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Using Cesar Chavez’s Values as an Inspiration During a Pandemic

The Cesar Chavez Clubs of San Diego, a nonprofit that empowers low-income students in the San Diego Unified School District to be the change in their communities, suddenly found itself having to reassess its mission when the COVID-19 pandemic led to financial catastrophe among the families it serves.

Thanks in large part to a $50,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the Cesar Chavez Clubs of San Diego has been able to provide scores of low-income residents from underserved communities emergency stipends to buy food, pay the rent, or cover utility bills. The grant has also helped the nonprofit launch a peer-counseling program to help those dealing with the stress caused by the pandemic.

“The need is great,” said Linda LeGerrette, who with her husband, Carlos, founded the Cesar Chavez Clubs of San Diego a generation ago. “A lot of people have lost their jobs or have lost their business, but they’re resilient and they’re proud and we’re not going to let them give up.”

Karla Morales and her family are among those who have benefitted from the nonprofit. Karla, a ninth-grader at Hoover High School in the San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, is a member of the Chavista Congress, which brings together Chavez Club leaders from nearly 20 schools to work on issues impacting the city and helped San Diego school board member Richard Barrera take the oath of office in December.

“We wanted to thank you all for everything you’ve done for us,” Karla told the Cesar Chavez Clubs of San Diego in a recent video. “For donating money and helping all these families who are in need right now. It’s been a lot of help during these times. You have no idea how grateful we are. Thank you so much.”

Added Karla’s mom: “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done to help our family.”

The stakes are enormous. According to a City of San Diego study, nearly 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in San Diego are immigrants, and those more than 62,000 immigrant entrepreneurs generated $1.4 billion in business income in the county. A recent survey by the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition, meanwhile, found that 42 percent of refugee families have been impacted by a layoff or lost job because of the pandemic, and an additional 4.3 percent of families have had to close a business.

The devastation is widespread. More than 27 percent of San Diego residents were born abroad, and half of all children in the region have an immigrant parent.

Since its founding, the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs has guided thousands of youth, called “Chavistas,” to engage in myriad leadership and civic activities grounded in Cesar Chavez’s core values:  Service to Others; Sacrifice for Others; Helping the Most Needly; Determination (Si Se Puede); No Violence, Accept All People; Respect Others; Be Proud; Knowledge is Power; and Be Creative. Most Chavistas are first- or second-generation immigrants with little to no access to extracurricular programs, and the nonprofit promotes civic participation in communities where engagement is lacking. The Cesar Chavez Clubs were active at 22 schools and engaging more than 500 students before the pandemic hit.

The impact is felt throughout the city. “I just want to keep working hard to help our communities and I feel really honored to be part of the Chavistas,” said one student named Yasmin.

Explained LeGerrette: “Our goal is to get young people to believe in themselves and make a difference. The situation being what it is, though, we had to adapt. Many of the students we work with come from families that don’t qualify for a stimulus check or for unemployment benefits. A lot of them are from East Africa, Central America, Asia, and they don’t have the same support networks to help them navigate these times.”

Thanks to the generosity of thousands of businesses, individuals and families, the COVID-19 Community Response Fund is able to help nonprofits like The Cesar Chavez Clubs of San Diego that are making a difference right now.

You can help by donating to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.

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