Rosie Jara’s journey to The Unity Council first started nearly 30 years ago as a young child enrolled in the program. Today, she is a leader behind the same program that gave her the encouragement to learn and thrive.  “I’ve always felt at home and connected to Head Start,” Jara said. “I felt like it was part of who I was.” 

In 2017, Rosie joined the organization once again, this time through the Americorps program where she assisted the Fruitvale Neighborhood Career and Resource Center. In 2018, Rosie transitioned to Head Start, as an Administrative Assistant.  She worked alongside the same teachers and staff that assisted her, including her mother Jazmin, who was first hired as a substitute teacher and later became a Center Director at Fruitvale Head Start. 

Over the years, Luis Arenas, Director of Children & Family Services said Rosie’s tenacity to learn the ins and outs of the program quickly moved her up in the organization. Jara believes her success is due to her insight both as a participant of the program and as a Head Start mother.  

“Being able to make decisions for the program, I’ve always thought about what we can do to best support each child and their family,” Jara said.   

In early 2021, Jara was promoted to Associate Director for Data & Compliance, a role that she believes would not be possible without the support of the agency. 

“I’ve definitely seen her growth within the years and she understands every aspect of our program, including contracts,” said Luis Arenas, Director of Children & Family Services. “Rosie has shown the skillset and the ability to take on the position and it really compliments our program.” 

Jara said she’s often inspired by the positive stories directly from Head Start families on the program’s impact, opinions her mother also lived by as well. In May 2019, Jazmin Jara passed away from cancer. In October 2019, the very Head Start where she served for more than 15 years was renamed in her honor, Jazmin Jara Child Development Center.   

Jara looks forward to enroll in graduate school in the near future so she could continue her role in The Unity Council for many years to come.  

In October 2020, Children & Family Services welcomed a Professional Development Coordinator to strengthen the program’s workforce development program. A new role for the department, the Professional Development Coordinator oversees curriculum development, professional development, and new staff training at seven Head Start sites.  

The Coordinator provides individualized coaching and training for Head Start educators using a curriculum that reflects the cultural values and diversity of the families served while ensuring school readiness goals are successfully met. The Coordinator also collaborates with Center Directors to promote best practices in early childhood development based on Head Start Performance Standards and maintain our educators’ certification tracking system so our educators continue to stay within compliance.    

Professional Development Coordinator Anna Uribe Vender, with more than 10 years of experience in early childhood education said educators have the most critical job in the world. 

Luis Arenas, Director of Children and Family Services said that in such a short time, the program has seen growth in the quality of training opportunities for Head Start staff over the last few months. “It’s been great! Prior to Anna, we didn’t have anyone dedicated to professional development,” said Arenas. “She has met with staff on an individual level to establish and track their professional goals. She also meets with Center Directors to get with big picture ideas.”  

“They have the opportunity to shape and guide students to be future leaders who will promote systemic change,” said Uribe Vender. “It’s my role to best support them to make it all possible.”   

Our Head Start & Early Head Start program reopened its centers in February after several weeks of remote learning for Oakland and Concord young children.  

“Closing wasn’t easy because many of the families we serve are essential workers,” said Luis Arenas, Director of Children & Family Services. “Taking into consideration the spike in COVID cases and the stay-at-home order in December, going back to a remote learning model was the ideal approach.” 

This month’s reopening is the program’s first of two phases, opening at a limited capacity at selected sites. In all, four of seven sites welcomed back more than 70 children, nearly 60 percent of current enrollment. Family Advocates prioritized in-person spots to families with essential workers. Arenas said the recent reopening is a sigh of relief for families who were left without child care since the stay-at-home was reinforced in mid-December.   

During December’s shutdown, the second of its kind since March 2020, children resumed to a remote learning model, offering an engaging distance learning experience through interactive online activities. Families still had access to their Family Advocates for a referral to TUC’s services and additional community resources.  

Arenas said staff continues to work diligently to ensure appropriate safety measures are in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Alameda County and Contra Costa Health Departments, and the Office of Head Start.  The centers plan to roll out its second phase and last phase, welcoming the remaining children to its centers starting March 1st.  

2021 is the year of partnerships. Earlier this month, our resident services and human resources teams worked hand-in-hand with La Clínica de la Raza to coordinate vaccination distribution for 194 seniors and 63 of The Unity Council’s essential workers.  The goal was to coordinate three mobile vaccine clinics on January 28th at each of the affordable housing apartment buildings for low-income seniors owned and managed by The Unity Council. Residents at Las Bougainvilleas, Casa Velasco, and Posada de Colores were able to make an appointment with the building’s Social Services Coordinators and simply take the elevator to go down to the multipurpose rooms to receive their vaccine. While La Clinica’s staff worked on getting vaccines into seniors’ arms, The Unity Council’s team helped seniors filled out the necessary paperwork.  

Maria Morales was the first senior to receive the vaccine at Las Bougainvilleas, when asked her opinion about the mobile clinics, she said, “this is a fabulous opportunity to get vaccinated right where I live. I wanted to get vaccinated right away to protect myself and others. It was so simple.”   

The Unity Council’s essential workers also benefited greatly from the mobile vaccine clinics; Head Start teachers, food distribution staff, and staff 65 and older walked to the mobile clinics during work hours to get the vaccine. While our essential staff continues to work hard to provide much-needed services to the communities we serve, our leadership will continue to make every effort to keep our essential heroes and sheroes safe.  

Abraham Rodriguez, Senior Property Maintenance Technician told his colleagues, “It doesn’t hurt, and it’s good for you and your family. You should get the shot!” 

Are you eligible for the vaccine but do not know where to go? Book your Covid-19 vaccine at the Coliseum!

Beginning Tuesday, 2/16, a new drive-through vaccination clinic will open at the Oakland Coliseum. These sites will be able to administer up to 6,000 vaccines a day. Eligible community members can call the state’s toll-free hotline at 1-833-422-4255 or click the link to book an appointment. 

Chris Iglesias, CEO

2020 was a challenging year. The global pandemic, the social unrest around the world, the economic crisis, and persistent wildfires tested our resilience and pushed us to reimagine our programs and continue to stand side by side with the communities that we serve.

A few weeks into the pandemic, The Unity Council coordinated a Covid-19 crisis response to meet the critical needs of low-income families, children, youth, seniors, immigrants, essential workers and small businesses who were hanging by a thread during the shelter-in-place mandate.

Through the passion and service of our staff, strategic partnerships with anchor community institutions, and the support of our funders, we strengthened the social safety of the most vulnerable residents in East Oakland and the Monument Corridor in Concord.

While we are hopeful for a brighter 2021, this pandemic is not over. The Latinx community continues to bear the brunt of the health and economic impacts of this pandemic. Fruitvale businesses are shuttered, unemployment continues to rise, and we’re facing what many predict will be a surge of evictions once the rent moratoriums in this area are lifted.

The recovery period provides an opportunity to rebuild an equitable and just society that centers the experiences of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our communities. 

Our goals for 2021 are to increase our capacity to support the communities we serve, build strategic partnerships for collective impact, and grow our affordable real estate portfolio to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.  Our strategies are to:

  • Strengthen the public health and economic vitality of East Oakland through Resilient Fruitvale, a collaborative of 15 community-based organizations working to enhance community-led and built Covid-19 response and recovery plans.
  • Expand the impact of the Fruitvale Business Improvement District (BID) to help small businesses re-open and re-hire in the new 21st-century business landscape so that Fruitvale always looks and feels like the Fruitvale we know and love.
  • Increase the number of affordable housing units in East Oakland by building 181 units in the last phase of the Fruitvale Transit Village.
  • Preserve the affordability of nearly 100 recently acquired units among three apartment buildings in East Oakland.

We can’t go back to what was not working. Let’s re-imagine and re-structure a future that is inclusive and equitable. That is the only way to move forward. 

In community,

Chris Iglesias, Chief Executive Officer

For the past 18 years, The Unity Council’s VITA service has provided the community with more than free tax services; the VITA tax site serves as a full-service community resource center. 

We also provided tax clients with benefit screenings, financial education, connections to Head Start, career services, and much more.

The Unity Council, Construction Trades Workforce Initiative, and Social Policy Associates partnered to develop a “Guide for Connecting Immigrant Construction Workers to Quality Jobs and Training Opportunities.”

This guide, which emerged from our team’s work, is intended for organizations seeking to assist immigrant workers not only in the Bay Area but also in other regions of the country. To inform its development, we interviewed labor stakeholders, a local legal provider, staff of a promising program model, and immigrant workers. These conversations provided insight into current practices in our community that build programs and provide services to connect immigrant job seekers to union and non-union construction work.  

Researchers, including those from The Unity Council were able to identify various barriers that many immigrant workers face on a daily basis. Ulises Magallon, Community Wellness Research Associate interviewed twenty-five workers in the construction industry to get insight about training and job opportunities.   

“We learned most of the workers didn’t receive any kind of training and were not a part of a union,” said Magallon. “We also saw that one of the major barriers were a lack of work status.”  

Researchers recommend next steps should include developing a vocational school for job seekers where not only will they have access to training, they find employment opportunities as well as ESL classes. 

“We have to be creative so we develop a robust program specific to their language needs,” says Magallon.  

The Unity Council and the Fruitvale Business Improvement District (BID) would like to gather information about the services provided by the BID. The BID is responsible for revitalizing the commercial corridors of International Boulevard, Fruitvale Avenue, and Foothill Boulevard. The BID strives to create clean and safe streets, offer community-building activities and attractions, and build business skills among small business owners to support sustainable growth. These services are funded through an assessment that is paid for by property owners in the BID. The BID is approaching the renewal period. We need information from you that will allow us to create renewal documents that reflect the services desired from the BID by stakeholders.

Learn more! Watch the Virtual Community Meeting.

CivicMic works with the Fruitvale Business Improvement District to facilitate community outreach and public engagement opportunities for the renewal of the Fruitvale Property Business Improvement District that funds operations, maintenance, and activities in the District.

We learned the tragic news last week that Tom Guarino, a long-time supporter, friend, and advocate of The Unity Council passed away due to Covid-19 on December 30, 2020.  Tom was a longtime PG&E employee in the public relations team, and built solid relationships and partnerships with countless businesses, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders. Tom and his team were enthusiastic sponsors of the Fruitvale Día de los Muertos Festival for many years, and he was an ardent supporter of our work in many other ways. Regardless of your title or positions, Tom would give you his phone number and tell you to reach out no matter what.  

When we were beginning the construction of Casa Arabella, Tom helped us speed up the herculean effort of getting PG&E to relocate underground cables so that we could begin construction and complete the much-needed affordable housing project on time. Tom knew that getting affordable housing to Oaklanders was of the utmost importance, and he lobbied and rallied to help us get it done.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tom held weekly “podcast” conversations every Thursday morning to stay connected with the community. Special guests ran the gamut from nonprofit organizations, elected officials, community volunteers, and business leaders. His podcast provided a forum and platform for us to get to know one another, and for him to get to know us. Tom will be deeply missed by many in the Bay Area. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.  

Alex Zermeno

Sadly, I share the news that in December, The Unity Council lost one of its legendary founders, Alex Zermeño. Alex was one of the founders of the organization in the 1960’s, and later served as our Board Chair from the early 1990’s through 2007.  During the 1990’s Alex provided the quintessential leadership that resulted in The Unity Council’s efforts to economically, physically and socially revitalize the Fruitvale embodied in the development of the Fruitvale Transit Village which received national and international acclaim. 

His passing is a loss for the greater Latino community, and his life tells a story of Latino/Chicano activism in California and the United States. Born and raised in Salinas, Alex felt a call to service at a young age working with leaders like César Chávez, Saul Alinsky and Herman Gallegos, organizing farmworkers and conducting voter registration drives for the Latino community.  In the mid-60’s Alex became involved with the Fruitvale Latino community joining forces in 1964 with Arabella Martinez, Jimmy Delgadillo and Father Oliver Lynch to found the Mexican American Unity Council of Alameda County. That organization began to address the needs of the underserved Latinos in Oakland, and later became the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, or The Unity Council as it is known today.   

Alex left the Bay Area to become the Deputy Director of the National Council of la Raza (NCLR) in Phoenix, and served as the interim Executive Director of NCLR when it moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C.  He then pursued a graduate degree from Harvard University. He returned to his roots in Northern California, and began working for BART in Oakland.  At the request of Arabella Martinez, who had returned to The Unity Council as the CEO in 1990, Alex rejoined the organization as its Board Chair.   

Arabella described Alex as the rock and foundation of The Unity Council as it navigated the many roadblocks it faced to realize its dream (Realizando el Sueño) of economically, physically and socially revitalizing the Fruitvale through its many programs, but especially through building the Fruitvale Transit Village.   

Alex understood and articulated the comprehensive vision of The Unity Council early on. For him it was never about one program or service, it was always about building community – empowering others to become leaders and help others.  

“The Unity Council is an institution,” he is quoted as saying in an East Bay Times article published in 2007. “It supports people and gives them the self-esteem they need to begin  organizing and make positive changes in their homes and communities.”  

Gilda Gonzales, CEO at the time of his retirement in 2007, remembers Alex: “Alex was one of those people who was called to service at a young age. I believe that the injustices he witnessed growing up lit the fire for his Latino community activism. He had the audacity and determination to demand services for the community, and I was fortunate to have him as our Board President when I became CEO of The Unity Council in 2003. I’m forever grateful for his advice, encouragement, and wisdom as we advanced his vision for the Fruitvale community & beyond.” 

His legacy of social equity, inclusion and community is felt at The Unity Council to this day, and persists in our transformative programs and services. Alex left an enduring mark on all that we do. 

As the current CEO of The Unity Council, I feel incredibly humbled to have inherited all that Alex, and Arabella, and so many others, built together over many decades. When I learned of his passing, I looked back through old files from his time here, and reached out to past CEOs to share memories. When Alex retired as Board Chair in 2007, a sold-out Gala that celebrated his retirement was covered by local press and a video was created highlighting his incredible contributions to the organization and the Latino community.  Echoes of his legacy endure to this day in our programs and services.  

Alex was known for asking “What have you done lately?” This wasn’t a question only for others, it was something he constantly asked himself, a mantra that motivated him to continue fighting, no matter the odds, for a brighter future for his community. We are forever indebted to Alex for his tireless actions and contributions to our community.  We want to express our gratitude to his wife, Toni, their three daughters, and grandchildren for sharing Alex with us.  

In Community,

Chris Iglesias, Chief Executive Officer

Alex Zermeno: A New Call To Action (The Unity Council Gala Video 2007)

This is the Unity Council’s Gala video presentation in honor of Alex Zermeno.Alex is a community leader that is retiring from active participation after 53 y…