Nonprofits

Nonprofit serving at-risk youth makes a play for San Benito County

Empowering Our Communities for Success has served Santa Clara County kids since 2013.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez

There’s a missed opportunity in Danny Chavez’s childhood that he keeps coming back to: he’s in elementary school and starting to cut class. He’s considering other decisions that could impact his life negatively. 

He doesn’t have a father at home and his teachers didn’t act on the warning signs he was showing. 

“Nobody was there to teach me to make positive decisions,” Chavez said. “If somebody was looking for red flags in an elementary school, they would have found me.”

That inaction brought Chavez into the field of youth intervention. Twenty-five years ago he started to work closely with youth populations at high risk of getting involved in the juvenile justice system, others living in underserved neighborhoods, and gang-impacted youth within Santa Clara County. 

He found purpose and hope in the progress he was making with them, but, after 16 years, he felt there was room for improvement. 

“I started to think, you know, if we are going to solve this problem, then we have to do something different,” Chavez said. “And that difference, to me, was going upstream, way back to younger kids. Trying to catch these kids before they start making these life-changing decisions.”

So Chavez made a change. In 2013, he founded Empowering Our Communities for Success (EOCS), a non-profit organization empowering youth populations to believe in themselves through education and athletic programs. 

With EOCS, he wants to bring the kind of mentorship he didn’t grow up with to youth in underserved communities.

Jennifer Daughenbaugh is a Hollister High School alum and retired Santa Clara County probation officer, a career she worked in for 28 years before joining EOCS earlier this year. She met Chavez at a restorative justice and practice training five years ago when she was still a probation officer and he had been running EOCS for about three years. 

Asked about this professional partnership, Daughenbaugh said that her friendship with Chavez was unexpected. 

“We come from different places. I grew up in Hollister, my dad was a police officer, I became a probation officer. Danny and I met through our work and our growing up and background probably couldn’t be more opposite,” she said. “But, yet, we found this connection. It’s a really cool combination of like, we come from different places, we have different lenses, but we care about the same thing.”

Chavez and Daughenbaugh are in the process of bringing EOCS to San Benito County. 

“We are working with one school, currently, in Hollister on a contract,” Daughenbaugh said. “We’re very excited about it,” adding that because the contract has yet to be finalized, Daughenbaugh said, the school EOCS aims to partner with cannot yet be named. 

“So far it’s been a very positive process and we feel optimistic about it,” she said.

EOCS hopes that by building a relationship with one school in San Benito County, it will have a ripple effect and other schools will also get involved. 

EOCS is currently on four school campuses in Santa Clara County. During the school year, the organization is mostly at middle and high schools helping support high-risk youth that are identified by the school’s administration, Daughenbaugh said.

Empowering Our Communities for Success youth during one of the activities. The faces of youth are blurred in the photo to protect their privacy. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Daughenbaugh.
Empowering Our Communities for Success youth during one of the activities. The faces of youth are blurred in the photo to protect their privacy. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Daughenbaugh.

Students that EOCS work with show signs of either behavior issues, truancy, or are failing academically. A majority of the time, they identify with all three, Chavez said. 

Trust is key when establishing relationships with the students they’re working with. 

“The crux of everything with a young person is building a relationship and building a trusting relationship so that they feel like they have an adult that they can go to,” Daughenbaugh said. 

But doing this takes time. Chavez has to carve out a unique role for himself—one that exists outside the notions of discipline and authority that are linked

to adults in academic settings. Association with a role that is corrective in any way keeps students from opening up, Daughenbaugh said. 

The first step, after Chavez has related what his role is to the students, is to work with them in one-on-one settings. 

“Once we find common ground with these kids, then we can build on that and create relationships,” Chavez said. “And when there’s a relationship, it creates trust. And when there’s trust, these kids can then start to share things that they might not share with anybody.” 

Once these connections have been established, Chavez introduces group programs. These sessions are held once a week and focus on various topics—self-esteem, life skills, identity—and create a space that encourages reflection. 

Something EOCS emphasizes is that success looks different for everyone. They stray away from encouraging only what society deems successful and work to redefine what success looks like outside mainstream definitions. 

“All we want, at the end of the day, is for them to believe in themselves,” Chavez said. “We will believe in them until they can believe in themselves.”

Danny Chavez with youth it serves at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The faces of youth are blurred in the photo to protect their privacy. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Daughenbaugh.
Danny Chavez with youth it serves at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The faces of youth are blurred in the photo to protect their privacy. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Daughenbaugh.

Their work doesn’t stop when the last day of school rolls around. Summer months are dedicated to sports, something Chavez and Daughenbaugh share a passion for. 

EOCS started collaborating with the San Francisco 49ers Foundation in 2018 to bring free flag football programs to the youth they were working with. 

“They usually only serve 7- to 14- year olds, but they felt so good about our program that they extended the age to 18 just for us,” Daughenbaugh said.

The partnership enables EOCS to provide free uniforms and equipment to their players, as well as opportunities to attend 49er games and meet athletes. 

This year, EOCS ran a flag football league for middle and high school youth in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Jose. The summer season, Chavez said, is crucial. The sports program offered in the months between school years allows him to stay in touch with the youth EOCS has worked hard to build relationships with.  

Chavez and Daughenbaugh have set their sights on expanding the reach of EOCS to elementary-age children. 

“Our vision is to transform a community, and that starts at elementary school and goes all the way through high school and anywhere in between,” Chavez said. “That’s what we really want to do. And we’re looking forward to seeing if we can make that happen in Hollister.”

 

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Kinsey Canez

Kinsey Canez studied social sciences at Monterey Peninsula College before transferring to California State University San Marcos, where she recently graduated with a major in media studies and a minor in political science. She was born and raised in Hollister and enjoys reading, cooking, and listening to podcasts.