By Bob Highfill
Over its existence, El Concilio has been a beacon, providing crucial services that have helped hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Central Valley.
The organization, headquartered in Stockton, is celebrating its 50th year, an accomplishment not lost on El Concilio’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Jose Rodriguez.
“The fact that we’ve been able to achieve this milestone indicates the strong support that the community has given us over the course of time,” Rodriguez said. “Not too many organizations reach that type of milestone.”
Since 1968, El Concilio has provided numerous services to the community, especially underserved individuals and families, and Spanish-speaking immigrants. Throughout the years, the organization’s stewardship has been steadfast behind dedicated board members, deeply committed staff and motivated professionals representing a broad range of backgrounds and ethnicities.
“This is an organization that has transcended many different board members, different political exposure, challenging political environments and has continued to thrive and improve in providing and expanding the services to the entire, diverse community,” said San Joaquin County Assessor and former San Joaquin County Supervisor Steve Bestolarides, Chairman of the Board of El Concilio. “We’re starting to evolve and provide these services for everyone and to me that’s a huge and significant step and it meets the spirit of the founding members of the board.”
The Council annually serves about 25,000 families, an estimated 75,000 people through an 11-site network that includes nine preschools, three community centers, two immigration centers, a senior services center and centers for job readiness, family wellness and behavioral health. The organization offers 20 different programs and numerous services across eight departments aimed to help at-risk youth, infants, families and adults.
Bill Trezza, Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce, who recently termed out after serving six years on El Concilio’s Board of Directors, said the Day Care program is especially important, allowing parents with limited means to take their children to a safe, welcoming environment while they work and earn a living. Trezza said he can’t imagine what life would be like for thousands without the Council.
“The Head Start and Day Care are huge programs,” Trezza said. “Who’s more vulnerable than little kids, especially when you’re dealing with families that can’t afford open market day care?”
Bestolarides said programs that provide basic dental and overall health care, pre- and post-delivery services, pediatric services and translation services for expectant mothers during admissions are of paramount importance.
“To me, those are the services that I really tune in to because those services, had we not been providing them, would hugely and adversely impact health care,” he said.
Rodriguez lauds the impact El Concilio has made through its Immigration Services program, which provides citizenship classes and immigration legal services. El Concilio’s legal professionals provide free and low-cost bilingual citizenship preparation and comprehensive legal services for naturalization application filings, legal permanent resident status, renewal services and eligibility screenings. El Concilio helps undocumented working immigrants attain citizenship status and a green card, bringing them out of the shadows and empowering them to earn better-paying jobs to provide for their families and society. The Council also helps individuals earn a General Equivalency Diploma and pursue higher education, as well as keep their home or own a home, and help them fulfill whatever their version of the American dream might be.
“You name it, the community, especially the Spanish-speaking community, comes to us for just about anything that concerns them as they are learning about this country, the different bureaucracies and services that are available to them,” Rodriguez said. “They come to us to help them navigate what it all means and how they can benefit from it.”
The federal government’s current stance on immigration has brought fear to many in the migrant worker community, which has challenged El Concilio to reach and maintain relationships with clients.
“That is a big challenge because folks that used to be part of the fabric of our society that used to go to work, that used to take their kids to school and seek out services have now basically gone underground,” Rodriguez said. “Many of them are scared to go to work. They’re hesitant to take their kids to school and they’re hesitant to sign up for any type of even immigration relief that they might be eligible for because they’re concerned about the government having their information and where to locate them.”
El Concilio receives much of its funding through grants, fundraising and federal and state dollars. Through good economic times and bad, El Concilio has been there for the community.
“The really great thing about El Concilio is it’s always looking ahead,” Bestolarides said. “Fifty years celebrates something that was envisioned and a dream that has materialized and evolved.”
And the vision and dream of the original board that convened 50 years ago promises to continue long into the future.