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Fall 2021 Stakeholder Update from CEO, Omar Carrera

October 12, 2021

Dear Friends, 

All of us at Canal Alliance are grateful that you have chosen to invest in the health and safety of the Latino immigrant community by supporting our programs and emergency services. The impact that Canal Alliance makes in our community would not be possible without the support of many generous people like you. As a key stakeholder in our efforts to help Marin’s Latino immigrant community break the generational cycle of poverty, we are pleased to share this fall update about our strategic initiatives:  

Adult Education Programs

We are currently offering all core programs through a hybrid service delivery model (in-person with health protocols when safe, and over Zoom or by phone when needed), and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Through the pandemic, we’ve learned that we can often serve more clients, and serve them more efficiently and effectively, by working in this hybrid format. 

Our Adult Education Programs are now offered entirely in a virtual format. For our English as a Second Language program, this has resulted in increased attendance rates, and has shifted the gender balance among ESL participants; women now represent 55% of ESL students compared to 38% when classes were offered in-person. We believe this is because the online option reduces significant barriers for adults and parents – who often work multiple jobs while also managing child care – to attend classes remotely. All classes are also now offered four days per week, to speed up learning and allow us to include a digital literacy component, which includes distributing Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to all students and providing in-person beginner computer tutorials and ongoing troubleshooting support.  

Our Adult Education Program also now includes our Citizenship class, previously offered by our Immigration Legal Services (ILS) Department. We made this transition because we felt that the goals of this course could be better met by operating under our Adult Education Department, which can provide both the English language instruction and the civics content that clients need to succeed in passing their citizenship examination. In FY22, we are offering 14-week Citizenship classes as part of our regular programming to prepare people for the Citizenship exam and interview. Classes are taught by paid teachers, one of whom has a Master’s Degree in TESOL and a background in civics education. Volunteer tutors help participants practice for the interview. Students prioritized for enrollment include ILS clients who are scheduled with USCIS for a test and interview.  

Opportunities for Youth Program for Unaccompanied Minors

We launched our newest program, Opportunities for Youth, after securing a contract with the State of California Department of Social Services to provide services for unaccompanied minors. Unaccompanied Minors is a term used to “generally refer to immigrants who are under the age of 18 and are not under the care of a parent or legal guardian. This includes children fleeing violence or unrest, seeking work, or who are victims of trafficking.” (Migration Policy, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: A Growing Phenomenon with Few Easy Solutions).  

In the past six years, Marin County has seen an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors seeking services and legal representation. This population is in urgent need of services aimed at promoting security and opportunity, strengthening relationships with sponsors, and fostering socio-emotional competence. Despite the trauma and challenges that unaccompanied minors face before, during and after their immigration journey, they are resilient and eager to improve their lives and find education and career opportunities.  

The OFY program is currently serving 40 unaccompanied minors by providing wraparound services to help them recover from trauma, access resources to support their transition to our community and gain legal status, and ensure that they are able to work toward their education and career goals. The program also includes a soccer league, to provide socialization and recreation among the youth. 

Advocacy

In addition to direct services, Canal Alliance has also increased its efforts to advocate for changes to systems that negatively impact the Latino immigrant community. Over the past six months, we’ve expanded what was a new initiative in 2018 into a full Advocacy and Policy Program, overseen by Director, Stephanie McNally. Current initiatives include the following: 

Employment rates for low-wage earners in Marin County have decreased more than 40% since the beginning of the year, and those who are still employed are experiencing wage stagnation and even declines in income. Many tenants in Marin, especially in the Latino immigrant community, are facing a rapidly growing rental debt burden. We are grateful to Marin County and the Marin Community Foundation for providing rental assistance funding, which we have distributed to help alleviate the rent burden for qualifying low-income families in Marin. 

The ordinance passed by the San Rafael City Council on January 19th enacting a temporary moratorium on rent increases (“rent freeze”) for tenants residing in certain residential units will be expiring on December 31st. Canal Alliance will continue to work with Canal Policy Working Group (CPWG) to call for tenant protections for Marin County residents who are hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Canal Alliance is working with investment partners County of Marin, City of San Rafael, and Marin Community Foundation to purchase properties with multiple units to help combat this housing crisis. We hope to acquire at least one new property this year to grow our affordable housing portfolio. Our strategy is to buy and renovate smaller properties and participate in climate resilience and placemaking efforts, and to ensure we do not take any dollars away from our core programs. I have recently been invited to join the City of San Rafael Housing Element Working Group, and will leverage this opportunity to continue our advocacy plans to bring more affordable and equitable housing to this community.  

Living close to where you work is important for quality of life and for lowering impact on the environment. To support local efforts to improve transit options for workers in the Canal, we are participating in discussions regarding the new San Rafael Transit Center. The SMART Train tracks that now end in Larkspur bisect the existing San Rafael Transit Center. This impacts how buses and people access and travel through the area, and reduce the amount of space available for buses and riders. For this reason, the transit center must be moved to another location in downtown San Rafael. We see this as an opportunity to create a more accessible transit facility for all users and improve both connectivity and safety. 

Covid-19 Response Programs 

We will continue to provide support to the community with programs related to Covid-19 (including testing, vaccines, and rental assistance) as an essential part of the recovery phase from the pandemic. With engagement from local leaders in the Canal neighborhood, we have supported efforts which have resulted in over 90% of eligible residents being fully vaccinated. Despite this high vaccination rate, the Canal community is still recording higher-than-average positive test results. As a result, demand is again increasing for Covid-19 testing at Canal Alliance, so we are providing testing exclusively for Canal residents only. Mobilizing community leaders to educate, provide testing, and support vaccination efforts among their family, friends, and neighbors is the strategy behind our current success, and that which we will continue to employ. 

None of these initiatives would be possible without the dedication and investment of partners like you. If you would like to learn more about the projects outlined here, please contact Jen Caynan, Senior Manager of Leadership Giving, at jenniferc@canalliance.org. 

Thank you for your commitment to supporting the immigrant community.  

Gracias, 

Omar Carrera Signature

Omar Carrera

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