The Rubicon Rangers: Welcoming Mayor Breed to the Fight to End Poverty

By Ben Rowley July 16, 2018

The "Rubicon Rangers" series is a first-person account of Rubicon's intern experience, authored by the interns, Jessica, Sandy and Justin, themselves.

On June 13th, London Breed became the first African-American woman ever to be elected Mayor of San Francisco. As an intern with an interest in policy and public affairs, I decided to pay close attention to her and her work in Rubicon’s area of expertise: poverty.

Soon after, a press conference was held in which she thanked supporters and other candidates, and took on the city’s problems with an optimistic approach, and a focus on ending poverty.

“It is time that we come together, and work together to solve our most challenging problems,” she said in her post-victory press conference. She promises to help solve issues like homelessness, addiction and many other longstanding problems, including housing.

London grew up in San Francisco dealing with many of these struggles herself. She has stated that she has firsthand experience dealing with many of the issues that low-income San Franciscans have to confront.

In her victory speech, she emphasized a poverty-free future as well as an interest in helping the youth of San Francisco.  Later on MSNBC, Breed continued to highlight the importance of youth getting actively engaged in the community, and talked about her plans for San Francisco’s – and California’s – future.

She made it clear that she likes to focus on people, and said that, “San Francisco is not just beautiful because of its monuments, it’s beautiful because of its people,” furthermore showing that she is not only proud of the city itself, but also of its diverse cultures and all that they can offer.

Mayor Breed often talks about the fact that her success story is an exception, and how she is pushing for that success story to become the norm for today’s youth in San Francisco. Since San Francisco has many large businesses, Breed wants to expose the youth to paid internships, so they can have opportunities and generate income that can help pay for their education.

Another issue that Breed spotlights is homelessness. While she is under the impression that the city is on the right track, there is still a big issue concerning how the city helps people who have a mental illness. She hopes to make changes to state and local laws and provide options for those working through addiction and psychiatric issues. One plan is to open safe injection sites in San Francisco, to help people avoid further medical issues.

To be successful as mayor, London Breed has said that she will need to learn patience, as being impatient is “a natural part of [her] personality.”

Even though a lack of patience may seem like a weakness at first glance, it could prove to be an indispensable quality when it comes to making housing affordable fast and getting other issues related to poverty resolved as soon as possible.

While at Rubicon Programs, I’ve learned that our organization aims to take a leadership role in the fight for a poverty-free Bay Area.

In the coming years, they will work in partnership with Mayor Breed, as well as mayors and nonprofit organizations across the Bay Area, and especially the East Bay, to push for policy changes that end the cycle of poverty. I look forward to being involved with these exciting efforts.

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The Rubicon Rangers: Participants ‘Step Up’ at July Stepping Stone Ceremony

By Justin Kok July 9, 2018

The "Rubicon Rangers" series is a first-person account of Rubicon's intern experience, authored by the interns, Jessica, Sandy and Justin, themselves.

Walking into the lobby at Rubicon Programs in Richmond, it was impossible not to notice the unmistakable air of amiability and dignity that filled the room. Jovial faces and pleasant conversations were throughout, and despite not knowing anyone there initially, I still felt a warm, inviting atmosphere. I knew that this Stepping Stone ceremony would be something special.

Rising above unemployment and poverty takes an immense amount of grit and growth in the face of adversity. The ceremony celebrated just that: the commendable progression of Rubicon’s many participants. In honor of their weeks-worth of effort, this event gave them some well-deserved recognition, as well as an opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts on the program.

The proceedings started with an allegory describing the butterfly, an apt comparison given the circumstances. Butterflies are more than just signs of good fortune and symbols of beauty – they are those who gladly share their wealth of wisdom, who are determined to take to the skies. An apt comparison, indeed.

Afterwards, the stage was then open to the participants to share their feelings, experiences and stories of growth.

For many, they went up to thank their friends and instructors for their support.

“I was skeptical at first,” one participant admitted. “But I came to fall in love with these people… they always had my back.”

Another participant talked about trying to find someone to help him out with his taxes. “All the other places were closed, except Rubicon. I was a bit suspicious; they even have ‘-con’ in their name!” he joked. But, “it was anything but,” he remarked as he reminisced on just how much support he found that evening.

Others shared intimate poems that they wrote, with topics ranging from their daily struggles to painful pasts. And yet, they found strength to persevere, thanks to all the support they had.

“Rubicon believed in me before I believed in myself,” one participant said.

A handful of participants chose to share powerful anecdotes from their own lives. One told of how powerless she felt while incarcerated, while another told of mounting pressure he had in regards to his taxes. A mother talked about how much she had to struggle to provide for her children.

In all of these accounts, they found someone that supported them in their endeavors, people who heard them out and gave them the tools to thrive. They found people who showed them it was worth having a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed, negative mindset.

Then came time for the presentation of certificates, which were presented by participants to other participants.

As each called each other up and out, I couldn’t help but notice just how strong the bonds to their peers were. They said they were “brothers and sisters,” or “the yin to another’s yang;” people who had each other’s back. They whooped, hollered and rooted for one member who had just gotten a job.

It was inspiring to see how close and supportive these people were. After all, the growth they made was forged by the support of their peers.

We broke for brunch shortly afterwards, but even after the Stepping Stone ceremony had passed, my thoughts still lingered on the spirited, inspired men and women I met that day. I can’t wait to see how far they all will go.

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The Rubicon Rangers: Dressing for Success with Rubicon’s Interns

By Jessica Tu July 2, 2018

The "Rubicon Rangers" series is a first-person account of Rubicon's intern experience, authored by the interns, Jessica, Sandy and Justin, themselves.

A hole barely wider than a pencil left a fray of pocket lining visible. The bright white of the thread stood out from the trousers’ tan plaid. 

"So, should we just give it away?" I asked. 

Justin, a fellow Rubicon Programs intern, muttered, "I guess."

Sandy, another intern, turned back to tagging the suit hanging on the clothing rack. I reluctantly placed the full suit in a white plastic trash bag. 

"What a shame," I sighed, shaking my head.  

Wardrobe for Opportunity – a nonprofit organization that helps connect people in poverty with much-needed clothing – has a sorting system that specifies that patterned blazers must be given away to another charity if its matching trousers are damaged, even if the coat is in perfect condition. The policy ensures that their clients always look professional, ready for their next job interview. 

The next part of the process is sizing procedure. It’s a mechanical process. First, look for a label. Then, fold and measure. Finally, hang up the item and tag it. As we got into the routine of sizing, we considered the materials we used and the demands of our participants. 

Justin, Sandy and I are working together to develop Rubicon's own clothing closet, which will offer program participants access to a large wardrobe of interview and work attire. Understandably, feeling comfortable in the fit, style and professionalism of one's clothing is integral to the confidence necessary to thrive in the world of work.

At the end of Wardrobe for Opportunity’s training workshop, which they kindly allowed us to participate in, we looked back at the two racks of tagged suits and sport coats and gleaned a vision for our project.  

We hope to create a boutique-style “shop” with a personal fitting room. The goal is to minimize the stress and cost of finding appropriate clothing. 

Justin, a senior in high school, is excited to see the final product late this summer. "I hope that our clothing closet will have a comforting and inviting atmosphere. Rubicon’s participants should feel welcome to use it anytime." 

So far, Rubicon only has a small closet with a few racks and a couple of bags of clothes. Our biggest challenge is to sort through it all and determine what is work-appropriate, and what should be given away. 

The training exercise at Wardrobe for Opportunity not only provided us with a helpful framework, but also raised questions about our closet’s design.

The closet is disorganized and lacks options, according to Sandy, who’s also in high school. But she’s optimistic. “We can use the skills we learned at Wardrobe for Opportunity and apply it to our work at Rubicon," she said.  

As interns new to the workforce, taking on such a large project was both intimidating and exciting.  

Gratefully, Rubicon Programs has given the interns a warm welcome to the nonprofit field. Justin described their team as friendly and warm. “It's inspiring to see people so dedicated to what they do, and what their organization does," he said. 

As an intern, there is so much to look forward to learning and doing. Sandy, in particular, is excited to attend her first “Stepping Stones Ceremony,” the monthly event culminating Rubicon’s participants’ completion of the program’s “Foundations Workshop.”

“I want to see and hear participants’ stories and how Rubicon has impacted their life," she said. 

​In the meantime, we are all working hard to complete the closet in less than two months. In July, Wardrobe for Opportunity will connect us with Men's Warehouse, who has pledged a shipment of suits, helping get us one step closer.

Our newly acquired knowledge about sizing and tagging clothes, combined with our new sorting guidelines, has set us up for success.

Our entire intern team can’t wait to see the clothing closet in action, helping people break poverty one interview at a time.

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Take Action to Keep Families Together

By Jane Fischberg June 27, 2018

At Rubicon, we are saddened and moved to action by the latest federal policies punishing children and families seeking refuge in the United States.

These federal actions victimizing immigrants and refugees are the epitome of hate and bigotry. 

Regrettably, these policies – which change daily – are just the most recent chapter in our nation’s shameful legacy of violence against people who look and act different from those who are in power. 

No matter where we’re from, what we look like, or what language we speak, we should all care. The legacy that this administration is perpetuating includes the scourge of slavery and its separation of Black children from their families. 

It includes the Native American boarding schools of the 19th and early 20th century, forcing apart Native American children from their families. During World War II, the federal government placed Japanese and Japanese-American families in internment camps in California. Today, we’re seeing an escalation of the mass incarceration of people of color. The most recent federal actions are but new methods to achieve the same unjust ends. It’s happening throughout the country, and it is happening right here in the Bay Area. 

As reported by Time magazine on June 22, the U.S. Navy is preparing plans to build immigrant detention centers at decommissioned naval bases in Alabama, Arizona, and California, including at the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS).  CNWS has been the subject of longtime plans to develop affordable housing, a move that would support families looking to thrive rather than tearing them apart.

On June 25, the Mercury News reported that two adolescent girls who have been separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” immigration policy are being held in a shelter in Contra Costa County.

The proposed conversion of the former base in Contra Costa County to an ICE detention center – pushing aside longstanding plans for affordable housing and replacing them with institutional hate – along with this news of the first detention of immigrant children in the Bay Area under the new policy, has only galvanized our commitment to advocate for justice.

Some say that the current hateful policies do not exemplify who we are. In truth, the policies are in keeping with a shameful national history.  But, we can end that legacy now, in our lifetimes, before more generations are persecuted, before more lives destroyed. Change is possible.

We can, and we must do this. Our children, and subsequent generations, are depending on us to heal our country and do the right thing by taking action.

Please join us on Saturday, June 30 to make the Bay Area a safe place for all families. More than 130 rallies are planned across the country – including many here in the East Bay.

Only through collective action can we stop yet another wave of hateful persecution, and instead advance justice, and hope.

Visit Families Belong Together now to find the event closest to you.

I hope you will join us in this effort to be on the right side of history by ending the unlawful detention of minors, people of color, and other groups targeted by those in power. ​

​In solidarity,



​Jane Fischberg
President & CEO

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‘Cooking Matters’ in the Food Desert

By Jonathan Bash June 19, 2018

Exzavier looks intently at a tall can of flavored Iced Tea, examining the nutrition facts label and other minute details. He puts it back down, opting not to open it.

“Heck no. That’s no good,” he declares. “75 grams of sugar? No way – I don’t want diabetes.” The rest of the class nods in agreement.

In lieu, they all proceed to make their own “spa waters” and “Fauxitos” with fresh mint, lime and sparkling spring water – all zero calories and half the price.

Soon after, one of the other course participants asks, “Wait…there’s no sugar in this? Are you sure?” The instructor, Alexis Gutierrez, responds, “I told you it was good!”

Just six weeks before, Exzavier and his fellow classmates hadn’t heard of spa water, let alone Fauxitos.

Many of them reported that soda is cheap and easy to access at the local liquor store, as is fast food. They also mentioned that food expenses are rising, exhausting their budgets. What’s worse, they were often feeling hungry and low-energy after eating a typical meal.

In response, Rubicon Programs, an East Bay-based nonprofit that works to end poverty, enrolled them in their new “Cooking Matters” class, an extensive course offered in conjunction with 18 Reasons, another organization that aims to help low-income communities make quick, healthy, affordable, delicious meals every day.

Kimi Barnes, Rubicon’s Health Resource Manager, made the initial connection.

“Our participants were tired of hearing ‘save money, set a budget,’ without concrete information on how to lower the cost of their largest expenditure on top of rent: food,” she says. “They also made it clear that their number one health goal has always been to eat better, so we thought, ‘why not create a cooking class that shows them how to accomplish all these goals?’”

Kimi soon bumped into the folks at 18 Reasons, who already had an entire curriculum and team ready to roll. She and their leadership were both on the same page, so the two organizations agreed to partner-up.

Clara Obstfeld, a coordinator of the course, began working with Kimi to offer the class to Rubicon participants.

“There are so many challenges for people in poverty trying to navigate the food system,” Clara says. “Misconceptions around labels, marketing terms, and what truly is healthy are so common, and time is a limited resource for many of them, making it hard to make informed choices – especially on a tight budget.”

The Cooking Matters course tackles all of these problems in two distinct ways: by teaching practical cooking and shopping skills, and tying those skills to all the information a consumer needs to cook a healthy, low-cost meal.

To maximize the course’s impact, they customize each course with direction from the class and the community – all the recipes are rooted in the students’ interests and cultural preferences. In fact, many of the educators and cooking instructors are from the neighborhood, and know what works.

“In a typical class, we spend the first half on a nutrition lesson – identifying whole grains and counting calories, for example,” Clara says. “Then we have a Chef’s lesson that puts those facts into action.” Participants learn to cook using toaster ovens and portable stoves, as well as develop sous-chef skills like proper knife technique and measurement skills.

The instructors also provide special assignments to the participants, including a “$10 Challenge” in which participants are asked to buy all the ingredients necessary for a balanced meal for the whole family, all while spending no more than $10. Some contestants prepare recipes from the class, like Fresh Veggie Quesadillas or Low-Fat Chicken Alfredo. Others invent creative new combinations with their newfound culinary instincts.

One participant, Luc, is a fan of seafood and was able to beat the challenge five-fold, making 5 delicious meals at $2 each: sautéed kale, honey-garlic roasted zucchini and smoked sardines – all made in a toaster oven or on a portable burner. He soon fell down the proverbial rabbit-hole, discovering his passion for cooking. After graduation, he continued his culinary education by transferring to The Bread Project, where he learned how to bake in a commercial setting, ultimately launching a new career in baking.

Meanwhile, other participants have improved their home lives in many ways thanks to the class.

Exzavier and his wife Doris, another participant, were both enrolled in the most recent workshop series offered by Rubicon Programs. Both are working with Rubicon to strengthen their careers, build a strong economic foundation, and improve their family’s health and wellness.

“We did the class together as a family – Kimi took care of my five-year-old son Sirod while we focused on cooking – and it was a great experience,” he says. “We reconnected and discovered a new activity for us to bond over. Now, each night, everyone is excited to eat together, even my older kids. We share more at the dinner table. We talk with each other more. We congregate more.”

“We also are able to do more with less. We buy healthier and always bargain shop.”

Kimi is proud of the work Rubicon and 18 Reasons has done with the course, but she also says that there is much more work to do changing the food system.

“It’s not all about education,” she says. “People aren’t stupid. The issue is access. The choices we all make are limited by the options we have. If the only options within walking distance of your home are a liquor store and a Drive-Thru, what choice do you really have?”

She says that more equitable urban planning, incentives for grocery stores to move into low-income neighborhoods, and increased access to community gardens, farmer’s markets and other avenues to fresh food will all hopefully move the needle.

But until then, she, Clara, and her team will continue to chip away at the problem one family at a time.

Luc ​kily, the strategy appears to be working.

​“This class changed my life,” Exzavier explains. “After our first meal, I actually felt full. I no longer felt tired. Honestly, I felt like I could go back to work at 8 o’clock at night. I have so much more energy now – when I wake up in the morning, I feel like I’m on fire!”

Your support can help Rubicon continue to bring courses like Cooking Matters to those in need.  Donate today.


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