The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the vulnerabilities and inequities that have long been present in marginalized communities. Despite its affluent reputation, Santa Barbara is no exception to the issues many immigrants, domestic workers, and people of color face in impoverished neighborhoods.
Prior to the pandemic, members of our community were already under constant attacks, being displaced, and pushed out of our neighborhoods. Now with the current health crisis, it is more critical than ever to stand together as a community and persist.
La Casa de la Raza was founded in 1971 to provide a nonprofit community center in Santa Barbara. The mission of La Casa de la Raza is to develop and empower the Latino and marginalized community members by affirming and preserving cultural heritage, providing an umbrella for services and by advocating for participation in the larger community.
The efforts to sustain this community resource have been longstanding. Some of the challenges have been published in local media, sometimes without much attempt to provide context to the story or allowing us the opportunity to voice our perspective. In recent times, none of the established media outlets have attempted to provide balanced reporting and highlight the resilient staff and board members who have managed to maintain services and programs for the community despite the financial struggles not atypical of small nonprofit organizations such as La Casa.
In the article Plug Finally Pulled on La Casa de la Raza in the Santa Barbara Independent in May, our voices were again undermined when reporting the sale of our building.
Members of the board were given less than a three-hour window to respond with comments — an impractical time frame for nonprofits of our size where services to the community are prioritized. The outcome was an article with no comments from any of the affected parties. So while detached journalists might prioritize sensationalism and refer to our existence as a “death rattle,” we are alive — very much present and working every day to serve our community. Forty-nine years of history, and three years of working to defend La Casa cannot be reduced to seven paragraphs with no insight from those involved.
La Casa has always been at the forefront of supporting our most vulnerable community members and preserving the culture and history that makes Santa Barbara unique in ways that are unparalleled. We are here. When Governor Newsom issued a statewide “Stay at Home” order, we immediately evolved with the situation and quickly adapted our organization to meet new needs.
In a short time, frame, we have expanded our services to include:
• Assistance with unemployment applications
• Assistance with 805 undocufund applications
• Assistance with grant applications for United Way
• Document translation
• Grocery shopping for culturally relevant foods and basic needs impacting our elder community and those who have compromised immune systems
• Food distribution
• Assistance with employment rights
• Assistance with Medi-Cal and Cal-fresh paperwork
• Assistance with resumés and establishing email accounts for employment/unemployment purposes
• Assistance with tenant rights
• Compassion calls (reaching out to our most vulnerable and isolated populations in the 70+ age)
• Online support for managing stress, anxiety, and practicing self-care.
• Behavioral wellness resource support
• Pop up, World Famous TORTA Sales, at La Casa to generate funds and keep the community aware that La Casa is still here.
Our monolingual Spanish-speaking families depend on the services we provide. The support we offer is the only way to bridge access to online applications ranging from basic needs to the most critical. We are averaging 50 calls per day, and La Casa is working hard to meet the moment.
In the past seven months, leaders of La Casa have made substantial progress in addressing board and transparency issues that were previously in question. An all-community volunteer steering committee was formed for the purpose of creating a new vision for the organization, establishing a membership structure, and to make recommendations to the board to guide a new direction for La Casa and the community that it has served since 1971.
The board took action and began to move forward with the recommendations from the steering committee which include a member election for the board. The existing health crisis has caused a temporary delay in the plans, but we are working hard to move forward with the recommendations.
La Casa is still seeking board members and a fully fledged election process will be held with individuals from the community and elected officials to review applications of those individuals who wish to become board members and establish a fully elected revised La Casa Board.
As this was one of the major requests from Mr. Thomas Castello — the current note holder of the building. He also requests we bring in across cultures a non-biased group of individuals from the community, in addition to having legal Articles of Incoporation.
Currently, we are working with Mr. Castello and past La Casa members who have voiced support and concerns to come up with a strategic plan that will guide us to the future without financial worries and a sound, productive, and vibrant outlook to programs and services for the community.
With our most recent efforts to make La Casa’s building a historical landmark and our continued partnership with the University of California to preserve and archive historical information, KZAA our public broadcasting radio station and agencies like the Fund of Santa Barbara, County of Santa Barbara, Behavioral Wellness, and foundations have supported us despite rumors and conjectures.
La Casa’s mission, vision, and its capacity to lift our community was never intended to be the responsibility of a few individuals or personalities. But, instead, the fabric of our collective experiences is held together by each thread we weave into its existence.
Now is the time for all of us to unite. Our community needs us to create change in ways that are both innovative and equitable. We will be here and encourage participation and support from all.
We are very appreciative of the assistance from SBCC Foundation and Geoff Green; The Fund of Santa Barbara, The Hutton Foundation, and the Bower Foundation in addition to the mayor of Santa Barbara, Alejandra Guttierez, Das Williams, Congressmember Salud Carbajal, and many of La Casa past members who have come and support the movement towards a prosperous future. In addition, we want to thank Montecito Bank & Trust for their assistance with the Paycheck Protection Program funding.