Homework in the Garage was our first program as a response to the requests of neighbors in the Capistrano Villas neighborhood. Many children in this neighborhood are significantly behind in their academic progress, which sets them on a risky path for their future. Half of adults here lack a high school diploma, and just as many are not fluent in English, so they lack the ability to help their own children succeed in school. However, they do not lack dedication and self-sacrificial love, so neighbors lent us the use of their garages while they were at work, and we began a drop-in program for elementary students in 2017. Now since 2019 we have the benefit of Casa Unidos and can provide a more appropriate learning environment for students. This program shows the community that God cares about their unique circumstances, and then we embody that caring concern in our volunteers’ relationships with the kids.
For some of our students, homework help is not sufficient support. We are pairing students with volunteer tutors and providing the space, curriculum and supervision by an accredited teacher.
With limited expendable income, families in our community lack access to extra-curricular activities that have a proven connection to academic performance, expanding children’s potential and exposing them to new skills. Through our partnerships and volunteers, we offer students periodic workshops, music classes, dance classes, day trips and week-long summer day camps in the areas of sports, faith and the arts.
Community development begins by discovering local assets, specifically the people in the neighborhood who are willing to invest in improving their community. These leaders support education programs, organize crisis-support fund-raisers for neighbors in need, and exercise their leadership in community-building events. By amplifying the voices of our neighbors in the resident leader committee, Unidos develops local leadership and sets the stage for our neighbors to be active agents in the change they want to see in their neighborhood.
City-wide events like the Day of the Child and the Fiesta Mexicana are opportunities to bring the neighborhood together and celebrate Mexican-American culture. (95% of residents in the Capistrano Villas identify themselves as having Mexican heritage.) Additionally, the Unidos Christmas Store provides a little financial boost to our neighbors each December by offering Christmas gifts at half price, not just for selected families but for the whole community. This is made possible by partnerships with churches and individual donors.
Woven throughout all these programs is the desire to build bridges.
Bridges between unlikely friends. We work to create spaces where people can get proximate to people who are different from them. These spaces include volunteering in the education programs, cross-cultural dinners, community-building events, neighborhood workouts, bible studies and special events.
Bridges from the neighborhood to the resources that can benefit them. We regularly refer our neighbors to agencies who are here to help. We host workshops on pertinent issues. We focus on increasing access to resources at the annual Day of the Child event.
Bridges to increase a collaborative spirit among organizations. We periodically host gatherings called the SJC Collaborative where non-profits, churches and agencies dedicated to the under-served can get to know each other and work toward collaboration.