2023 Summer Newsletter

Warm Summer Greetings from the Board Chair and Executive Director

It’s a beautiful summer’s day at St. Mary’s Center. The peach and apple trees in our courtyard are bearing fruit, just like our many initiatives.

Following the conclusion of California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency in February, St. Mary’s Center fully re-opened to all community members regardless of proof of vaccination. Seniors can now come in for a hearty breakfast, nutritious lunch, activities and social support without the requirement to wear a mask. In addition, new programs like our Peer Support Circle, which produced a Senior-led Resource Guide, and Seeking Safety support group are reducing isolation and addressing mental as well as physical health.

In June, more than 300 people attended our 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Gala at the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland. Founding Sunday Dinner volunteers, Seniors from our Council of Elders, former interns-turned-social workers, generous supporters, and staff mingled with Oakland’s Mayor and County Supervisors. This sparkling evening recognized all that St. Mary’s Center has meant to the community for more than five decades while launching our next chapter with flair. The celebration would not have been possible without the leadership of our Co-Chairs, Cynthia LeBlanc and Hon. Keith Carson.

Vision 2025: From Charity to Justice is the title of our strategic plan and the theme of priority work. We are making progress on 73 new homes for Seniors at 3135 San Pablo Av., right across the street from our Community Center, and have received $2 million in new State of California funding for purchase of transitional housing. A new contract with US Housing and Urban Development will support the training of Seniors with lived experience of homelessness as Outreach Ambassadors to support others in becoming and remaining housed.

We welcome four new Board members this summer: Vanessa Hawkins, formerly of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing; Sara Bedford, retired Oakland Human Services Director; Nancy Rodriguez of Duck’s Nest Preschool; and Kimberly Nishio of Comcast. We say heartfelt thanks to Terry Curley and Sonya Simril as they transition away from the Board and appreciate the years of service by former Board Secretary Mallory Trevigne.

Your support makes so much possible. Thank you for everything you do!

Romi Hall, MPH                                 Sharon Cornu, MSHS
Board Chair                                         Executive Director

June 10, 2023

Golden Jubilee Gala

Board Chair Romi Hall and Gala Co-Chair Cynthia LeBlanc

Mayor Sheng Thao, Board Chair Romi Hall, Executive Director Sharon Cornu

Champion Gala Sponsor, Hon. Keith Carson and Maria Carson

More than 300 supporters turned out in full force for our Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary Gala signaling their commitment to creating a future of hope, healing, and justice for West Oakland Seniors and preschool families! Over 50 community members joined the Gala Host Committee, while another 44 sponsors donated generously.

The evening was a beautiful reunion filled with music, games, joyful tears, and connections with old friends. The event would not have been a success without the generous leadership of Board Member Cynthia LeBlanc and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. We were honored by the presence of our Emcee, Claudine Wong of KTVU, along with several special guest appearances. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao highlighted what St. Mary’s Center’s mission means to her as a person with lived experience of homelessness. The event culminated by raising $180,000 to sustain our vital services.

St. Mary’s Center is grateful to our friends, old and new alike, who gave freely of their time, energy, and talents. Thanks to the overwhelming support, we are confident that our beloved community will continue to grow and thrive for another 50 years.

Gala photos and other highlights are available on our website. Please stay in touch and stay tuned for more information about next year’s event! Contact Development@stmaryscenter.org.

Photo credit: Tomás Santos 

SMC Staff: Dwayne Jackson, Clinical Director Letteria Fletcher, Jarel Jacobs, Ja’Meisha Hood

Claudine Wong, KTVU Anchor and Gala Emcee

Three members of the Council of Elders and a Senior who introduced us to The Jazz Therapists, our band for the Gala: Keith Arivnwine, Anne Bradley, Jesse Williams, Tomás Santo

Sister Marilyn Medau and Benay Curtis-Bauer

A Resource Guide for Seniors by Seniors

Sixteen members of St. Mary’s Center’s Peer Support Circle met for five months to organize their experience and knowledge about Alameda County’s resources to create a guide for other Seniors. The 2023 Senior Resource Guide provides information to help access services that have historically been too difficult to navigate— services that connect seniors to Food, Physical and Mental Health Services, Housing Services, Internet Access, Legal Services, Social Services, and Transportation. The Resource Guide has also been translated into Spanish and Simplified Chinese.

With the help of six Peer Support Circle Ambassadors, St. Mary’s Center began presenting the guide to Seniors across Alameda County. In June, the Ambassadors received facilitator training to share their own experience accessing Alameda County resources as they co-presented the guide. As of July, the team of Senior ambassadors has presented the guide to four Senior housing facilities.

We would like to thank our various partners and participants for their support in the making of the guide. We look forward to continuing the work and sharing it with Seniors across Alameda County.

Leadership Academy 3

After two successful rounds of the Leadership Academy, a third cohort of Seniors convened this spring. This year the Senior participants chose to focus on advocating for access to shower and laundry services. As they describe this priority: “These factors contribute directly to people’s health, well-being and ability for self-care.” The Seniors collected information through interviews with over two dozen unhoused residents, identified millions of dollars in funding gaps, and created a comprehensive up-to-date shower and laundry database to influence the county budget to reflect the needs of unhoused neighbors by increasing services and ensuring transportation is available to access existing resources.

Leadership Academy 3 participants presented the findings of their survey on June 14th to an audience of service providers across Oakland and Alameda County. This cohort’s inspiring work is critical to developing a larger infrastructure around homelessness informed by people with lived experience. We look forward to seeing their efforts bear fruit in the months and years ahead!

Sheila Gay, Ruby Rodriguez, Anne Bradley, Shirley Matthews, Sharon Cornu, Casey Farmer, Marlene Hurd, Arlene Hipp at Leadership Academy #3 Graduation

Clean Air for Seniors

This spring, with funding from the California Air Resources Board and IQAir Foundation, St. Mary’s Center installed advanced air filtration technology throughout our facilities to filter 95% of fine and ultrafine particles, including viruses, bacteria, allergens, and harmful traffic pollutants. This project is a result of the West Oakland Community Action Plan, a community-led air pollution reduction plan co-led by West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) that outlines 80+ strategies to reduce toxic emissions and exposure at street level. The new system greatly improved the indoor air quality in our transitional housing facilities, Community Center, and Preschool. Clean indoor air will improve the health for some of West Oakland’s most pollution-impacted residents.

Ms. Margaret Gordon, founder of WOEIP, presented the air filtration system to St. Mary’s Center along with a delicious gumbo lunch.
Ms. Margaret

Spotlight on WeConnect

Wanda Remmers Meyers and Donna Patterson

Over the last year, our initiative to bridge the digital divide for Seniors evolved in partnership with United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County and the Computer Technology Resource Center. The WeConnect program grew both in capacity and impact: we hired a part-time staffer, donated 20 devices to Seniors, and facilitated 60 lessons in digital literacy. The program also moved into a new phase to focus services on Seniors with the least technological experience and the most significant learning barriers.

In July 2022, Wanda Remmers Meyers was hired to staff the program. Wanda has served as both a social worker and shelter staffer at St Mary’s Center. A senior herself, Wanda manages the WeConnect program with a deep level of authenticity, adapting the curriculum and the devices to the needs of each Senior. Her personalized lessons respond to the complicated spectrum of learning styles associated with aging, reducing isolation while connecting seniors to social activities, family, and educational and health resources.

The Computer Technology and Resource Center donated 24 computers to the We Connect program. In December 2022, CTRC began donating desktops with the Windows operating system, a big change from the Xubuntu system that had been installed on their computers since the agency opened in the ’70s.

WeConnect became a pipeline for a wonderful State funded program called CHAS (Connections, Health, Aging and Technology). Through the CHAS referral process, Seniors aged 60 and older receive new tablets with free Internet service for a limited time. As of May 2023, the program has donated nine (9) tablets to happy Seniors. All seniors received free personalized digital literacy lessons.

St. Mary’s Center’s WeConnect program is currently seeking funding to expand the program to provide devices and training to even more extremely low-income Seniors.

Preschool Upgrades

Preschool Director Quinetta Lewis

Brittany Cleghorn, Quinetta Lewis, Sharon Cornu, Cara Granger, Ronald Batiste, Miguel Prieto celebrate state funding of Preschool repairs.

In the Summer of 2022, St. Mary’s Center received a grant from the California Department of Social Services for $250,000 to fund preschool upgrades including a new roof, HVAC system, upgraded electrical and smoke detector system, and ADA compliant ramps at both the front and back entrances. To carry out these upgrades, St. Mary’s Center has partnered with a certified local business, Eagle Environmental Construction. “We are thrilled to be building a relationship with this local minority business construction company,” says St. Mary’s Center Operations Manager Cara Granger. “Especially because their bid was competitive, and their work is good.” Construction on the preschool began in April of 2023 and is expected to be completed by August of 2023.

HUD Grants

St. Mary’s Center was one of two Northern Californian nonprofits awarded in the first round of the national U.S. HUD special competition. This is an exciting opportunity in line with our 2025 strategic plan to create housing and learning opportunities for Seniors. The funding will help support our Neighbor-to-Neighbor Street Outreach project which will train Seniors with lived experience of homelessness to help reach other Seniors living in encampments.

The goal of the program is to recruit, train, and enroll them in Berkeley City College to begin the process of certification as a Community Health Worker. Once they complete their training, the participants will do street outreach to homeless Seniors and support them in enrolling in SMC programs. Because of their experience and training, we expect the Seniors will be able to build strong relationships and support their fellow Seniors throughout the process.

“These are people who have given up hope. To have the community come in and offer resources and services makes a world of difference,“ said Clinical Director Letteria Fletcher. “Most of the Seniors we encountered during our street outreach have now been permanently housed.”

This program is a step forward in our Strategic Plan (“Vision 2025: From Charity to Justice”) to explore workforce development strategies that reflect our Seniors’ strengths and knowledge while protecting their benefits and housing.

Second Annual Membership Meeting

In June, St. Mary’s Center’s hosted our second annual Membership Meeting in the Community Center. The meeting’s purpose is to reregister members for various programs, share a report with Seniors, and vote on what priorities they would like to be the focus of the upcoming year. Council members Maria Fontez, Jesse Williams, and Keith Arivnwine took turns speaking to the audience of 67 Seniors.

Afterwards, Council of Elders Vice President Anne Bradley led a vote on program priorities for the 2023-2024 year. Results of the membership vote can be seen in the chart below.

Director of Contracts and Data Tucker Brofft presented the following data to the Seniors:

Meals Served
WeConnect Trainings
unduplicated clients trained.
Transitional Housing
months provided at two locations.
Seniors Housed
50 Seniors housed (as of July).

Other Stats:

attendees at 22 events.

Housed Seniors

Our Housing First Model for Client Success

Safe and Healthy Spaces
Contribution to Community Safety
Support for Client and Program Success
Transitional Housing at Closer to Home and Presentation House

134 Seniors in Four Years