In 1997 the Village Homeowners Association opened its community center to the neighborhood to provide a safe place for children to participate in arts and crafts activities. Opening these doors to the children that were most at risk in our community, grew into an outreach that has enriched many young lives. VCRC services have been broadly utilized by families from throughout Brentwood, Oakley, Knightsen, Byron, and Bethel Island. Thankfully, the benefits of our program were quickly recognized, and we began receiving support from the City of Brentwood Parks and Recreation Department to provide educational field trips, activities, and a variety of services. In 2002, VCRC responded to the need for additional services by expanding its programs to include food distribution, homework assistance, translation, and referral services. In 2004, the City of Brentwood awarded our organization with a seven-year Community Investment Grant. VCRC has made a major impact on many children in this community and continues fulfilling its mission to provide support and empower lives. In 2017, we opened an After-School Academy program in Byron, and we plan to open a third After School Academy in Oakley in 2020.
VCRC’s impression resonates throughout the East Bay Area, providing numerous possibilities otherwise unattain- able to most participants.
The After-School Academy currently provides services at sites in Brentwood and Byron. We work with Kindergarten-5th grade students giving them the personal attention and support they need to enhance self-esteem, improve academic skills, and recognize their potential as active community members. The focus in our After-School Academy is on literacy, social and emotional learning, and homework support. Reading proficiency is our utmost goal for the children we serve. You may ask, “Why do we spend so much of our time on literacy?” There are studies that have been done that prove, illiteracy leads to poor outcomes. By the age of three, children from poor families have been exposed to 30 million fewer words than children from wealthy families. 80% of low-income children do not read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. A more somber point that has been proven indicates that 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
Shining a light on those negative forecasts, VCRC programs have resulted in students gaining on average 1.7 years reading proficiency in just one year. The very best measure of a program’s benefits is illustrated by the success of its participants. One of our former students who graduated from our program after the fifth grade came back, asking to volunteer in our After-School Academy. Prior to this time, we only accepted volunteers in High School and beyond. However, this student was motivated and persistent. She told our staff she was set on becoming a teacher and dedicating to giving back to her community. Thus, our Junior Volunteer Program was born.
We connect families with community resources, and many times we can provide services through our amazing community partners for basic medical care, mental health services, grief services, conversational English classes, and more.
A story close to my heart is of a single mother who came to our center out of frustration, not knowing how to help her daughter. She was very concerned about her daughter learning to read because she only spoke broken English. Her daughter enrolled in our ASA while in kindergarten and while challenges still exist, her outlook is hopeful because she has been able to build on successes and connect to needed resources. With her daughter now a second grader, this mother is seeing the academic benefits of her involvement in VCRC. At her most recent parent-teacher conference, this mother felt the victory of learning that her daughter was one of the best readers in her class. We took that mother from feeling distraught and worried about her daughter failing, to being overjoyed and celebrating her accomplishment! Our records show this young girl is on track to finish second grade reading at least one year above grade level. Many of our graduates are now successful as teachers, business leaders, college students, in the armed forces, or staff and volunteers at VCRC. These are the positive results we are striving for.
VCRC has evolved to meet the changing needs of our community. While we were initially aimed toward ending gang violence, we quickly became an education- focused outreach. Now we see the need to deepen our impact on youth and family development. This means that we look at the entire family unit, their strengths, and their challenges. We can’t expect a child living in poverty, who may have missed a meal that day or who is anxious because their parents received an eviction notice, to be able to concentrate on their math facts. For this reason, we provide case management looking at each family’s strengths, their immediate needs, and goals. We connect families with community resources, and many times we can provide services through our amazing community partners for basic medical care, mental health services, grief services, conversational English classes, and more. When basic needs of their children are met, when parents feel safe, only then can they begin to dream of bigger things for their future. This is where VCRC is expanding. One of our newest programs, Family Leadership and Organizing, works with parents on leadership skills and walks with them as they identify goals they can achieve to better their world.
VCRC is more than just an after-school program. At VCRC, we break the cycle of poverty by making a large and multi- faceted investment in our young people. Both immediate and long-term needs must be met in order to empower families. Our model CHANGES LIVES… one child, one family at a time. We believe family engagement is vital to student success. We help families navigate the school system and become engaged, regardless of their background. We work with families to develop partnership plans, identify and provide links to resources, and help families acquire the skills needed to move out of poverty. Parents complete volunteer hours either at their child’s school, at VCRC, or through family literacy projects.
VCRC has a staff of eight and numerous volunteers who help ensure we provide quality services. While some of our programs (After School Academy, Case Management, Family Leadership, Summer Camp) are provided by VCRC staff, we also have strong partnerships to bring other vital services to East Contra Costa County. The partners include John Muir, Fred Finch Youth Services, East Bay Regional Parks, Contra Costa Crisis Center, Liberty Adult Education… to name a few. Kim McCarl, Public Affairs Manager at John Muir Health points out, “Our mobile programs serve as primary care providers for uninsured or underinsured residents.
We assess needs, treat what we can, and refer to outside agencies as needed, much like an urgent care facility in a hospital.”
There are times when an attending doctor discovers that a patient may benefit from mental health services as well. Fred Finch Youth Center partners with the mobile clinic, providing a staff member should any participant need the benefit of free and confidential one-hour mental health counseling services in support of their emotional wellness.
Bilingual English-Spanish therapy services address anxiety, depression, trauma, emotional difficulties, stress or other related issues. Most of our funding comes from foundations through grants. We also depend on the generosity of individual donors. We receive a small amount of funding through Contra Costa County. Most of our programs are free, although sometimes there is a nominal fee to register.
Our typical clients come to us from low to extremely low-income homes. This year, 100% of students are socio-economically disadvantaged and 84% of families do not speak English at home. Many of our families have multiple risk factors which include poverty, single parent head-of- household, crowded living conditions, parents with only an elementary level education, and parents who speak limited English. Most parents are seasonally employed; working in the fields, construction, and landscaping.
Our summer swim program brings a bit of “normality” to the lives of our families. While many of their more affluent peers are playing baseball, soccer, football, dance, etc. most of our families cannot afford to participate in organized sports. During the summer, thanks to a great partnership with East Bay Regional Parks, we can provide swim lessons for 60 children! This program is a deterrent to the possibility of drowning but most importantly, it provides a time when our students can just be a kid and enjoy their summer while exercising. Our summer camp at VCRC consists of outdoor activities, and project-based learning (topics vary from year to year covering STEM, ART, and Literacy). Last year, we also provided extra support during the summer for some of our readers who are struggling the most. Some of these partici- pants were able to gain more than two years reading proficiency because of this extra time! During the summer, Brentwood Union Elementary School District also provides hot lunch at VCRC on weekdays, so any child from the broader community may benefit from a midday meal.
VCRC staff provides referrals to other service agencies as well as limited transla- tion services and assistance filling out forms and applications. VCRC is an extremely safe place, serving our community for 22 years. We do not ask for any personal documentation. We are here to lend a helping hand in shaping the future of our community, and that is our children.
Photos By Melissa Van Ruiten