77 posts categorized "Front Page"


La Luz Opens New Sonoma Office


The Grand Opening Celebration of Valley Oak Homes where La Luz has its first ‘branch’ office was held on September 25th

“And what a lovely office it is!!” says Maritza Barajas, La Luz Family Advocate, who will spend Thursdays there providing outreach and referral services.

“Our strategic partnership with SAHA (Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, of Berkeley) stemmed from their request for assistance in evaluating rental applications screenings,” says La Luz Executive Director Juan Hernandez.  “It was then that we realized the great benefit that offering our services on site to the residents would provide. This is strategic partnership at its best and a great example of being able to empower a community in a beautiful setting.”

Valley Oak Homes is a sustainable 43 unit complex for low income families, with a central open space/playground, multipurpose room, common kitchen and homework/computer room, community garden and bike path.   It is located at 19344 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, opposite Maxwell Village Shopping Center. 


La Luz staff and board members celebrate

Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown, La Luz Family Advocate Maritza Barajas, La Luz Board Chair Claudia Mendoza-Carruth 


Maritza Barajas' New Office


Maritza Barajas, La Luz Family Advocate, provides La Luz advice and referral services on Thursdays  in her new office at Valley Oaks Homes. 

  “It is a great opportunity to be able to serve these residents on site,” says Maritza.  “ They are young working families, disabled and elderly individuals. I provide them with access to important resources that they need, so that they can continue to live in decent, safe and clean housing.” 

La Luz Collaborates with Teen Services


The Sonoma Valley Teen Service's "Operation Bicycle" 
recently came to the rescue of a La Luz client whose bike had been stolen.  The gentleman used his bike for all transportation--and to get to work!  So La Luz staff called "Operation Bicycle" who provided him a newly refurbished cycle free of charge.  

In photo:   Bear Messinger, Jorge Arias, and Adrian Palenchar (manager) of Operation Bicycle's "Repair to Ride" program which solicits bikes to repair.  Their bikes are sold or can be earned by teens who volunteer in the repair shop.  The Teen Center at 17440 Sonoma Highway has many projects: Lovin' Oven, No Name Cafe, Skills for Life, The Gallery...

To learn more  go to svteens.org.


La Luz Explores New Challenge



Source: http://www.sonomanews.com/News-2013/La-Luz-explores-new-challenge/

Jul 25, 2013 - 07:10 PM

La Luz Center took a big step into the promotion of economic vitality in the Springs this week when it hosted its first business breakfast.

Geared toward both Anglo and Latino businesses, the event drew representatives from both communities and the organizers learned that overcoming fear, building trust, and creating business networks may be as important as providing training and loans.

Facilitator for the event at Hanna Boys Center was Davin Cardenas, who called on business representatives to share their knowledge and experiences.

Most of the speakers present, who had existing businesses, operated on a cash basis.

Relying on loans was not their culture, and those who had tried to get a loan or had resorted to taking advances on their credit cards, did not always have a positive experience with banks. Many said they stay away from banks, fearing they “take advantage of small business owners.”

If La Luz is successful in its business outreach efforts, it might have an alternative to traditional lending. Simon Blattner, local philanthropist and businessman, has offered to seed a revolving loan program earmarked for Springs businesses. “This would be low-cost loans for entrepreneurship,” he said. While help exists for those needing training, there is very little money available and it’s frustrating, he said. Blattner explained his group would be separate from La Luz, but is looking at La Luz to provide leadership. He agreed that building trust is a major obstacle and overcoming it can bring real value.

But some of the speakers placed greater value on business education. There was general agreement that people have to learn how to operate a business before they open one. Teresita Fernandez, a successful business owner in the Springs, suggested offering a class with basic steps outlining how to get a business started and what is needed to be successful. Others in the room suggested topics like cash flow, licenses, liability insurance, bookkeeping and marketing would all be good topics.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, along with representatives of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board outlined county programs that are re-emerging after the demise of redevelopment, such as lending programs and façade improvement grants.

While funded, the programs still need to be implemented, but that will come soon.

“I see my role as an intermediary” said Gorin. She added that she can help cut through red tape and help people through the regulatory process. As the Springs Highway 12 project is completed, there may be other infrastructure needs that will revitalize the area. “The Springs is a priority,” Gorin said.

But the trust issue was still at the forefront of each discussion, as was gathering more participants. As one participant said, “there’s power in numbers.” To get more people to attend a meeting, it was suggested that La Luz might be a more comfortable location, where people can feel free to talk, tell their stories and explain their needs in a more casual setting. A committee, headed by La Luz Executive Director Juan Hernandez, will host a second meeting in October.



Volunteers Help ESL Students Graduate


Volunteers really do make a difference.  We all know the value of volunteerism in the Sonoma Valley, but in the La Luz Center ESL Program classes (that take place both on-site and off-site at El Verano School) it is clear that the extraordinary success of the program has been due to a wonderful team of volunteer tutors.  According to Maricarmen Reyes-Larios, Coordinator of Educational Programs at La Luz Center, "without the volunteers, we would not be able to accomplish so much in the classrooms.  Volunteers not only tutor students but also motivate and encourage”.  Consequently, over sixty students celebrated their completion of Spring Semester 2013 on Sunday June 9th at La Luz Center from 6pm to 8pm. La Luz Center is once again grateful to the Todd Trust (part of the Sonoma Valley Fund and the Community Foundation of Sonoma County) and other private family foundation donors who have graciously funded the ESL program for the past year.  Just recently the Todd Trust approved an additional $92,000 to continue the ESL programs for the next year. 

Because the classes are multilevel, the addition of volunteer tutors is critical and allows the classes to divide into groups of students at various stages of English proficiency.  Each volunteer is trained to lead and tutor a small group enabling students to advance faster. There are even volunteer tutors working with a group of pre-literate learners, those who have no reading or writing skills even in their own language. Kate Willmers, the enthusiastic teacher of the morning session at La Luz Center site, remarked that this year was “the best year yet for volunteers. They are a passionate, dedicated group."  Although some volunteers have teaching experience in ESL programs or as former teachers, many do not have any experience and it is not at all required.  She also said that the ESL classes sustained more students this year than in the past and believes it was because of the quality and dedication of volunteers.

Lynn Myers a volunteer tutor in Willmer’s class said, “the students are really inspiring, they work so hard and rarely miss a class."  She takes pleasure, not only with the students, but also in watching their children grow at Little English Learners Childcare program for morning ESL Class and where children learn English while the parents attend class.   One of the students at this group, Juanita Padilla, is learning English, while her son Andres Hernandez is in an adjacent classroom learning some English as well.  According to Juanita, "Andres loves La Luz Center and wakes up asking if he is going to his class today."

 La Luz Center plans not only to formalize the ESL Volunteer training but also the new Volunteer Coordinator, Alyson Therres is working on a project to create a volunteer handbook to aid the volunteers. According to Alyson “our ESL volunteers are a crucial part of our volunteer program.  This dedicated group of volunteers comes out every week to help their community learn English.  Every one of them has a passion to give back and they do this out of the kindness of their hearts”, statement which Executive Director Juan Hernandez III agrees by stating "We are so proud of our volunteers.  La Luz Center attracts dedicated and focused volunteers.  Without them we would not be able to have the impact we have".

La Luz Center has over 15 ESL volunteers this year of all ages.  The range of volunteers includes men and women, young and old, English speakers or English as a second language learners themselves. Several volunteers were college and high school interns who not only received credit but also had invaluable experience in a working environment; something that could be used on their resumes for future jobs.  Maricarmen feels “having a multigenerational group of volunteers working together is important to link the generations and cultures”.  Jennie Eubank one of the evening volunteers states that she “started volunteering at ESL classes because I wanted to get to know the community I was student teaching in better.  What I did not know was that I would get to know my own first language, English, better as well as improving my ability to teach it!  As a second language learner myself, I understand the dedication, practice and persistence needed to become proficient.” 

 The next session for the summer will occur from mid-June to late July.  Willmers mentioned that she would enrich the morning program for the summer session by incorporating outside speakers to talk about jobs and the workplace, teaching the students about skills required for various types of jobs while demonstrating the importance of learning English. There will be one morning class held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Booker Hall at La Luz Center for the beginning to high-intermediate levels. Child care is available for participating parents at low monthly cost of $5 per child. One evening class will be offered at La Luz Center this summer on Friday evenings.  The night classes will resume at El Verano School in the Fall.

 Although the majority of the students are Latinos, the classes are open to everyone who would like to learn English as a second language. This last year they had students from South Korea, China, Brazil, Poland and Nepal.   “Learning English is crucial even more with the possibility of immigration reform”  Kara Reyes, Program Director at La Luz Center says.  “Learning English is essential to successful integration and will likely be a key component of reform.  Here at La Luz Center we promote bilingualism.  Learning English does not mean you forget your culture or your own language.  You can keep your own culture and still be American.”

For information on the classes, please contact the La Luz Center (707 938-5131).  Maricarmen Reyes maricarmen@laluzcenter.org if you are interested in enrolling the ESL classes.  To volunteer for ESL or La Luz Center , please contact Alyson Therres, alyson@laluzcenter.org .

La Luz is a non-profit organization mission is to “empowering our community through education, leadership and self-advocacy” and is dedicated to assisting our Sonoma Valley neighbors, who contribute to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of our community. La Luz Center provides amongst other social services provides English language training, teaches computer literacy skills, distributes food, hosts medical services, offers crisis counseling, and supports events that celebrate the richness of our multicultural community.


La Luz Celebrates Cinco de Mayo

DSC03657Over 250 friends and neighbors came to celebrate at La Luz Center's family oriented "Cinco de Mayo" party last Saturday.  Crowds spilled out of Booker Hall and into the street where they were delighted by dance performances given by the Grupo Azteca Xontotl, and Ballet Folklórico Quetzalen. The center's courtyard was filled with families enjoying Mexican food and drink donated by a dozen local businesses. Party-goers included Susan Gorin to several La Luz Board members, as well as diverse group of neighbors and friends from the Springs community.  There was a dunk tank manned by staff members and volunteers, a bounce house, music by PoshFM Mixer DJ Cal and a raffle.  

Raffle prizes were generously provided by The Lonesome Cowboy, Cuban Jack’s Smoke Shop, The Sonoma Mission Inn, Sonoma Cinemas, Barking Dog Coffee, Sonoma Valley Fitness, Mary’s Pizza Shack, CC Salon, Amadeus Salon, Sonoma Salon, Sonoma Valley Grange, Old Sonoma Public House, Sonoma Valley Health Center, Ms. Silvia Floriano, and Emily’s Bakery.

Food was provided by Jalisco Tortilleria, Gourmet Taco Shop, El Brinquito Market, El Molino Central, La Morenita #2, Taqueria Los Primos, La Hacienda Taqueria, Plaza Tequila, La Favorita, Iñiguez Panaderia y Tienda, El Gran Taco and Whole Foods. 

Dance performances were given by the Grupo Azteca Xontotl, and Ballet Folklórico Quetzalen. Throughout the event, music was provided by PoshFM Mixer DJ Cal. 

"It was a great neighborhood party, a chance for families to hang out together and enjoy our beautiful property," said La Luz Executive Director Juan Hernandez.  "Everybody relaxed, had fun and enjoyed the nice day"

Photo:  La Luz Board member and Sonoma Valley High School bilingual counselor Betsy Chavez... with Frida Kahlo


La Luz Hosts Latino Films For Sonoma Film Festival


La Luz’s booker hall became “Booker-Wood,” in mid April, as the big screen, popcorn and film enthusiasts filled Booker Hall for the Vamos al Cine program of the Sonoma international film festival.

Saturday started with the 'Colombian Contingent,' director of animated film 'Gordo calvo y bajito/ Fat Short and Bald'.  Carlos Osuna was greeted by Ligia Booker, founder of La Luz, with her signature delicious 'empanadas' that took Carlos right back to Bogota.

Bichir_LaLuz_Staff3Then on to Argentina, with the award-winning "Mia" about discrimination and isolation (some in the audience really identifiied with this) by the transgender community in Buenos Aires. The screening was followed by a lively Q&A with director Javier Van de Couter, who came from Buenos Aires.

Venezuela followed with its submission to the Oscars as best foreign film 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' a thriller about how the children's game of the film's title changed a family forever amid the violence in the streets of Caracas. 

To close the night, a fun comedy about soccer from Spain and Argentina-- "Fuera de juego/ In Offside".

On Sunday by 1:00 pm  expectations were  high—moms and kids lined up with cameras waiting for one of their own who is making it big in Hollywood: Demian Bichir, Oscar nominated last year for best actor in ‘a better life’ and now the star of a TV series on ShowTime.

Bichir_LaLuz1Oscar had received the festival’s spotlight award the night before.  He introduced his brother’s film ‘Hecho en china/Made in China’.

Right at 1:30 the black Rolls Royce pulled in and Demian came out with his beautiful blonde girlfriend Stephanie. Families and women who knew him well from his many film and TV roles in Mexico wanted their photos with him, and he was very obliging!

The staff of La Luz welcomed him. He presented his brother’s film saying also “it’s so important to have this opportunity to see films that otherwise would not be shown. I applaud those who support this effort and hope you enjoy an afternoon of great films!”

Celebrity presence continued with the protagonist of ‘Acorazado,’ award-winning Silverio Palacios, who came from Mexico city to talk about how comedy is so important in film.  This was an unlikely one, about immigration. A very surprised child in the audience couldn’t believe that the guy who was drawing in the film was also standing right by him! And there was “The Zebra” with lessons on Mexican history about two guys wanting to join the revolutionary forces and traveling in a zebra they found at a circus, which they called ‘a gringo horse’!

To cap the evening off with beauty, a documentary about the behind-the-scenes of beauty pageants… lots of gorgeous little girls who dream to be miss universe.

Bichir_LaLuz2For a weekend, patrons of the festival, and visitors from as far as Chicago enjoyed films and filmmakers side by side with farmworkers and Latino families. It was truly integration through the cultural entertainment of film @ La Luz!

Claudia mendoza-carruth

Program Director/ Vamos al Cine, President of the Board/ La Luz Center



Ministering the Community at La Luz

JuanHernandezSource: Sonoma Valley Sun

La Luz Center for family resources in Boyes Hot Springs is active, colorful and crowded. It exudes a feeling of warmth, safety and hope, and its new executive director, Juan Hernandez, radiates those same qualities, along with a healthy dose of confidence.

“Juan has brought an intuitive understanding of the culture and needs of the community we serve,” said Board Chair Claudia Mendoza-Carruth. “When our clients see a Latino in a position of leadership who serves as a role model, there is a sense of pride... of 'si se puede'.

Hernandez is the first Chicano executive director of La Luz, a position he has been training for since he was a boy in the Pico Rivera area of East Los Angeles. The son of a minister, he “grew up in non-profit, in the trenches of community issues,” he says.

“This is my first time being executive director, but I don’t feel like it. In non-profit I went from administrative assistant to program coordinator to program director, so I know what’s needed,” says Hernandez. Most recently, he was director of educational programs at Calistoga Family Center.

His education began when people in his neighborhood mobilized to install a stop sign at a dangerous intersection; He saw how everyone could make a difference at a community level. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from UC Riverside and a master’s degree in psychology from Sonoma State, with an emphasis in organizational development, and work in all aspects of non-profit service.

A large white board with the heading, “Executive Director’s 2013 Focus,” stands out against a burgundy wall in Hernandez’s office. Just five months on the job, he is already reaching his initial goals.

He spent his first 30 days on the job getting to know his staff and what they needed in order to be an effective team. The next 30 days were dedicated to meeting with each of La Luz’s 22 board members. He says is in awe of the people on the board and the contributions they bring to the table, and attributes his early success to their vision, decisions, strategy and fundraising efforts.

“If those things hadn’t been in place, coming in would have been more difficult. Because of them, I get to focus on what I need to do.” During the subsequent 30 days he developed relationships with partnering agencies, and connected La Luz with county services.

On Friday mornings, between 9 and 11, St. Joseph’s mobile health van and the Redwood Empire Food Bank set up at Booker Hall. He enjoys using that time to make personal connections with the people in the community.

“One of the things I respect about him is that he’s hands-on and down to earth. You’ll see him talking with clients and volunteers, getting to know them while they’re waiting,” says office manager, Sharon Somogyi.

For Hernandez, it’s all about impacting in people’s lives. “I can go out into The Springs and find somebody who, in some way, has a connection with La Luz,” he said.

 The services La Luz provides are numerous: Classes in everything from childhood development and General Equivalency Diploma (GED) to computer training; help with translations and forms for benefit programs like Cal Fresh and MediCal; and tax help, legal referrals, emergency food resources, rental assistance and vineyard worker services. 

La Luz is not here to solve everybody’s problems, because that is impossible, Hernandez says. “But if you come to La Luz, you will find hope. If you follow up on the information we give you, you will get the help you need.

Hernandez is, in essence, a minister to the expanding Sonoma Valley community, always honoring La Luz founder Ligia Booker and her mission of giving hope to the people who come through the door. “We’re about creating self-advocacy,” he says. “We don’t want to be enablers.” 



La Luz ESL Students are EMPOWERED!!


Forty-six students from three different English language classes held at La Luz Center and off site classes at El Verano School received certificates for having successfully completed the course and taking the competency Ventures test during Fall Semester 2012.

The emotional awards ceremony was attended by students, their spouses and children, community leaders, La Luz board members and volunteers, and major supporters representing the Todd Trust of the Community Foundation Sonoma County.

 It was truly a family-community celebration, and the graduates were energized, proud, and empowered.

Students were commended for having finished the semester and for taking the end of semester competency Ventures test, as well as a few students from each class with perfect or near-perfect attendance.  Many volunteers come every week—some come twice—for two hours, to practice conversation and provide individual help.

Why are so many students dedicated to attend these classes?  --To prepare for better jobs, to help their children with homework, to take a more active role in their community, to set an example for their families… 

 “The students were very happy, they were filled with pride,” said Maricarmen Reyes-Larios, who oversees the classes and knows every student by name. When developing the program, La Luz strived to make the classes easily accessible for students. The cost was just $25 for the semester.  During morning sessions, low cost childcare was provided to ensure students with kids could still attend class.

 The registration date for Spring Semester will be on January 8, 2013. For more information on class schedule and registration time please call 707-938-5131. 


Sonoma Mothers Reach out to La Luz Mothers

"Mothers should help and support each other!" That was the reason given by the Sonoma Valley Mother's Club for their choice of La Luz as a primary benefactor of this year's charitable giving. La Luz was selected because of its emphasis on helping mothers and children in need. The mission of the Mother's Club is to create an atmosphere of support, education and socialization for mothers of young children and their families.

We are so grateful to this group of caring women. ¡Mil gracias a todas ustedes---y feliz navidad!"

Spread the word!

17560 Greger Street

Sonoma, CA 95476


Mon-Thu 9am-5pm

Fri 9am-4pm