One Walks 500 Miles for Change, the Other Builds Peace at Home
Forging Connections and Fostering Wellness in East Contra Costa County
East Contra Costa County is one of the fastest growing communities in California, yet it is greatly under-resourced. According to Contra Costa Health Services, for every $8 dollars in social services available to a low-income person in West County, an East County resident has access to just $1 dollar of those services.
That’s why Rubicon Programs opened an Antioch branch in 2012. In the piece below, we hope to shine a light on poverty in Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood, CA, and amplify two stories of hope in the face of adversity.
Sieur, a young man with high hopes and a good sense of direction, has traveled twelve miles each day – by foot – for nearly a month so that he can take advantage of every resource available to him at Rubicon Programs’ office in Antioch, CA.
“I’m the type of person that beats the bus,” he says with a grin. “It only takes an hour to walk from Pittsburg to Antioch. If you take the bus, it could take even longer. I’d rather be walking than waiting at the stop. It’s exercise after all.”
But his reasoning runs deeper.
“The walk gives me time to think. To have peace. To learn about myself and think through my problems. It makes me feel better because I know I’m getting up and doing something positive.”
This is a skill he learned at Rubicon Programs, where mindfulness is taught as a part of its Wellness curriculum, and every participant gains a new growth mindset.
“Everyone likes to be comfortable. But you can only change when you let yourself be uncomfortable,” he says. “Rubicon taught me to smash my fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset. Now I know things don’t have to stay the same.”
John, a participant from Pittsburg who has spent a year with Rubicon, echoes the sentiment.
“Over the last twenty years – most of which I was in and out of prison – I’ve had a closed mind,” he says. “When I got in trouble…that was life. When I landed in a gang…that was life. When I got on drugs and became homeless…that was life.”
John never thought there was another life for him. Then Evelyn, a coach from Rubicon, changed his perspective. “Now, if a door closes, I just wait for the next one to walk through.”
He attributes much of this transformation to the people in his life, both old, new – and returning.
When John hit rock-bottom, his ex-wife, mother, and daughter cut contact with him. That shook him.
“I woke up one day and realized that I had lost all the people most important to me. My mother became sick from the stress I caused her,” he says. He decided that he had to make change. “I quit drugs and dropped out of the gang that same day.”
After he was released from prison, his probation officer told him about a program that seemed to be working for his clients. “It’s funny looking back. I spent most of my time between prison sentences being homeless out on the river, two blocks away from Rubicon’s office in Antioch. I never knew that everything I needed was right around the corner.”
John went through the program and didn’t miss a day. He grew close to the other men in his Foundations Workshop series and learned networking skills from the connections component. He became good friends again with his mother, father, wife and daughter. “They saw the changes I made. My mom is always telling me how proud of me she is. She knows I’m not going back.”
John finally found peace and productivity in his relationships.
“Oddly enough, the parenting class taught me how to have real relationships with people, not just my daughter. Now I know how to talk to people. How to listen. How to stop, think or walk away before giving in to anger.”
John thrived with this new support network and transformative mindset. Soon enough, Rubicon offered him a transitional job as an Ambassador screening new participants and welcoming guests into the program.
“Out on the streets, it’s not a team game. Here, I learned to work on a team for a shared goal. It was the best thing to ever happen to me. I got to join a group of people with a like mind and a like heart – with a desire to help people.”
Inspired by his coaches’ passion, he hopes to become a drug and alcohol counselor someday. He has already enrolled in college and is working on his accreditation. In time, he would like to start a nonprofit that helps homeless teenagers and runaways. “I want to catch them before they get to the point I got to in life,” he says.
Tying Loose Ends
Both John and Sieur learned the value of connection. But that’s not all that they gained at Rubicon Antioch.
“I had headaches most of my life and didn’t know why. I only got treatment in the ER. Then, Rubicon connected me with health care and a doctor. Now, I know the headaches happen because I have hypertension. I’m able to make it better with a pill. Rubicon connected me with everything I needed.”
Sieur was able to apply for benefits he didn’t know he was eligible for, including CalFresh, the state program that helps pay for groceries.
“I thought Rubicon was just one of those programs where they help you get a job, and that’s it,” Sieur says. “But they do so much more.”
John agrees. “There’s no other place you can go to get a driver’s license, food, clothes, gas, legal assistance, help writing a resume, you name it, and for free,” he says. “This is the place to be if you want to change any – or every – aspect of your life.”
This is Rubicon’s strength. They take everything into account. They believe that it’s the only way to break poverty permanently, especially when society has constructed an environment that fosters it.
Bringing Community into Focus
“It’s how neighborhoods are designed,” John says. “If you go into a poverty-stricken neighborhood, you see a liquor store on every corner and a gun shop on every side. It’s like cities are begging for poverty to turn into crime – which then brings more poverty.”
Sieur also notices that poor regional planning and limited public transportation exasperates poverty for those who live in East Contra Costa County.
“There’s jobs here in Pittsburg and Antioch, but the good jobs are further away,” he says. “You have to drive two hours in traffic to make a good living.”
“I’ve been offered good jobs in Livermore, but I can’t get there. I don’t have a car…yet.”
Sieur has hope though. His Finance Coach has promised to help him apply for a low-interest auto loan once he lands on his feet. Then, maybe, he’ll be able to get off of them.
“If you stay with Rubicon, you’re going to get the help you need. You just got to stick with it. You gotta make life, don’t let it make you.”