Empower Yolo: La Casita — the little (power) house
YOLO COUNTY NEWS

Empower Yolo's resource center on D Street is known as La Casitia — the little house. Courtesy photo

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Empower Yolo: La Casita — the little (power) house

Empower Yolo’s D Street Resource Center, “D Street House” (or as local community members call it, “La Casita” — the little house) sits proudly on the busy corner of Fifth and D streets in downtown Davis, providing hundreds of individuals and families with access to a range of programs, services, and information to address the many challenges they face today.

In an effort to help low-income families and the 凯发体育官方sporthomeless population the Davis Community Church generously provided the space for a resource center in February 2014. The facility opened to provide an environment where staff could partner with families to identify their needs, connect clients to resources, and address and resolve issues in order to improve their lives. It became D Street House, a program of Empower Yolo, after the merger with The Yolo Center For Families in 2016.

“We are a welcoming center for people of all backgrounds and needs — promoting safe, healthy & resilient communities at all sites and offices,” says JiaJia Zhao, Empower Yolo D Street site coordinator and case manager. Community members are being supported at a high rate during the pandemic and can find assistance in English, Spanish and Mandarin.  Zhao keeps in close contact with over 40 Mandarin speaking clients, many of which are seniors, to help share information about services.

“Clients really appreciate us for everything. The elderly in particular have found their needs are being met with us which is wonderful because many felt like no one was taking care of them; and they feared their lives were near the end especially during the pandemic, but they found help through Empower Yolo and feel like they are treated like family,” says Zhao.

Since the pandemic, many people have come for food distribution. D Street House served 123 families (306 individuals) for food distribution in July 2020. Other services that are actively utilized at this time are: rental assistance; Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help (REACH) & 凯发体育官方sporthome Energy Assistance (HEAP) programs to help pay PG&E; assistance with CalWorks/CalFresh/Medi-Cal applications; Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC) referrals; food distribution; assistance with United Way applications; translation services (Mandarin & Spanish); peer counseling; emergency assistance; hygiene products & baby’s needs; and providing support and resources to immigrants.

A more comprehensive list of services and programs currently offered at D Street House cover four main areas: family support, children’s services, health services, and access to benefits. Services and programs include:

Housing: Emergency shelter for individuals escaping domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking; affordable housing referrals; eviction prevention & first month’s rent screenings; utilities assistance; and help with furniture needs.

Individuals & Family Support: Health insurance, CalFresh & CalWorks enrollment programs; resources, information & referrals to support services; food distribution & food referrals; tax returns; identification card fee waiver; self-care packages; Chinese senior support group; Yoga class — suspended during COVID-19; referrals to legal services; restraining orders, family law; assistance with permanent resident card renewal; court accompaniment & advocacy; immigration services; victims of crime support; counseling services for adults and children; and support group referrals for adults.

Children’s Services: Play School Experience (English & Chinese) — suspended during COVID-19; and childcare referrals.

All programs are offered year round although eligibility may vary for some programs.  All Empower Yolo services are free and confidential.

Spanish-speaking clients, especially undocumented clients, have found D Street House a beacon for help and resources where they can get clarification on information about the pandemic, and receive services or referrals to help keep their families safe and healthy.

“Empower Yolo supports our most vulnerable individuals and families in Davis,” says Maria Luisa Cabrera, one of Empower Yolo’s most active volunteers during the pandemic. Cabrera prefers to use the word “share” rather than volunteer as she shares so much of her time, knowledge and research to especially help immigrant and Spanish-speaking individuals and families in Davis and Woodland many of which are essential workers.

“I consider it a gift to have been welcomed to join forces with the staff at Empower Yolo with whom I share essential values: service not charity; empowering not rescuing; validation for these families’ contributions and respect for their innate dignity and their rights,” says Cabrera.

Currently, there is a team effort with Cabrera, Edith Solorzano, from Health and Human Services, and Empower Yolo staff to help serve and meet immigrant families’ needs so they can navigate the system and have access to funds if they have been affected by the pandemic. “The invigorating aspect of it all rests on the fact that we are coming together as Latinas to find solutions and serve out of conviction our most vulnerable families and everyone we can,” says Cabrera.

Working with Empower Yolo to serve vulnerable families has been empowering. As the pandemic plagued the community especially affecting immigrant families who had been furloughed, Cabrera reached out to Josie Enriquez, Empower Yolo Program Director.  “It was the logical step to take because Empower Yolo has been serving our most vulnerable families in the county (from all walks of life, all ethnic groups and all ages) in a myriad of indispensable ways for over 40 years. When I count the number of families whom I have supported, so they can navigate, for example, the Unemployment Insurance system, or for whom I have found support for rent and food, the 30-plus number pales in comparison to the 10,000 clients Empower Yolo served last year,” says Cabrera.

empoweryolo.org. D Street House is at 441 D St. in Davis. In-kind donations (such as toilet paper, paper towels, lysol spray, disinfecting wipes, Ziplock bags (for packaging hygiene products for clients), baby wipes, backpacks, sleeping bags, underwear, and socks) can be made during office hours: Monday-Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Fridays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment, call 530-757-1261.

“Although through the generosity of its loyal donors, Empower Yolo marches on helping to create a true sense of community and serving Yolo County’s most vulnerable population,” Cabrera said, “I believe it’s time to build upon what Empower Yolo has already established on a very solid foundation. As we face the challenges brought on by the pandemic and more individuals and families find themselves struggling to make ends meet, I urge Davis residents to follow the lead of Empower Yolo’s current donors’ generosity considering that the very first seeds were planted by five women from Davis in 1977.

“Undoubtedly, the staff at Empower Yolo truly work in the trenches, but it’s time to get Empower Yolo out of the shadows, give credit where credit is due and empower this nonprofit to strengthen its programs and services since the need for all the programs it provides is only going to increase in the next few months.”

Cabrera notes that although families refer to D Street as “La Casita” (The Little House), a literal translation misses the warmth it conveys and how emotionally nourishing Spanish-speaking families find the support and positive connection with Empower Yolo’s diverse and attentive staff. La Casita may be little, but the empowering and positive effect it has on individuals and families who rely on it to help them live safe, healthy and resilient lives make La Casita a powerhouse with so many essential and life-saving services and resources it offers to the community.

— Natalia Baltazar is the Director of Development and Community Relations of Empower Yolo.

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