Seven years ago Natalia Hernandez came to The Unity Council looking for posada – Spanish for shelter. At the time she was under-employed, with two young children, and at risk of homelessness; she saw the large sign for Posada de Colores senior housing on Fruitvale Ave one day and stopped in to ask for help. The front desk assistant at Posada de Colores explained that the “Posada” was for low-income senior citizens, but that there might be another program of The Unity Council that would be a good fit for her.
Natalia was referred to The Unity Council’s Career Center for employment and housing resources by the Posada de Colores staff; there she learned that there was an early childhood education program in the same building. Natalia had been working at a daycare, but the day care could only offer her part-time employment, without benefits. She came back with her resume and hoped for the best.
And the best happened! Natalia has now been working as an Early Head Start teacher for the past six years. “Everything The Unity Council has done for me has made me a better person,” she says. “I needed help getting back on my feet after a bad divorce, and they helped me find a full-time job doing what I love.” As an anchor organization in the Fruitvale neighborhood, it is common for community residents to start out as clients then become employees themselves, across all programs.
“I will always remember something that Ms. [Elizabeth] Crocker said when I started working here: ‘You work with kids and families, and we understand YOU like a family.’ That stuck with me. This organization wants its employees to succeed and to grow.”
Natalia is taking advantage of the advancement opportunities that The Unity Council provides. Right now she is enrolled in two Merritt College classes that take place at The Unity Council’s headquarters after work. The Unity Council puts an instructor in the classroom with Natalia during the regular work day to fulfill the “lab” portion of the class. “My coach is right there in the classroom with me, and she helps us learn new child education skills while we are working.”
“The Head Start program is unofficially our largest workforce development program,” says CEO Chris Iglesias. “We help our Head Start teachers get their AA, their BA, and occasionally also their Masters in early childhood education. We want the best educators we can find for our children and families enrolled in the program, and that means training and educating the people right here in this community to become those stellar teachers.”