When the pandemic hit in 2020, UnidosUS quickly established its Esperanza/Hope Fund to provide accurate and culturally relevant information about the virus, to shape policy responses to the pandemic that included the Hispanic community, and to strengthen its Affiliate Network’s response to the health and economic crises. One of the Affiliates UnidosUS supported with a $25,000 grant was the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation (SSCF), who focused on improving their technological infrastructure to adapt to the months ahead: “[It] made an enormous difference for our staff and our clients,” Executive Director Alicia Contreras shares. More than that, they were even able to support local businesses and their youth.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
As working from home became the reality for many UnidosUS Affiliates, SSCF focused on making changes to ensure they could set their employees for success to do their jobs from their home offices. The organization used the funds from the Esperanza/Hope Fund to purchase laptops and paying for a 10-month VPN service, so their staff could access files on their server without any risk of being hacked or getting a virus.
Knowing the hardships that their community and Oakland at large were experiencing, it was very important for SSCF to support local businesses in their area. The hired a company owned by a Latino entrepreneur in their neighborhood, who moved their server to a secure cloud-based server: “He was very grateful for trusting him to do the job since our contract gave him a very needed financial boost, and it helped him to get other clients because he was able to use his work with us as an example of what he could do for other businesses,” Contreras explains.
This UnidosUS Affiliate also figured out another way to support their clients and community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and decided to hire youth from their programs to update their website and develop new online systems and processes that would help SSCF better serve the people that needed their help, and get ready for when they reopened their doors to the public.
In November 2020, SSCF opened a Learning Pod to help newcomers take high school classes online at their center. To keep everyone safe in the pod, their student developed a COVID-19 form: “The form was very helpful to gather important health information before entering the building and send immediately an alert to our staff when there was a chance that a student or staff had been exposed to COVID-19,” Contreras explains.
This form was very successful in lowering the risk of infection in their classes, as the Executive Director exemplifies with this story: “We had one student who showed up with COVID-19 symptoms and our staff was quickly notified by the form. The student was afraid to be tested due to her immigration status, so our staff helped her and her dad to get an appointment at a safe location to be tested and both tested positive. None of the other students, nor staff got the virus from her,” Contreras says. “The location where she was tested was La Clinica La Raza, which is also an UnidosUS Affiliate, and their staff have been amazing working with our staff to help clients get tested and vaccinated.”
The student developing these forms also worked in one to guide clients filling their green card renewals and citizenship applications, making the process easier for them and the SSCF staff filling out their paperwork. This form walks the clients through the information and paperwork they need to prepare before their appointment with the UnidosUS Affiliate.
“This form can be used on a phone or a computer, and clients will have the option to fill it out either at our center or at home. Once the clients finish adding the information, our staff will receive a PDF via email with all the information needed to fill out the citizenship application,” Contreas explains. “We estimate that the time spent with the client at our office can easily be reduced by around 50% thanks to this form,” which, in turn, will allow SSCF help more clients.
Below you can hear from Joshua Garcia, the young man from the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation program “who was very happy to have an income while developing the forms from home without interrupting his last year of high school,” Contreras concludes. Here’s Joshua’s experience:
I joined SSCF’s LIBRE program in late 2018. Since then, LIBRE has given me multiple opportunities to connect me with professionals in the fields I’m interested in, which are computer programming and finances. In 2019, I had my first software development internship thanks to LIBRE and one of the volunteers I met in the program. The internship was a life-changing opportunity because not only did it allow me to learn from a top-tier engineer, but it also allowed me to earn some money which I used to buy much better equipment and tools for my professional development.
In 2020, I was offered an internship opportunity at SSCF. Since then, I’ve been working on multiple projects such as the renewal of SSCF’s website, SSCF’s COVID-19 screener, and SSCF’s immigration forms. The last is a cloud-based software meant to help SSCF’s clients gather their information and have their documents ready for their appointment with SSCF in order to save time and be more efficient. I’ve been working on this project since last year, and it has gone through multiple transformations until it got to this point, in which it’s ready to be tested with real users.
By working on this project, I had the opportunity to learn about immigration, improve my communication skills, and learn about new software development tools and cloud services.
This example from SSCF shows the multiple levels of impact one grant had in the Oakland community. To learn more about UnidosUS’s work and our new Esperanza Hope for All campaign, visit our site and follow @WeAreUnidosUS on social media.