We have previously written about Community Family Centers (CFC) and how they help primarily low-income families in Houston’s Greater East End. Last month I attended a Friday-morning agency tour to learn about the programs and services that are offered there, and to observe the Food Fair which on that particular day was being run by volunteers from construction companies McCarthy and MAREK.
Harla Kaplan, Director of Development at Community Family Centers, began the tour by explaining that the purpose of the tour was to show the “heart” of the agency beyond just the physical facility. She shared that this agency captured her own heart when she saw how hands-on the programs are and what a difference they make in the lives of those who live in the East End. She then introduced Maritza Guerrero, President and CEO of Community Family Centers, who shared some of the history of CFC and explained the programs that are currently being offered.
Guerrero has been with CFC for over 25 years, more than half of the time the organization, founded in 1972, has been around. Guerrero said that the organization began as a training center to improve workplace and language skills so that members of the community could find better jobs. Over the years, other needs in the community were identified, and the organization expanded programs and services to become a true “community center” providing adult education, family support services, early childhood education, and services for youth. Guerrero said that today CFC has become a hub for people and families who live in the area. She explained that people come to them for resources and support, and CFC either fills those needs or connects the people with other agencies who can. She said that the goal is to help move clients forward to self-sufficiency, which is one reason that for the past 3 years, they have provided construction skills training. She said that this is exciting because “it gives a chance and the hope to our clients that they can have better jobs and they can be able to sustain their families.” She said that this brings some clients up from minimum-wage jobs to jobs earning $20 per hour, giving them the ability to provide for their families. “It is the hope and the vision of a better life.”
Guerrero mentioned that the construction training program is successful due to the support CFC receives from the construction industry. Hal Sharp of architecture firm Gensler and Saied Alavi of specialty subcontractor MAREK are both CFC board members. Other members of the construction industry have also been involved in seeing the program evolve from an idea to the program it is today.
Guerrero talked about the early childhood education at CFC for children ages three to six years old, where they are able to prepare children to be more successful once they enter public school. Tuition for the year-round program is charged on a sliding scale based on the families’ resources. Services for older youth include teaching life skills to keep them “on track, in school, out of trouble, off of drugs, and out of gangs – which goes back to being productive and part of a community and able to have dreams of their own,” according to Guerrero.
Meanwhile, outside in the August heat, volunteers from McCarthy and MAREK were distributing food from the Houston Food Bank as part of CFC’s weekly Friday Food Fair. Guerrero said that providing this service is important to help people move forward to improve their lives without having to worry about where their next meal might come from. Canned goods may be obtained once per week on Monday through Thursday by those in the immediate community that need them, but every Friday families from all over the area come to receive fresh produce, eggs, and frozen goods in addition to the regular food pantry items. Guerrero: “It’s great to have this opportunity to help and support [them] while they are looking for ways to better their lives.”
Saied Alavi, Managing Director at MAREK’s Houston Division, said that one of the reasons that he found it rewarding to bring MAREK employees to Food Fair Fridays is that the volunteers get to see the faces of the families that they are helping – they get to see the results of their work.
I next spoke with Patricia Morales, Director of Family Support Services at Community Family Centers, who was directing the volunteers. I learned that each Friday, the Food Fair serves senior and handicapped citizens first. Recipients are issued an agency service card which they use to electronically check in before receiving their food. This is much faster and more efficient than the typical registration process using paper, and improves CFC’s ability to report to the Houston Food Bank and funding sources about the population that receives the food. The Fair serves approximately 300 to 400 families each week, passing out 2,000 pounds of food from approximately 20 to 30 pallets that arrive in an eighteen-wheeler from the Houston Food Bank. Morales said that they depend on volunteers to help distribute the food each Friday to the families who begin lining up on the sidewalk outside the property even before the Fair opens each week.
Morales said that CFC takes pride in the quality of the food they distribute. She said, “The Food Bank has done a tremendous job of quality control. I think our standards – the freshness of the food – is very high for us. We have very high standards. Just because it is free, I don’t want them to think that they are going to come and we are going to give them bad product. Just like when we go grocery shopping, we pick the best apples and the best bananas – it is the same thing here. We want them to feel that they are getting the best.”
You may watch some of Guerrero’s and Morales’s comments in the 7-minute video below, and contact CFC if you want to learn how you can volunteer at this important organization that is improving lives within its community.