By: Mandy Lew
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, San Jose has been hit particularly hard. Santa Clara County was among the first to shelter in place. But as new cases continue to rise, shops and businesses remain shuttered, and many of the newly unemployed worry about how to pay rent and put food on the table.
Sacred Heart Community Services has marshaled a heroic response, providing emergency assistance, pushing for a moratorium on evictions, retooling its programs and harnessing the inner resources of its members. The organization’s rapid response was made possible in part because of early support from United Way Bay Area, which provided funding to upgrade technology, implement safety precautions and scale-up operations.
“It has been absolutely critical to what we’re able to do,” Guevara explained. “We had faith that many of our philanthropic individual donors were going to step up to the plate, but the first and certainly the most significant source of resources to be able to tackle this in any way was United Way Bay Area.”
Technology isn’t usually top of mind when people think about how COVID-19 has hurt Bay Area families. Over the past few months, however, the digital divide has come into stark relief. Working parents, faced with the prospect of homeschooling their children, suddenly had to stay home. And without access to reasonable computers and other equipment required for young learners, the task at hand seemed daunting.
Sacred Heart attacked the problem with a three-pronged strategy. First, they made sure that kids got the computers they needed for school. Second, they acted as a liaison for the schools in instances where teachers had lost contact with students. Third, they encouraged their members, those individuals seeking assistance from Sacred Heart, to help and support each other.
“You’re seeing a lot of resilience from families that are finding ways of being able to support each other and reach out to each other to create these mutual support networks of folks,” explained Guevara. “Our teams have been checking in on our members to make sure that they have support, that they know what resources are available and that they get help in accessing whatever resources that they need.”
Come summer, both parents and students will be faced with a new set of challenges, but Sacred Heart is already looking ahead. It plans to bolster its Summer Academy, a successful academic enrichment program for grades four through eight. More skilled educators will join the team this year to help prevent learning loss and, in some cases, play catch-up, using a combination of distance and on-site learning.
“It’s really our core mission and focus to bring people together across boundaries of race and class to address the underlying issues, the underlying injustice of poverty in our community,” Guevara said. “That’s not going to change. But how we do so, and how we do so in ways that are safe, creative and impactful for individuals, is going to have to move beyond any of our previous thinking. It is among our greatest challenges, and we like to think that we’re prepared for anything. “
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