Nearly 150 residents representing just about every rung of the economic ladder attended the Community Matters Leadership Luncheon and panel discussion on Oct. 21, which was co-sponsored by San Benito County Community Action Board and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Ann Ross, a member of the Community Action Board as a representative of San Benito County Supervisor Jerry Muenzer's District 4, said the event stemmed from the Board’s work as an outreach to the impoverished and to bring services to those who need it.
“This sprang from the generosity of LDS to help the Community Action Board partly fund an event that would bring together people who could not normally afford a luncheon,” she said. “It is free, but you had to get the tickets online, which was difficult for some, so we tried to do an outreach so people weren’t kept away. We wanted to include everybody who could make it, including the people who live down by the river. We encouraged people who are homeless to come and join us. So, when people came in for services at the Community Action Board, they found out about it there.”
The interesting part about the panel forum, Ross said, was to have the mayor of Hollister -- Ignacio Velazquez -- and a county supervisor -- Margie Barrios -- on the same stage to have a conversation.
“Even though their meetings about the homeless are open to the public, and the Action Board meetings are also open to the public, we don’t normally have a representative from the school district and an entrepreneur, along with the deputy director of the Action Board all in one room where people are encouraged to ask questions that will hopefully span a bunch of different topics,” she said.
On the panel to take questions from those in the audience, were: Velazquez, Barrios, Superintendent of the Hollister School District, Gary McIntire, Fernando Gonzalez, a business owner and chairman of the Community Foundation for San Benito County's board of directors and the Community Service Development Corporation, and Enrigue Arreola, deputy director of Community Services & Workforce Development.
Hal Hendrickson, public relations director for the church, acted as moderator. As lunch was served, people wrote questions that were passed along to Hendrickson.
Hendrickson’s first question was for Mayor Velazquez: “There seems to be a stopgap for kids getting involved in enriching programs. Are there any transportation programs that can help?”
Velazquez responded, “People ask, ‘Why do we need a ballpark, why do we need an aquatic center or a library when everyone is online now?’ If we provide facilities for our children; if we can get them educated early on, that makes for a better community. Crime is not driven down by more cops chasing people; it’s driven down by education levels.
“Our crime is coming down because of the outreach of the police department and the recreation department. We’re doing a lot of new things in the community for our children. Some say ‘we can’t afford it.’ As we get more settled within the city financially, we will offer scholarships for any program for any child in our community. All I ask in return is for them to participate by volunteering somewhere else.”
Hendrickson: “This question is for Dr. McIntire. In your role as a community leader, how do you foster or encourage creative thinking within your organization and in the community?”
McIntire: “One of the things I think is that America is moving away from is to not respect and encourage the abilities of all participants to be a part of the solutions. We have to ensure that everyone within our organization as a school district absolutely believes at the core that every single student can and will learn. The acceptance of low expectations is something that grows out of a desire to support people without giving them the opportunity to support themselves.
“I’ll give you an example. Our district declared Calaveras School as a high priority. One of the things that we did was to reorganize that site. We interviewed every teacher for the job to stay at that school. We took every position in the school and asked people if they wanted to be there and for anyone in the district to apply for those positions. The core to that was this belief that every student in the district and at that school will succeed. At that school, two thirds of the students are English learners. Ninety percent are economically disadvantaged. So, we have to have people who fundamentally believe every student is going to succeed. Not only succeed, but succeed at high levels. That took not administrative oversight, or the genius of one single leader; it took the entire staff.
“It came about because we empower the people," McIntire continued. "I believe that throughout this community all of our solutions are going to come from empowering people within the community. It’s not going to come, with all due respect, from the mayor. As community leaders, all of us have to empower the people we work with.”
Hendrickson’s question for Enrique Arreola: “How would you prioritize the areas with the most poverty and what plans have our city and county governments made to address these, such as education, housing, food, job training, housing, employment?”
Arreola: “What our department has done over the last five years is a community-wide assessment led by the Community Action Board to utilize that information to prioritize services. Over the last five years one of the highest ranked is the need for job training, which is one of the services we provide. Many of you have heard of the One-stop Career Center, and now is called American Job Center. We have an array of classroom training to get work experience, placement in different local companies. Another area that seemed to rank high was addressing some of the homeless issues. We’ve supported local organizations with homeless services. Our department has operated the shelter for homeless families.
“This past year, we received a grant that we called Dreamcatcher Program, and we provided some scholarships for kids to participate in after-school recreation activities. We had approximately 180 local children and youth who wanted to be involved in football, horseback riding, music lessons, whatever they wanted to do, and we helped them with enrollment fees and equipment.”
Hendrickson: “Supervisor Barrios, what are the plans to expand roads to make it easier to come home to our families?”
Barrios: “We are very much aware that the funding from the state and federal government is diminishing. We’ve been directed by the state, ‘If you want your roads fixed you need to find the funding yourselves.’ We were fortunate enough to have the Council of (San Benito County) Governments (COG) do a survey that asked the people what they would like to see and what is the most important thing if we were to pass a sales tax in San Benito County, and what would that money be used for? The No. 1 thing they came up with was ‘fix our roads.’
“We have not had a plan to maintain the roads. All we’ve done is be reactive instead of proactive. And that’s what has pretty much gotten us into the situation we’re in. We need to do some long-term planning so if we do end up getting funding from the community, which would be very generous, because we’re asking the community to do more with less. We will have to rely on those dollars to ensure that the partnerships with the city we address not only maintaining, but repairing.
“It will be in our budget planning every year," Barrios added. "I think we’re getting off to a good start in that San Benito County is getting a handle on what’s necessary and how we’re going to do it.”
Hendrickson to Fernando Gonzalez: “Are leaders in Hollister doing enough to attract new businesses and are there any thoughts that CSUMB (California State University, Monterey Bay) or UCSC (University of California, Santa Cruz) create extensions here?”
Gonzalez: “I don’t know about the school situation, but I have developed properties and businesses. One of the things that government does is sometimes impede the process. One of the things that government needs to look at is how to run a better planning and building department, so people are not given months and months of delays. When you go to other counties they’re welcoming. I’m not saying the city and county aren’t welcoming.
“While the elected officials want you, the staff is not set up to move businesses forward. You go there and one month it’s one policy, then, depending on who you talk to at the office, there’s different policies. I think that’s one of the things that local government needs to address. The leadership, in terms of making sure when businesses do want to come in, there’s more of a fast track. Not to have special preference, but because of the ancient policies that haven’t been reviewed, business sometimes gets frustrated. There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement. As a businessman I see that all the time.”
Hendrickson: “I have a combined question for Enrique. The first is the migrant center opens in May every year, yet families arrive in March. What is being done to have the center open when they arrive? And, can you give us an update regarding the building of the homeless center in San Benito County?”
Arreola: “We operate the San Benito Migrant Center and it has opened in mid-May with a pre-extension and all the way through November. The dates are governed by state, so we’re bounded to start at that time. As soon as we open, we’re pretty much full. We have families coming in prior to the opening. Also, there are many individuals who come in here who don’t have families. We work with the Farm Labor Association in operating the Southside Labor Camp. It’s 272 beds, and that’s not bounded by that period of time. So, any individuals who are migrant farm workers, can go there and there’s housing provided for them. For families, that is a big gap that we have. I wish we had a lot more housing, but that’s not the case at the moment. It’s tough, but we do the best that we can.
“As for the homeless center, our department has been receiving funding since the mid-80s. Over the years, we’ve receive around $8 million. A large amount of those funds have been subcontracted to the different nonprofits for services. This past year, we secured a $1.5 million grant to build a homeless center. We’ve engaged the community, our local board of supervisors, the city council, and the mayor. We have a monthly meeting with homeless service providers who help us lead the efforts in stopping homelessness in this community. We’ve identified some sites and the board of supervisors has, at least for now, identified a site for us to look into further. As far as development, we’re still not there. For the moment, site selection is where we’re at. We’re hoping that once the site is fully solidified it will be built by 2018, or even before that.”
Hendrickson: "Mr. McIntire, what is your view on the use of technology in the classroom and how do you plan to increase the use the amount of technology in the classroom at the present time?”
McIntire: “Technology can certainly support instruction, and it should certainly be seen as a support, not a substitute. There’s a tremendous amount of research that shows the characteristics of effective schools, and it really does begin with good teaching. At the heart of teaching is a good teacher, but technology does play an important role. In fact, it’s unavoidable now.
“The California Content Standards have been replaced with Common Core. Along with Common Core came assessments, which require the students to access them with a computer. So the students now take the tests on computers. That’s been a tremendously difficult shift for school districts throughout the state. Technology is wonderful if you have it. If you’re able to invent it on the fly, or implement it without having the infrastructure in place, it’s something that’s a real challenge for schools.
“We’ve seen this coming. We’ve been prepared for it. All of our sites have more than enough bandwidth for all of our students to be on. We’ve added technology at all of our sites that will allow complete wireless technology anywhere on a site and we’re moving toward a one-device-per-student ratio throughout all of our schools. We should be there in the next couple of years.”
As the Q&A session neared its end, Hendrickson wanted to pose what he referred to as a “pop-up” question that any member of the panel could answer. He asked, with tongue in cheek, “Is it true that Google is building a campus in Hollister?”
After the audience stopped laughing, Mayor Velazquez took up the challenge: “There are a number of companies interested in coming to Hollister. If Google is going to be one of them, we don’t know yet. We installed a fiber line through San Benito Street to the north to enable tech companies to come to our community. I can’t answer that question, but a lot of good things are coming our way because we laid the groundwork to get us to this point. We will start seeing the changes over the next five years.”
“Can we Google that?” someone called out from the audience.
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