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Champions for Daly City

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Claudia Melendez and Ethel Rodríguez are CCCS champions in Daly City and active parents at Woodrow Wilson Elementary where their children go to school. They talked with their fellow parents, neighbors and community members and shared their experiences in a recent interview.

 Q: Tell us about yourself. What is your connection to Daly City?

Claudia: My name is Claudia Melendez and I’m from El Salvador. I’ve been in the country for 8 years, first in Burlingame which was hard because I really didn’t know my way around the city. Now that I live in Daly City things have changed. I know how to move around, I know the city, I love the city. I do most of my activities here and I have two children here at Woodrow. My husband works in South San Francisco

Ethel: I’ve lived in Daly City for 10 years. I live close to public transportation and the school is a walking distance from my house. I have two kids at Woodrow and I’m from Nicaragua.

Q: Describe what you’ve done in your role as a community champion. What has been a highlight so far?

Claudia: It felt like we were doing a community census with the community, reaching out to parents at the school and around the neighborhood. We took advantage of community events like the monthly food bank and a dance night at the school, which were great opportunities for outreach.

I was lucky that a lot of people were interested in filling out surveys. I had conversations with people on what they were dreaming about for their city and what could be improved and how they could live better in the city.

Ethel: I had a similar experience. A big part of my role was explaining to people why it was important to give input. It was important for people to feel they would be listened to. I also had to explain who I was representing in this project because people were afraid to give their information to anyone. When we introduced ourselves and the project, that allowed people to be more confident and to share their stories.

Q: What was most helpful in connecting with people?

Ethel: Having a little chat first, a conversation about how they were doing, introducing myself if they didn’t know me. Talking about my own family or myself. And through that saying the importance of speaking up and providing input in projects like this, because without that, things cannot change. So little by little people opened up to start sharing. Sometimes people even asked for a survey for their neighbor because they felt they would have something important to share.

Claudia: Being very present in the community opened doors because I dedicate myself to my kids and I know most parents in my kids’ classes. So I started with the people I already know, who I know because I’m here for Cafecito or before and after school. The same is true in my neighborhood because people know me. And I found that some people are afraid to give out very much information because of the political climate. Immigrants don’t want to give any information at all. They want to be anonymous because of the implications speaking up could have for their families. They are in a very fragile situation, especially Hispanic families.

Q: Do you feel that it was a positive experience for people to have these conversations with you?

Claudia: One person had a bad experience, but out of all the conversations I had for most people it was a good experience because they were able to talk about what they were thinking about and concerned about. I talked to about 40 people and probably only 5 people said they didn’t want to take the survey.

Q: What about for the two of you? Was it a good experience?

Claudia: It was positive because I realized that everyone has issues and problems but my problems are almost nothing compared with what other people are going through. There is no other space where people can share and I really liked learning more about this community.

Ethel: It was a really positive and good experience. I felt more engaged with the community because I felt we had a lot in common. One of the things I heard and identified with was that although I love the city and want to be here for many years I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay because of the high cost of living.

Q: What changes do you hope to accomplish in Daly City?

Ethel: One big thing that came out was that no one has much information about the city—where to get help with housing, like an eviction notice and if it’s legal or not, or where to get services. That’s one thing I would like to see. There are some places like Daly City Partnership and Our Second Home but very few people know they exist. Same with basic things, like in school if you’re new and you need your kid vaccinated and a physical exam you don’t know where to go. Healthcare and housing are the primary issues I’d like to see more information about.

Claudia: Healthcare is the main area I’d like to see more access and improvement. Access to at least a physical exam and basic healthcare for kids and adults. If it’s too expensive people will not go because rent is so high. Healthcare is not affordable. When you don’t have insurance, you don’t have access to healthcare. Even some people who have OK income go to the doctor and dentist when they go back to their own country because it’s too expensive here. That’s for people who can travel. For those who can’t travel they don’t go to a doctor until it’s really bad or an emergency.

Often people who have even just a little higher income don’t qualify for services. Even if you make five thousand dollars a month, three thousand goes to rent, one thousand goes to medical expenses and then you just have one thousand more to go to everything else. So it’s very contradictory because people who don’t have very much money can still make more money than makes them eligible for services. They can pay over half their income on rent. You have to secure your place to live and then you leave your health and all that to figure out later. In the County and in Daly City there is no rent control. It’s a very insecure place to be. No one knows how long they can stay in the area.

Ethel: Another thing is activities. During the summer schools should have summer programs. Right now you have to take them elsewhere to summer camp and pay a lot. The kids should have clubs to do soccer and sports that aren’t expensive, like a community soccer club, because the program that exists right now is too expensive.

At school, sometimes the parents don’t know how to help kids with their homework because they do things differently here. There should be a school for parents so they can learn the way kids are learning because a lot of times you see the problems kids are supposed to do and you don’t know how to help them.

Claudia: Technology is taking over the school and culture. I want to see kids have experiences with a live teacher and reading. The technology-based things all go at the same speed and some kids learn differently and at different speeds. The technology is good but they should also have a live teacher. There should be some programs that don’t involve technology, for all grades.

Ethel: Access to daycare is another big thing because a lot of moms would like to work, especially if they’re single mothers. They need a paycheck to register for daycare but don’t have one because they can’t work because they don’t have daycare. 

Community gardens are another thing that came out because people could get more fresh food and kids could learn and be in the garden.

Special thanks to Carolina Parrales for providing language interpretation for this interview.

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