Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaboration - Connecting Communities with Resources
Sep 30, 2022
Connecting Communities with Resources
Approximately 900,000 immigrants reside in California’s Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare Counties. There are 500,000 children in these counties with at least one immigrant parent. According to Forbes, “Immigrants come to the US, with dreams of changing the trajectory of their families' lives. They become the guides for their communities back home, wearing multiple hats. Breaking generational traumas, supporting family financially, reparenting/reverse-parenting your family/community with healthy practices, and changing the course of their community for the better.” Finding, navigating, and accessing programs and services can be challenging, even without cultural and language barriers. Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaboration brings together resources and helps connect the immigrant community to the support services they are eligible to receive.
Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaboration (CVIIC, pronounced “civic”) was founded in 2014 for two primary purposes. First, the organization was designed to serve Central Valley immigrant families, providing legal and wrap-around support services. Second, the organization works to strengthen the capacity of Central Valley organizations to serve immigrant families.
CVIIC’s programs meet the diverse needs of immigrant families. They deliver those services in collaboration with partner organizations under a regional coordination and collaboration model. “With the limited resources we all have, we can do more if we work together,” explains Dr. Jesus Martinez, Executive Director. “In the Central Valley, we have a lot of different types of organizations who are eager to work together and committed to serving immigrant families. We are proud to be a part of this regional effort.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, CVIIC and partner organizations organized over 100 free legal services events per year throughout the Central Valley. They handle the logistics of planning the event and doing outreach and advertising so that nonprofit legal services providers and pro bono attorneys could focus on showing up and delivering services. Jesus explains, “We bring together nonprofit legal services, other service providers, community-based organizations, adult education and vocational institutions, churches, libraries, health services, and more. Some of these partners provide space, others provide services. The local partners play a key role because they know their local community best and are able to spread the word in an effective manner.”
CVIIC offers additional programs outside of legal services. They created the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Program to help their community overcome the negative impacts of the pandemic and supplement their incomes. A 2012 White House report states that immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business in the US than non-immigrants & form 18 percent of all US small business owners. Immigrants added $2 trillion to the US GDP in 2016 & about $460 billion to state, local, and federal taxes in 2018.
Each year, CVIIC’s Immigrant Entrepreneurship Program offers free entrepreneurial training to two cohorts of 50 aspiring and existing immigrant entrepreneurs. CVIIC partnered with Immigrants Rising to launch the SEED Program, providing mini-grants to new and existing immigrant-owned businesses. Between August 2021 and July 2022, over 700 grants were awarded statewide, 285 of which were awarded to Central Valley businesses. This program is an example of how collaborating across regions has brought more resources into the communities CVIIC serves.
Building community engagement, together
“Our partners are committed – being willing to work in a regional coordination and collaboration model shows that we can be effective and have a greater impact,” Jesus explains. “It makes more sense for Central Valley community organizations to coordinate and leverage our resources, not compete. This regional coordination and collaboration make our organizations more effective at what we do in the community.”
Program accessibility is a challenge for immigrant families. CVIIC works to bring information to the community so that people have the opportunity to access needed services. The gap between the need and the actual availability of services is wide. “A quarter of a million people in the Central Valley are eligible for naturalization, but only 8,000-10,000 applications are processed annually. That’s a big gap in access to that program,” says Jesus.
Advocating for immigrant families
In addition to direct services, CVIIC participates in local, state, and federal advocacy. “Our goal is to create more pro-immigrant institutional changes in the Central Valley and advocate for more policies that benefit immigrant families at the state and federal levels,” says Jesus. “We work with regional and statewide advocacy partners and collaborate with organizations with more advocacy capacity.”
Locally, CVIIC works to build more investment in programs for immigrant families. They worked with Fresno Unified School District to implement a Safe Spaces Program. “Our team worked to ensure that families and students have access to high-quality, trustworthy legal services. Fresno Unified provided funding and access to their families,” explains Jesus. The City of Fresno is also now making modest investments in legal services for Fresno residents.
While legal services are critical for immigrant families in the Central Valley, just a few attorneys work with nonprofits in that region. CVIIC collaborated on state legislation to fund a Legal Fellows program that would deploy recent law school graduates to Central Valley communities to provide services. The first attempt at this program did not make it past the Governor’s desk. So, CVIIC partnered with a Bay Area organization, and the program was eventually funded and implemented, deploying attorneys to the Central Valley and the Central Coast, two regions in need of such legal capacity. Jesus says, “This big win strengthens the region’s ability to provide legal services to folks that need it most.”
Banking for community impact
“CVIIC began to operate as a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 2019," says Jesus. "One of our board members recommended Beneficial State Bank because of its commitment to the community. I recommended Beneficial State Bank to my wife, who runs another nonprofit. I continue to refer people to Beneficial State Bank because of its social commitments and the high quality of services we receive.”