In search of the springs
Executive Director Ellen LaBruce
Despite sheets of rain, nearly three dozen people gather outside La Luz Center on a cold January morning in the Springs. Families huddle together, waiting to see a doctor at the Mobile Health Van that pulls up every Friday.
But health care is just one of the programs La Luz offers Valley Latinos to help them acclimate to life in the United States. Other programs cover paying taxes, managing money and understanding legal rights. Roughly half of Sonoma Valley’s population is Hispanic—a mixture of U.S. citizens, people on work visas and undocumented immigrants.
“Our mission is to help the community as we find it,” says Executive Director Ellen LaBruce.
La Luz offers a multitude of classes, including English, and coordinates with other nonprofits to provide health care and fresh produce on a weekly basis. It also helps clients celebrate their Latino culture with film nights, salsa dancing and theater groups. In 2007, more than 1,000 people were served.
LaBruce says the goal is self-sufficiency. “We want to be the coach,” she says. “We’re not going to run the race for them.”
La Luz Center is located at 17560 Greger Street. Contact 707.938.5131 or visit www.laluzcenter.org.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance is putting the overworked adage to the test, pairing 400 at-risk students with adult mentors.
Mentors and mentees meet at least once a week to do schoolwork, play games or just talk about life. The right fit is critical, because the goal is to create nurturing relationships that will last for years.
“They’ll meet people who will open doors for the rest of their lives,” says Kathy Witkowiki, the program’s founder and executive director. “It’s a community coming together to raise its kids.”
The Mentoring Alliance has offices in almost every elementary school in the Valley, so kids with working parents can spend regular afternoons with their mentor. The alliance also offers field trips and outings, including excursions to museums, movies or parks.
Even in its nascent days, the program proved a huge success. Witkowiki currently has a list of over 125 kids waiting for a mentor. Volunteers are always needed.
Mentor applications are available online at www.sonomamentoring.com or call 707.938.1990.
Ask most teens and they’ll tell you, point blank, Sonoma is not a happening place. Nothing to do, nowhere to go—that’s the familiar reprise. The result: Teens struggle to stay out of trouble while searching for something to do. Sometimes the search leads to drugs and gangs. Or sometimes it leads to the Valley of the Moon Teen Center, which provides them a place to just be a kid.
Board Chair Stefanie Shackelford describes the Teen Center as a safe, friendly haven where “teens can develop self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Besides offering up a cool space, the center provides programs and workshops on gang prevention, health and nutrition, photography and bicycle repair. Support groups are available for teens to share their thoughts and feelings. The center routinely organizes field trips to colleges, museums or parks to give them a taste of life outside Sonoma.
Around 40 teens head to the center every day, but demand is high and the organization is moving into a larger building, able to hold up to 80 kids a day.
The center is located at 17470 Sonoma Highway. Hours: Monday-Friday, 3 to 7 p.m. 707.938.8544.
From the Spring 2008 issue of SONOMA