For many, Marin County conjures the image of a wealthy enclave replete with mansions tucked into its verdant hills and woodlands. But that’s definitely not the full picture.
The reality is that Marin County is in a housing crisis, it harbors chronically homeless residents, and has large disparities between rich and even the working poor. A family of four needs to earn at least $150,000 a year to cover basic expenses: food, shelter, childcare, health care, transportation, and taxes. And notably, Marin’s Black and Latino residents are twice as likely to struggle to make ends meet.
Into this yawning wealth gap and racial divide steps Community Action Marin. Founded during the Civil Rights era with impetus from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, it has grown over the past 50 years to become the county’s largest nonprofit social services provider and an advocate for racial and economic justice.
When a resident of the county comes to one of Community Action Marin’s 18 sites, they’re initially asked what they most need help with. But they end up embedded in a caring community committed to them as a whole person, helping them and their family succeed.
“Choosing between rent or food on the table, medicine or childcare, are decisions we don’t want our community to have to make,” says CEO Chandra Alexandre.
Part of paying unparalleled attention to the community’s needs has meant being uniquely prepared to face the acute challenges brought on by the pandemic.
In the summer of 2019, for instance, Community Action Marin took a fortuitous risk and expanded its programs to include a production farm. Not only are the children and youth who come to them for high-quality free and affordable childcare and meals now getting hands-on gardening education, but the agency was also able to cycle upwards of 150 pounds daily of fresh, healthy, homegrown food back into the community at a time of heightened insecurity. It also brought culturally-appropriate menus to children in its programs and helped to keep them active outdoors.
The farm expansion was just one project that wove together many of Community Action Marin’s ongoing goals to help the community reach self-sufficiency. Integrating the types of services they offer to produce better outcomes has been the core mission, and a key accomplishment so far, of Alexandre’s three-year tenure.
The agency’s hallmark is building trusting relationships. A relational approach to care means “shifting from ‘we’re going to help keep you housed’ to ‘we’re going to help you today, and what do you dream about for tomorrow so that we can help get you there?’” Alexandre explains.
Walk through the doors of the agency, and you’ll meet a “success coach,” often someone who’s received services through the agency at some point themselves. The coach’s questions, Alexandre explains, hit on urgent needs but also go deep: “What insights do you bring to our agency; what is your hope and an aspiration for where you want to be (or your children to be) in the future?”
It’s the beginning of a journey that touches the whole community, the whole county, in countless ways.
At Community Action Marin, people’s need for the services that bring them there in the first place don’t define them. That need is what stands in the way of their dreams, their spark – what they might accomplish next. Community Action Marin’s approach is to roadmap the journey alongside them and support every step on the way.