Amy Bravo and Michael Salinas said they left their positions with the county's Behavioral Health Department to start their nonprofit to help youth throughout the county. Photo by Juliana Luna.
Amy Bravo and Michael Salinas said they left their positions with the county's Behavioral Health Department to start their nonprofit to help youth throughout the county. Photo by Juliana Luna.

Amy Bravo and Michael Salinas, who on Aug. 1 founded Youth Recovery Connections, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit to provide drug prevention and treatment services for youth ages 12-16, came to the Hollister City Council on Sept. 6 to request $175,000 in a second round of funding for fiscal year 2022-23 to hire two part-time employees and operating costs.

When they left the council, the contribution had been reduced to $80,000. In between, they were praised for their 24-hour-a-day effort to help youth and lectured that their business model was “unsustainable.” When Councilman Rick Perez asked Salinas what would happen if someone called at 3 in the morning, Salinas said he would answer the phone and do what was necessary to help. Perez said that the same phone call to the county would go unanswered unless it was made during normal working hours. 

The council voted 4-1 in favor of the resolution at the reduced amount. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez voted against it.

According to the city staff in support of the resolution, Hollister has seen an increase in incidences of overdoses that are symptoms of “deteriorating mental health, lack of access to health and social services, poverty, unaffordable housing, and stigma; all of which have intensified in the pandemic era.”  

According to Youth Recovery’s website, it offers intervention, prevention and services for those suffering from opioid and other substance use disorders. It offers an individualized and evidence-based approach in a safe, caring, and supportive environment. Their group’s main focus is to promote recovery and wellness through healthy and productive lifestyle changes while using a whole person approach to care.

While the entire council had high praise for Bravo and Salinas, only Perez and Councilmember Dolores Morales were willing to support the full $175,000 request. Councilman Rolan Resendiz thought the amount too high and recommended the two go to the county to plead their case. Velazquez told them it was not the city’s role to support their endeavors. Instead, he said funding comes through the federal government to states, then counties.

After learning that since Aug. 1 Bravo and Salinas had helped approximately 40 clients, all of whom live in Hollister, Morales reasoned it was definitely Hollister’s role to help the nonprofit, even if only temporarily. She said if the city paid millions to place speed bumps and traffic circles that were having no effect then why couldn’t it pay $175,000 to save the city’s youth.

“It is government’s responsibility to be able to provide support to an organization that’s doing a really good job until they’re able to get on their feet,” Morales said. “Until then, there are a lot of things the city can do, whether it’s a resolution to the county, to San Juan, the state or federal government to help obtain funding for our partners. This is a small investment, to put a Band-Aid on until we get to where we need to be. We really need them [county] to help us and be proactive. It is our business. The community is hurting. Our community is dying. We need to help sustain the few options we have available.”

At first, Councilman Tim Burns said he could not justify contributing the entire $175,000. He asked Bravo if she had tried to secure grants and if they had approached the county for funding. She told him she had applied for numerous grants, one being for $3 million, but that they were unlikely to hear if they were awarded any of that funding until December. She also told him the county was not receptive to their request.

Burns reasoned that without grants already in place or contributions from the county and San Juan Bautista their business model was “unsustainable.” But after hearing, Morales say $175,000 was a cheap price to pay to save lives and Perez’s emotional plea to save youth from the increasing fentanyl scourge that has already been responsible for 69 overdose cases and six suspected overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Sept. 7, according to ODMap, which provides near real-time suspected overdose surveillance data, Burns reconsidered.

However, As of Aug. 14, ambulance personnel have responded to 42 calls for overdose, EMS Manager Kris Mangano recently told BenitoLink. Emergency Services of San Benito County reported 48 overdose calls in 2021. 

Sergeant Bryan Penny of the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office told BenitoLink the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner confirmed two fentanyl deaths in San Benito County this year. There were 14 confirmed fentanyl deaths in the last six years.

Burns said he was willing to help keep them afloat with an $80,000 contribution until January.  

On April 4, the council approved a contribution of $65,000 for start-up costs and $25,000 for the group’s first quarter salaries. The council also requested the nonprofit come back in three months to give measurable results and provide a presentation. At the Aug. 1 meeting they gave their presentation and several community members praised their efforts to help youth throughout the county.

But at the Sept. 6 meeting, even after two parents, including Tina Garza, the city’s recreation services manager, spoke on behalf of Youth Recovery Connections and the ineffectiveness of the county Behavioral Health Department with respect to their children’s recoveries, Bravo and Salinas were told they had to either convince the county to contribute funding or force it to go on the record that it would not do so.

Resendiz was curious why the county denied their request for funding, being that both Bravo and Salinas had worked in the Behavioral Health Department. Salinas told Resendiz he should ask the county that question. Resendiz asked Salinas if he thought it possible to get on the county Board of Supervisors’ agenda.

Salinas said he was told that County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa “won’t allow us to get to the supervisors.” 

Resendiz said he believed it would take millions of dollars to combat the county’s drug issues and echoed Burns’ contention that their business model was not sustainable. He said he did not see how they could succeed without building partnerships with the county.

“I understand this is a huge problem but it’s not something we can resolve overnight and it’s not within the scope of the city,” he said.

Salinas told the council he wants the organization to be self-sustaining, but he believed it would take another six months to accomplish that. Bravo added it typically takes three years for a new organization to become sustainable.

“This [contribution] would just help us out to get to where we need to be and from there we would move forward and be sustainable on our own,” Salinas said.

Burns concluded, “If we can’t get the county onboard, we need to know that because maybe we can rally the community at that point to do something more.” 


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John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...