit report that was bringing down my credit score. We identified things that were going to collections and set-up affordable monthly payments. Then, I applied for a credit card and started using it responsibly. My score then went from very bad to very good!”

Next, with a clean bill of fiscal health in hand, Anwar tackled his transportation challenges.

“My girlfriend and I shared a car that was just one breakdown away from leaving us without any way to get to work.”

What’s worse, Anwar had a backlog of unpaid tickets that snowballed when he couldn’t afford to pay his car registration on time. He had lost his license.

“Rubicon’s lawyers helped me go to court to wipe out all of my tickets – poof, gone! I got my driver’s license back.”

With his license in hand and stellar credit in his back pocket, Anwar worked side-by-side with Ken and Eric to secure a low interest, subsidized car loan. He was approved, and now has a brand new car that provides him with a reliable way to get to work and make a living.

Anwar’s life changed more than he could have imagined in just a few months’ time. But he was still looking toward the future. Using the skills he learned in Rubicon’s Money Management workshop, he created a savings plan and opened a savings account. Ever since, he has been putting away leftover funds at the end of the month.

“I want to buy a home someday. I’m spending a lot on rent. I’d rather pay that money back to myself than throw it away,” he says. “It motivates me to be responsible with my money each month, and save up the 20 percent needed for a down payment. It’s a pride thing – I know it will feel good to own something and I’m willing to work to get there.”

He’s also taking an elective workshop to learn more about finances. “Ken has gotten me interested in saving for retirement. I’d like to learn more about that – but first, I have to save up for a house!”

Anwar is optimistic he’s going to get there. He recently was promoted to be a certified trainer at his workplace, and hopes to continue to rise up the ranks. He’s also taking advantage of every resource Rubicon offers, earning his Hazmat, Occupational Safety and fork lift certifications and licenses.

“I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for Rubicon,” he says. “When I hit rock bottom, I didn’t need a handout. I needed a boost. Rubicon gave me exactly what I need to step out of my comfort zone and change my life.”

What else is next for Anwar?

“Once I buy a house, I’m going to start fostering elderly and disabled animals. I love animals. Absolutely love them.”

Help Rubicon break poverty by donating or explore the full participant journey here.

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Rubicon’s November 2018 General Election Voter Guide

By Jonathan Bash October 18, 2018

Use the power of your vote to end poverty in the East Bay

On Tuesday, November 6th, 2018, voters across California will weigh-in on the state’s future by selecting new elected officials and approving—or rejecting—propositions and measures that impact all of our lives.

It’s crucial that we don’t sit on the sidelines; this election is far too important to be ignored. The future of criminal justice reform, housing affordability and the economy are at stake. Will our government work to end poverty, or will it simply accept the status quo?

That’s why Rubicon Programs believes that encouraging our participants, staff and community to participate in the process is absolutely essential to accomplishing our vision of an East Bay—and California—without poverty. Local elections like this one are where you can truly make your voice heard.


This Election Day, voters will be able to weigh-in on many specific policy proposals, and also select our local representatives. Rubicon carefully reviewed each of the propositions and measures on the ballot and we are sharing our positions with you. We have also provided a brief explanation—listed after our endorsements—for each of the offices on the ballot. We hope this will help you in your decision-making process.

Here are our endorsements for state and local propositions in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties:



Affordable Housing Bond. Prop 1 provides $4 Billion in housing-related programs, grants, projects and housing loans for veterans, the homeless and people with disabilities.  Since housing is the largest monthly cost to people in poverty, they will benefit the most from this easier access to affordable housing. More Information.



Homeless Housing Bond. Prop 2 authorizes $2 billion in bonds to fund the No Place Like Home Act of 2016 and permits unused mental health funds to be spent on services and housing for the homeless. Many people in poverty who have a mental illness will benefit from these funds. More information.



Water Bond. Authorizes $8.9 billion in bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects. Although Prop 3 provides funding for worthwhile water infrastructure and environmental projects, a handful of environmental groups are in opposition due to its impact on certain ecosystems and because it diverts some cap-and-trade funds away from climate change prevention efforts. Since there is disagreement among the environmental community, we encourage you to look closer at this measure and decide for yourself. More information.



Children’s Hospital Bonds. Issues $1.5 billion in bonds for improvements to children's hospitals. Prop 4 would help boost declining children's hospital infrastructure, with some funds specifically dedicated to Oakland Children's hospital. Many families on MediCal would benefit from these improvements. More information.



Property Tax Transfers. Prop 5 revises the process for home-buyers who are age 55 or older to transfer their tax assessments between counties when buying a new house of greater value. In effect, this measure would introduce a new property tax loophole that will reduce state property tax revenue by up to $2 billion, adversely affecting critical education and health services. More information.



Elimination of Road & Public Transit Funding. Prop 6 would repeal 2017's fuel tax and vehicle fee increases, and would require a vote on all future increases. Prop 6 would significantly lower investment in much-needed road improvements and public transit opportunities for people in poverty. Many of these projects are long overdue and would pose a safety risk – and cost in wear-and-tear – to drivers if repealed. More information.



All-Year Daylight Savings Time. Prop 7 would permit the state legislature authorize all-year daylight savings time with a two-thirds vote and approval from the U.S. Congress and the President. Some argue that this would lead to a later sunrise that could endanger children walking to school in the dark, and that it introduces costs and complications in aligning interstate business and air travel. Others argue that it could lower energy costs and the risk of heart disease. We encourage you to examine the issue further yourself. More information.



Cap on Dialysis Profits. Prop 8 would put a 15 percent cap on profits for dialysis service providers and was created in an effort to control healthcare costs. Unfortunately, the measure is written in a way that could make it difficult for many providers to include certain unavoidable expenses in their calculations for the cost of services, thus making the business unsustainable. This could lead to closures and fewer service providers, particularly in low-income communities, just as diabetes and kidney disease rates are starting to rise. We agree with the stated goal but are unsure of its practical impact, and leave it to you to weigh the pros and cons. More information.



Allows Local Governments to Institute Rent Control. Housing costs are skyrocketing across California and in the East Bay, and pose a clear barrier to people in poverty. By repealing the Costa–Hawkins Rental Housing Act, Prop 10 would give cities the option to intervene and implement more comprehensive rent control policies. This would provide municipalities with one more tool to tackle the affordable housing crisis. For that reason, we recommend support for Prop 10, and encourage policymakers to explore additional efforts to increase the affordability of housing. More information.



On-Call Ambulance Employees. Prop 11 would allow private ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call during their breaks. Prop 11 would prevent ambulance costs from rising by approximately 25 percent, and ensures maximum coverage in communities that already have long response times. Unfortunately, it would do that at the expense of a worker’s opportunity to have an uninterrupted lunch and/or break period. We leave it to you to weigh the pros and cons. More information.



Farming Standards for Animals. Prop 12 would ban sale of meat from animals confined in spaces below specific sizes. Prop 12 helps many animals. It could also increase the cost of food, which will impact our clients. We leave it to you to decide. More information.



Parcel Tax for Childcare and Early Education. Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the number one preventive measure to end intergenerational poverty. Measure AA is a $198 per year parcel tax that would fund up to $30 million annually for preschool and other ECE services that can help break poverty in the East Bay.



Vacant Property Tax for Homeless Services. Measure W enacts a vacant property tax on parcels used less than 50 days per year, at annual rates of $6,000 per parcel, $3,000 for condominium units, and other specified rates; raising about $10,000,000 annually for 20 years; to fund homeless services. This will help alleviate homelessness while also incentivizing property owners to rent out properties, increasing the housing supply.



Eviction Protections. Measure Y extends just cause eviction protection to residents of duplexes and triplexes, and permits the city council to increase protections for tenants. This will benefit renters and people in poverty in particular.



Workplace Protections and Minimum Wage. Measure Z installs regulations to protect housekeeping and janitorial staff at large hotel chains, increases the hotel minimum wage to $20, and establishes a department to set additional workplace standards for non-hotel workers. This will benefit many of our participants who may take jobs in this industry and others, and generally encourages better treatment of workers in the City of Oakland.



Real Estate Documentary Transfer Tax Increase. Richmond Measure H will increase revenue for crucial city services by charging more on higher-value property sales and transfers. The tax will primary impact high-net-worth landowners and benefit average Richmond residents.


Vacant Property Tax. Richmond Measures T incentivizes the utilization of residential property, lowering the cost of housing in the long run by implementing a tax on vacant properties. Funds raised may be used to fund homeless services and housing, as well as blight and dumping elimination. Since the funds will be distributed by the City's Housing Commission, it is unclear what share of the funds will go to end homelessness, and how much could be spent on the clearing of encampments with no alternatives for people who are being moved.



The following local measures make essential investments in city, county or school operations, and in some cases, necessary facilities improvements. Each has a minor fiscal impact on the average individual – with most of these Measures primarily impacting high net-worth homeowners or purchasers of luxury goods. In exchange, the community and people in poverty receive a significant benefit to the local economy, their quality of life and their education.

  • Antioch City Measure W
  • Contra Costa Measure R
  • East Bay Parks Measure FF
  • Hayward Measure T      
  • Hayward USD Measure H            
  • Martinez Measure X      
  • Martinez USD Measure G
  • Mt. Diablo USD Measure J
  • Oakland Measure X
  • Peralta Community College District Measure E
  • Peralta Community College District Measure G 
  • Pittsburg USD Measure P



This Election Day, residents of Contra Costa County and Alameda County, including most of Rubicon Programs’ participants and staff, will also have the opportunity to vote for some of the following local elected officials:

  • The County Superintendent, who oversees school districts and provide education to incarcerated minors and those with special needs.
  • Community College Board Members, who manage East Bay two-year colleges and contribute to the development of the region’s workforce.
  • School Board Members, who manage the policies and budgets of our K-12 schools.
  • Special District Board Members, who manage our water, parks, public safety and sanitary districts.
  • City Councilmembers & Mayors, who oversee city operations like law enforcement and housing development, and write local laws.
  • Judges, who interpret the law and sentence in criminal proceedings.

They will also choose State Constitutional Officers and legislators, including the:

  • Governor, California’s Chief Executive, responsible for approving the state’s budget and implementing the state’s laws.
  • Lieutenant Governor, who serves as a critical member of the state’s many policy commissions, and fulfills the duties of the Governor when he or she is out of state or indisposed.
  • Attorney General, who prosecutes the law, determines who is charged with state crimes and plays a major role in shaping statewide criminal justice policy.
  • Controller, Treasurer and Board of Equalization Member, who each ensure the state pays its bills, invests its funds, and assesses its taxes responsibly.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction, who oversees California’s schools, community colleges and universities.
  • Secretary of State, who manages elections and the administration of business.
  • State Senator, State Assemblymember, U.S. Congressmember and U.S. Senator, each of whom write state and federal laws on legislation covering nearly every topic imaginable.

We hope that you - each of our readers and participants - study each of the candidates’ positions, so that you can identify and support candidates that reflect your priorities for criminal justice reform, early childhood education, affordable housing, and social programs as we all work to end poverty in the East Bay and throughout the State of California.

Please note, Rubicon does not endorse any specific candidate or political party. If you would like to compare all of the candidates, propositions and measures, and review nonpartisan, unbiased summaries online, please visit


Don’t Forget to Vote on November 6!

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 6, 2018.

If you have not yet registered to vote, be sure to do so by the state’s voter registration deadline for the General Election, October 22, online here. If you are unsure of your status, or wish to find your polling place, visit either the Contra Costa County Elections Office or Alameda County Elections Office online.

And remember, many individuals with a criminal record are allowed vote. If you’re unsure of you rights, check here for further information.

You can also vote-by-mail. Learn how by visiting the Contra Costa County Clerk or Alameda County Clerk. Additionally, Contra Costa residents may also vote at Regional Early Voting Sites located across the county.

Thank you for participating!

Sources: Maplight’s Voter’s Edge, League of Women Voters of California Education Fund's Easy Voter Guide, and the California Secretary of State, Alameda County Clerk-Recorder and Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder.

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