The Mountain View Day Worker Center is like a firewall holding back a wave of social ills, said executive director Maria Marroquin.
Factors such as crime prevention, good education and preventative health care depend on the ability of individuals to provide for their households. If those bread-winners can't provide, that's when families are forced to make sacrifices -- parents spend more time working and less at home, families eat more fast food, children get pulled out of school to move elsewhere. In the end, society as a whole usually ends up dealing with the consequences.
Prevention is how Marroquin sees as the role of her organization, and why it is more vital for Mountain View than ever before. For many, making a livelihood in the South Bay is as difficult as it's ever been, due to the rising cost of living and a lack of affordable housing. That trend is forcing more people than ever to make hard choices, she said.
"The community is still suffering from this crisis," she said. "Almost all of the workers each have a family they're trying to provide for."
Started nearly 20 years ago, the Mountain View Day Worker Center has matured into a pillar of Mountain View and the surrounding area, providing a job hub, training facility and a one-stop resource center for people seeking help. On a regular basis, people come seeking legal advice, help with translating documents or even a ride to the DMV to take a driver's license test.
But more than anything else, what most are looking for at the Day Worker Center is an honest day's work. Over the years, some 7,000 people -- dubbed companeros at the center -- have come through its doors seeking jobs or job training. On a daily basis, about 50 people show up each morning, some making a two-hour journey, to be ready when a new work request arrives.
The Day Worker Center is one of seven local nonprofits benefiting from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund. Donations to the fund are divided equally among the organizations, and will be matched by the Wakerly Family Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Lucile Packard Foundation. With the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 100 percent of donations go directly to these nonprofits. More information about the Holiday Fund can be found here.
At the Day Worker Center, anyone in need of labor -- such as landscaping, moving or even cooking -- can swing by the center or submit a work order online. Workers are typically paid $15 an hour, or sometimes more.
On many days, there simply won't be enough jobs to go around, and some of the workers are instead encouraged to take free training courses to help improve their marketable skills. The most popular of these programs is the English language classes, which is considered the most valuable skill to have in the job market.
"It's like a family, with all the problems and happiness that a family has," Marroquin said, on a Monday morning just after the weekly meeting with the companeros. The meeting, which was translated into both English and Spanish, stretched as members discussed the matter at hand: what to do about the discarded cigarette butts left in the parking lot.
Following the meeting, several worker stuck around the meeting room chatting or scanning their cell phones. Given the rainy winter day, it was not the peak time for finding work.
Among the group waiting was Ronald Martinez, who described himself as a regular at the Day Worker Center since losing his job with the Postal Service. A resident of Mountain View, he said he was sleeping on a living-room couch in a crowded apartment for about $300 a month. But it was worth it to be close to work, he said. He had done a number of regular gardening and moving jobs since joining the center, and he liked the community better than that at similar organizations in other parts of the Bay Area.
"Here, we're like brothers, always looking out for each other, and protecting each other," he said.