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Blanca Huijon of Napa’s Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Blanca Huijon

Executive Director

Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center

952 Napa Street Napa 94559

707-224-1786

www.puertasabiertasnapa.org/

Professional background: I began my career as a community leader in Napa in 2007, serving as a school adviser for Migrant Education at Silverado Middle School and Vintage High School.

In 2010, I began my wonderful journey working at Puertas Abiertas as case mentor. After nine years as Case Mentor, in 2019, I had the opportunity to apply for the executive director position. My professional growth continues with this amazing organization and community.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in Chicano Latino Studies; minor in psychology, and grant writing certificate.

Number of staff: 6

Describe your organization: The mission of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center is to work hand in hand with Napa’s Latinx community to inspire healthy lifestyles, self-sufficiency and opportunities for leadership and community engagement. We offer programs in five areas: education, health, wellness, social services, legal navigation, and civic engagement.

By implementing programs aligned with our mission, we will achieve our vision of having a healthy, integrated community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and where equitable access to services, resources, and civic participation leads to a life of fulfillment.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am an independent woman of color, daughter, sister, visionary organizer, and experienced advocate for the Latinx community.

I was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when I was fourteen years old. I am the youngest of five children. My father is a retired farmworker and mother retired factory worker where she used to make sausages.

What is your role in the organization?

I have been the executive director of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center since August 2019. I am responsible for the organization's health and sustainability as well as ensuring we address the needs of Napa Valley vulnerable community members.

I have the obligation to bring financial resources in innovative ways (grants and fundraising) to continue serving our community with varieties of competency cultural programs and social services, grow the PACRC team, and support our Latinx community regardless of their immigration status.

I manage all the organization finance with the support of our accountant/HR staff and oversee human resources.

Additionally, I supervise all the programs and activities with the help of our program director.

Overall, my commitment is to make an impact among those who are in need and make the changes in the structure of systematic racial inequality in order to provide accessible shelter, health, food, and clothing.

How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Napa County’s Shelter-at-Home order issued to curb the spread of COVID-19 caused the cancellation of five events that would have generated a total of $40,000 for our organization.

We had to cancel our sixth annual Cinco de Mayo fundraiser scheduled for May 5, 2020. We had planned to offer a 5-course Mexican dinner, prepared by La Tocque’s Michelin-rated chef Ken Frank.

We have postponed the event until people feel comfortable dining indoors with a large group.

Since 2020 marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of Puertas Abiertas CRC, we were planning to host a Quinceañera gala this summer but had to postpone our celebration until 2021. We were supposed to have been a beneficiary of Discover Coombsville—A Grand Tasting Event, sponsored by the Coombsville Vintners & Growers.

The event was scheduled for April 13, 2020 but was canceled. We were honored to have been included as a beneficiary of the prestigious Hall Cabernet Cookoff, which was also canceled. The Cookoff has been rescheduled for April 24, 2021. We also had to cancel Tannery Bend Beerworks Drink and Dine.

Instead of benefiting from these planned fundraisers, we are partnering with Napa County wineries so our community can support Puertas Abiertas CRC through an initiative we call 15% for 15 years.

Five wineries have agreed that Puertas Abiertas CRC will receive 15% of sales from any wine that individuals purchase through our website. Proceeds from the 15% for 15 years will help us meet unprecedented needs for Napa’s Latino Community related to COVID-19 while we continue our day-to-day programming.

We have shifted our fundraising priorities to applying for COVID-19-specific grants that have become available since March 2020. To date, we have raised $109,140 through foundations and corporate giving programs to support our COVID-19 relief efforts and general operating expenses.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

Blanca Huijon

Executive Director

Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center

952 Napa Street Napa 94559

707-224-1786

www.puertasabiertasnapa.org/

Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center always quickly mobilizes to respond to the needs of our vulnerable and underserved communities in Napa Valley throughout the year and during unprecedented times, such as natural disasters, health crises, and the changing political climate.

To do that, we bring financial resources to build and have the capacity to provide the right tools such as financial aid, mental health, educational programs, legal services, and social services to our community members to thrive and alleviate their living situation. Our mission is to impact our families with quality services and programs.

We have adjusted our services through the years to provide our community with the essential services.

For instance, in the long-term recovery during a natural disaster, we open our site disaster relief center to support our community members by appointment, virtually, and over the phone. We join efforts with other local nonprofits to not duplicate any clients' services.

Over 1,000 individuals have contacted Puertas Abiertas CRC seeking financial assistance for rent, food, and utilities. Those families are not eligible to apply for government aid due to their immigration status and other factors.

It is heart-breaking that a pandemic is making many families unable to meet their basic and daily needs.

Up until today, Puertas Abiertas CRC staff have provided $146,119 to 259 families in forms of rental assistance and food cards.

Our staff also assisted 195 families/individuals affected by the Glass Fire with $39,660 in the form of gift cards.

Additionally, On Sept. 20, we partnered with Dreamers Roadmap to distribute $22,88.48 in backpacks, school supplies, water, and food to 106 farmworkers families and another 100 families who work in other sectors. We continue serving our community with the services mentioned above and many other core programs.

Puertas Abiertas CRC suspended our educational programs and informative workshops due to the high demand for COVID-19-related social services.

We transitioned our in-person counseling services to virtual implementation via phone or telehealth. From March through May, we contracted with a private therapist to offer additional counseling.

We continued services with a counselor from Mentis which ended in June.

We are currently offering counseling with two counselors from Napa County Mental Health Division. Puertas Abiertas CRC’s goal is to continue providing financial assistance and critical services to hundreds of families and individuals to support them in establishing a sense of order and stability during uncertain times.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I am proud of being one of the executive directors of color who leads one of the key organizations in Napa Valley for over a year.

The following achievements helped me grow as a professional and helped me get to where I am in my career. The Class 28 Leadership Napa Valley empowered me to get more involved in my community.

I participated in the following communities: Napa County Suicide Prevention Council, Safety Food Committee, and Bi-National Health Alliance of Napa County among others.

In 2016, Napa County Hispanic Network recognized my leadership and community work with a Friends of the Network award.

To prepare me to get involved in a different career capacity, I persuaded a grant writing certificate in 2013.

Later I attended Napa Community College after graduating from Napa High School, where I obtained four A.A degrees in; Social & Behavioral Science, General Education, Fine Art, and Math. Then I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chicano Latino Studies; and a minor in psychology from Sonoma State University. My life experiences and experiences as an immigrant have always kept me grounded and guided me to achieve my goals.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Two of my greatest challenges today for PACRC to grow as an organization are funding and staffing.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

Our next major project for Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center (PACRC) is to expand one of our core programs; the Labor Right Program which aligns with our mission to support our Latinx community to become self-sufficient, and achieve healthy living.

We provide the tools for our community to advocate for themselves by knowing their labor rights. We started this program with the collaboration of the U.S Department of Labor, Mexican Consulate, and other organizations. Our Latinx community members constantly request this program.

Nonetheless, PACRC's goal is to have a Labor Law attorney on our site twice a month. Since 2019, our commitment with our community has been to guide them to find reliable sources to address this issue. We provide labor rights workshops twice a year to increase the awareness of our vulnerable and underrepresented community members.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

We subcontract with a grant-writer who helps us with some essential grants to increase our capacity and meet our fiscal year budget goals.

We also use the Salesforce database, where we keep track of our clients and capture what services are provided to them. This iCloud program is crucial for us because we run reports for grants.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

In the next five years one goal I have for my career is to obtain my masters in nonprofit management from Ohio University. I

In doing this I will gain more knowledge on how to grow Puertas Abiertas. My second goal is to join another nonprofit organization’s board to continue making a difference in our community.

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

Stories like the one below is what keeps me inspired, dedicated, and passionate to help Napa Valley Latinx thrive. This story shows how PACRC plays an important role in our community.

Here at PACRC we are able to instill hope of brighter futures for these families. It proves that with the right tools and resources the populations we serve have the ability to seek a path of empowerment, healthy living, and self-sufficiency

Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center (PACRC) continues to have a wave of people coming in daily seeking resources. I’m proud to be part of the PACRC team because our staff has great love and dedication when helping our fellow community members.

For a year and a half now, our case mentor, Alejandra Quintana, has been continuously facilitating a case of a young single father with a 10-year-old daughter who unfortunately has come across critical hardships in his life.

When he first met with Alejandra and shared his story, he immediately became emotional.

After a brief interaction with the Mentis counselor on-site, it was quickly pinpointed how devastated the client was. During the session, he shared how his daughter struggled with not having a stable mother figure in her life and the challenges he faces for being a single father.

Then Joe shared that due to the housing crisis in Napa, it has been tough to find affordable housing. He broke into tears when he mentioned to Alejandra that he and his daughter became homeless.

They were staying in their car for months. Not having family in this country made it emotionally and mentally challenging for him. He felt alone, isolated, and even shared that he felt like wanting to give up on his uncertain future.

With the facilitation of our case mentor, PACRC has since continuously extended a variety of services and support to this family:

● Napa Abode Services (Transitional Housing) provided six months of temporary housing and extended their stay. They even offered to assist with his first month’s rent when he found housing and covered his daughters back to school supplies and backpack.

● Through a referral letter to Napa Boys and Girls Club Joe’s daughter was awarded a full summer scholarship for two summers. This program has given her a wonderful opportunity to remain connected by socializing with children her age and slowly being able to ease into a more normal and stable lifestyle.

● Emergency gift cards for food and clothes.

● $2,000 grant through our Financial Literacy Program where Joe attended an educational course on transferable skills and learned about managing finances.

● VITA Tax clinic where we were able to prepare his income taxes for free.

● Continuous and consistent counseling at PACRC for himself and his daughter.

Initially, Joe came to PACRC feeling extremely lost and unsupported.

But with his resilience and the support of PACRC services, he now aspires to continue improving his and his daughter’s lives and have so much to look forward to. He shared with Alejandra that he would like to go back to school to get a degree and even get his licensing as a nurse assistant to work with elderly!

In October 2019, Joe and his daughter finally found an apartment after a long and rough year in a half of struggling with homelessness and living at a shelter. They have now been living in their new apartment for a year.

QUICK TAKES

Current reading: I am reading “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Bruce D. Perry

Most want to meet: I would like to meet Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio

Stress relievers: Taking walks in the mornings and spending time with my family and friends,

Favorite hobbies: Writing poetry, watching movies, and reading psychology books.

Social media you most use: Facebook and Instagram

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: The buzzwords that I dislike the most are boss, bottom line, hard to reach, bleeding edge, data driven among others.

Typical day at the office: My typical day at the office is to write grants, reports, answering and writing emails to different local and regional nonprofit organizations, having staff meetings, meeting with new donors, reading the Napa Valley Register, reviewing the approved grants and MOUs, reviewing the finance with our Accountant staff and looking for new grant opportunities.

Best place to work outside of the office: My best place to work outside of the office is my back yard where I can relax and focus.

Words that best describe you: The best words to describe me are honest, persistent, fighter, and dreamer.

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