What We Do

The Santa Cruz Welcoming Network is an all-volunteer group of concerned community members dedicated to welcoming asylum seekers and other refugees and providing them with a network of care. Referrals come to us from public school officials, local nonprofit service agencies, and organizations working at the borders.

We meet with the family or individual to see what their needs and strengths are. We try to discern whether Welcoming Network’s resources will be a good fit. If so, a number of volunteers form a team to assist the family. Team members coordinate to manage the wealth of assistance and to make it easier on the “compas” (the immigrants we are helping) to get needs met.

Resources include both public and private: MediCal, school districts, service agencies, faith congregations, food pantries and more. Our volunteers also have resource packets with sources that can help in the areas of health services, employment, legal services, food resources. In some cases, volunteers offer a specific expertise, such as cell phone and computer access or filing legal forms. The most amazing multiplier effect occurs through Welcoming Network connections. For example, one volunteer may help a compa pass their driving test, while another finds a donated car!

In some cases, we may offer modest financial assistance for a limited period of time while the family/individual is getting settled. All the people we have accompanied are eager to work and become self-sufficient.

What Success Looks Like:

Among the families we have helped is that of Pablo and Carmen (names changed to protect their privacy). Pablo was a policeman in El Salvador in a community heavily impacted by gangs. When the gang threatened his whole family, they made the harrowing trip north, spent months stuck at the Mexico border in danger from the cartels that controlled the area, and finally were able to apply for asylum. They were paroled into the U.S. and came to Santa Cruz. Here they connected to the Welcoming Network through a Venezuelan refugee they had met in Mexico who was working with an immigrant support group in the Bay Area.

A retired attorney that volunteers with the Welcoming Network helped Pablo and Carmen write their 12-page Declaration for Asylum. They got work permits. Though they were professionals in El Salvador (Carmen was a social worker), Carmen had to start in a fast–food place on the night shift. The Welcoming Network bought her slip-resistant shoes. Later both of them found better jobs in a factory, working different shifts in order to care for their two children. They are smart and very motivated. Welcoming Network initially helped with the rent, but now the family is proudly covering their own expenses.

We are also assisting a family of seven from Mexico. They fled for their lives after one family member was wounded and a friend killed by an organized-crime gang. They were able to take almost nothing with them. They landed in Watsonville where family members took them in until the landlord demanded that they move out of the over-crowded apartment. So they found themselves in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world with no money and nowhere to go. The Community Action Board contacted us, and between that agency, local churches, and the Welcoming Network, we were able to get them into emergency shelter in a motel. Not cheap, and not at all adequate for the family. After weeks of searching, we found them a house to rent in Aromas, and we are providing rental assistance, helping them find other sources of rental assistance, and working with them on a path to self-sufficiency. It is a wonderful family, and they have been welcomed by neighbors in Aromas who are experiencing, as all of us volunteers are, what an enriching experience it is to work with these immigrant families. Not just being able to help, but also forming bonds of friendship that transcend language and culture. Here again we see what the Welcoming Network is making possible.