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.

Read More

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.

Read More

The Rubicon Rangers: The Final Report

By Sandy Chung August 27, 2018

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

The Clothing Closet Update

Having spent the summer in Rubicon’ old file cabinet room, the interns were able to transform the disorganized room into a welcoming boutique-style closet for the organization’s participants, where they can to choose a fresh, professional outfit that puts them on the path to success.

Now, with four wall racks packed with professional suits, the closet finally looks complete. The middle of the room is loaded with dress shirts ranging from different colors and sizes.

Since the interns’ project began, the clothing closet have gone a long way. Each and every men’s dress shirt has been checked for damage, and steamed to ensure a wrinkle-free look. All of the clothing is sorted by size and hung neatly on racks. On the tie racks, a variety of ties are provided to accompany each of the dress shirts with different, but complementary, patterns and prints. Professional dress shows are also displayed on the shoe rack by size.

As for women’s wear, the team sized various pants, dresses and blouses and arranged them onto the rack. Women’s shoes include flats and heels in every size. Thanks to a large shoe donation that arrived.

Accompanying the closet is a private fitting room that includes a three-pronged mirror, so the participants can view their newly picked outfits from every angle. The room also features a Persian rug and bench to make it feel more like a store fitting room or their own home, helping participants to feel comfortable and confident before their job interviews.

Our entire team is incredibly grateful for this opportunity to help break down poverty here at Rubicon. Our team has learned so much at Wardrobe for Opportunity, taking the skills we learned there and applying them to our own closet.

Community at Rubicon

At Rubicon, you can truly sense the scale of love and support for each of the various communities across the East Bay. In this organization, discrimination does not exist, conversation and cultural exchange is encouraged to overcome the difficulties that people of color and other identities experience. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) like the Black Rubies and an LGBTQ group give employees a safe space to tackle thorny issues and improve their community.

Rubicon employees have a strong bond and frequently work with employees outside their department and in offices throughout the East Bay. Employees build strong regional bonds that last a lifetime.

As an intern, this welcoming community here was apparent on day one. With our final days at Rubicon coming to an end, we’re coming to terms with the bittersweet fact that we’re going to have to leave this supportive environment, where care is showered upon participants and coworkers alike.

This same love and understanding nature is shown to the participants throughout their time at Rubicon, from the workshops to the electives and one-on-one coaching sessions. Impact coaches and facilitators constantly encourage and inspire participants to land on their feet and make the best decisions that will help improve their wellness, assets, income and connections.

Goodbye, Rubicon!

Read More

Rubicon, 9 Local Organizations Join Forces to End Unemployment in Contra Costa County

By Jonathan Bash August 14, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Countywide Collaborative Will Expand Access and Quality of Resources for Those in Need of a Job or Career Change

MARTINEZ, CALIF., AUGUST 14, 2018 … Even though the Bay Area job market may feel red-hot, nearly 20,000 Contra Costa residents remain unemployed and are looking for work. To help these individuals find a job or start a new career, ten organizations have partnered with Contra Costa County and its Workforce Development Board (WDBCCC) to create an unprecedented network of service providers.

“The Contra Costa Workforce Collaborative is the first effort of its kind in California,” said Bhupen Amin, Chair of the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County. “We’re pooling all of our resources so that unemployed Contra Costans can quickly find a good job or start a new career. Now, it will be easier than ever to access the technical resources, coaching and training necessary to thrive in this evolving job market.”

The effort, called the Contra Costa Workforce Collaborative (CCWC), will help reduce the unemployment rate and put people on a path to prosperity by bringing disparate services together and locating job search resources closer to those who need them.

The CCWC will be coordinated by Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit that works to end poverty in the East Bay, as well as the following CBOs and educational institutions:

These local organizations came together because they have a shared mission, a strong track record of collaborative work, and a desire to provide high impact services to underserved populations.  Each brings a long history of providing high-quality employment and training services, strong connections to the county’s industry sectors and a deep understanding of the unique employer and job-seeker needs in each region of the county.

“Before this collaborative, individuals looking for a job would often have to travel across the county to access services,” says Jane Fischberg, President and CEO of Rubicon Programs, the CCWC’s lead agency. “Now, each of our organizations will offer these resources on-site and within the community, leveraging each of our strengths to bring more to the table.”

The CCWC will offer intensive support services at an America's Job Center of California (AJCC) in Concord that will be managed by Rubicon Programs, while each of the other nine organizations will offer satellite services and specialized resources in offices located from San Pablo to Brentwood. Participants will be able to access one-on-one counseling, computers and printers, job boards and workshops that will give them a boost in their job search.

“We’re excited to be part of this incredible effort to expand access to these lifeline services,” said Vittoria Abbate, Director of College & Career and Adult Education at Mt. Diablo Unified School District, a founding member of the new collaborative. “We believe that we can accomplish more together and that we’ll be able to make it easier for vulnerable families to get back on their feet, avoiding a fall into long-term, intergenerational poverty.”

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors officially approved funding for this new project on August 14, 2018. Each of the ten members of the Contra Costa Workforce Collaborative now offer their new services to unemployed Contra Costa County residents.

# # #

Rubicon Programs is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to transform East Bay communities by equipping people to break the cycle of poverty. The organization serves the people of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and provides services that help low-income individuals enter the workforce and develop fulfilling lives.

CONTACT: Jonathan Bash  |  jonathanb@rubiconprograms.org  |  (925) 335-6784

Read More

The Rubicon Rangers: Shipment Shakeup

By Jessica Tu August 13, 2018

Piles of clothes take up most of the space in the small closet, even after a full day of work.

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

The brisk air welcomed my face outside. The sky was overcast, and the temperature was lower than I had anticipated. 

"Hopefully it'll warm up. It's only just the morning," I said to Sandy, who had remarked on the gloomy weather.

Luckily, we were not outside for long. The brief walk from the Bissell Office to 101 Broadway led us to warm greetings from Rubicon's mentors in the lobby.  

We continued past them, where we spotted participants attending workshops and impact coaches working with people.  

Finally, we turned the corner and saw the comedic posters that decorate Delia's door.  

Over the past five weeks, the Rubicon Rangers have grown comfortable in our quarters. Familiar faces invite us in and make us feel at home. Delia, the point person and mother of the closet, is one of the people to whom we have grown closest.  

She turned to us and smiled, acknowledging us, asking questions, and taking interest in our lives. 

After a few moments, she handed me the keys to the closet and looked me in the eyes. She announced, "the new shipment came in on Tuesday. I went to see it, and it is big."  

We were soon learned that big was an understatement. 

In true Rubiconian fashion, the beautiful mess of clothes within welcomed us. Two previously empty racks were now filled with suits.  We turned slightly to the right to see the clothes that did not make it to the rack. Bright blue plastic wrapped bundles of suits, pants, and various blazers. Two piles of clothes sprawled across the open floor. A few button-down shirts, also wrapped in plastic, peeked through. Behind the blue mounds were three stacks of boxes. 

Unsure where to start, I looked around until spotting two shopping bags filled with shoes. Justin, Sandy and I started by organizing our smaller more manageable donation of shoes.

As I grabbed one shoe and found its matching pair, I began to organize the stock by size.  

At Wardrobe for Opportunity, we learned to mark sizes on round office labels and to stick the seal on the back of the shoe. Most shoes have the size marked within the build, whether on the tongue, the sole, or the side.  

As I got into the tedious task of sizing shoes, Sandy worked on the rest of the room.  

Later, I turned around to see one of the racks formerly occupied by suits had been transformed. Now, it solely carried collared shirts. Our stock of men's button-downs went from 15 pieces to a full rack. 

As the day went on, we discovered more hidden treasures. We uncovered bags of ties under one pile, and unboxed packages of womenswear, including bunches of light and silky scarves, under another one.

The generous extravagance of a donation of designer suits and professional attire delighted us. We were excited to be able to supply Rubicon's participants with such beautiful clothes.  

We faced one big issue though: we did not have enough racks for the clothes, and we were anticipating two more shipments, one on August 7th, and another on August 14th.  

For weeks, we had been longing for a larger supply. Giving up slightly outdated items seemed wasteful when the closet was meager. But now, we had the opposite problem.

The new shipment was bittersweet, as we realized the limitations of our project, both temporal and spatial. We have only so much time and so much space to store all of these great things.

By the end of the day, we made visible progress: only one pile and a few boxes remained. The rest of the suits, pants, and blazers had been sorted. All the shoes were organized, and we were able to re-sort shirts and all the women's apparel.  

Yet the newfound uncertainty in our project plan remained. If we cannot find another space, the proposed fitting room may devolve into a storage room as donations stack up.  

The shipment may have disrupted our original, smaller plan, but we are still happy to welcome these valuable clothes into our closet.

The rangers will just have to figure out how to make do in the coming weeks.

Read More