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Spring 2024 Stakeholder Update from Omar Carrera, CEO

May 2, 2024

Dear Friend, 

Spring is here and I am happy to share updates about new partnerships, how our programs teams are advancing affordable housing access, supporting economic mobility, and elevating our clients’ voices in the community. I am also delighted to introduce a new board member, who is a graduate of one of our programs herself, and to two new members of our staff leadership team. As always, I want to take a moment to thank you for your generosity, which is instrumental in making our progress possible. With a presidential election on the horizon, the work that we do at Canal Alliance to help our clients achieve safety and stability is more important than ever.  


The strategic planning process initiated in 2018 led us to create our 2028 Vision and a 10-year plan to reach our goals. Now, as we embark upon the last five years of that plan, we are increasingly focused on strengthening community impact by offering services that remove barriers to stability and accelerate success for our students and clients. To achieve these goals, we continue to refine our services, leverage data to drive decision-making, and influence local, state, and federal policy to increase financial and social stability for immigrants in Marin. 

Recognizing that community engagement is an essential component of our process, we continue to work together with community members and key investors – like you – to strengthen our programs. We also continue to build new partnerships that extend our impact, leverage existing resources, and support the outcomes detailed in our 2028 vision. I am pleased to share updates about several new or expanded partnerships: 


In February, I voiced my concern about the impact of the Canal neighborhood’s designation as the only Opportunity Zone in Marin under the Trump administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Unfortunately, rather than providing opportunities as promised, this policy has led to the displacement of many Canal residents. Despite the fact that we have been working closely with city officials since 2019 to create a tenant relocation assistance program, there have since been two waves of evictions resulting in the displacement of close to 20 families from the 400 Canal Street apartment complex alone.  

Today, I am pleased to report that through persistent advocacy by Canal Alliance staff, representatives from Voces del Canal and local residents, the City of San Rafael recently enacted an urgency ordinance. This legislation, a direct result of our collaborative efforts, prohibits evictions for health and safety renovations unless tenants are offered temporary relocation assistance and the right to return. Effective April 15, 2024, this ordinance stands as a crucial interim solution while city officials develop broader tenant protection policies. Our grassroots advocacy, and presence at City Council meetings alongside community members was pivotal in highlighting the urgent need for these protections. We continue our partnership with Mayor Kate Colin and the City of San Rafael as we work tirelessly to prevent evictions and ensure affordable housing for the many low-income Canal residents who depend on our advocacy and leadership. 


Two core pillars of our 2028 Vision are to help Latino immigrants and their families access pathways out of poverty and to expand our impact across Marin. To advance these important goals, Air Gallegos – who had formerly served as our Director of Education and Career – was recently named as our new Director of Economic Mobility. In her new role, Air will oversee the expansion of workforce development services and manage the launch of our expanded entrepreneurship services, both of which are described in more detail below. 

Expanding the capacity of our Workforce Development Program 

Since 2018, our Workforce Development Program has leveraged education and employer partners to offer short-term certificate-based training programs that prepare Latino immigrants with the skills they need to secure quality jobs that pay living wages. Our longest-running program is in construction, offered with the Marin Builder’s Association. Since its onset, this program has achieved remarkable outcomes: 82% of enrolled students have completed the program, 76% have secured jobs in construction, and on average, clients have realized 36% increase in wages after one year on the job. To extend this impact to additional sectors, we have more recently offered a transit operator program with Golden Gate Transit Authority.  

In 2023, we launched two new career pathways including a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program for those interested in healthcare careers, and a Latinos in Finance (LIF) program for those interested in working in the banking and finance sector. To support these new programs, we have expanded the capacity of our workforce services by hiring a Workforce Development Supervisor and one of two Career Navigator positions we plan to hire by summer. For all pathways, Career Navigators provide case management services to guide students through certificate completion and for two years after they complete the training to support early career success by providing career navigation, job placement, and job retention services. 

Launched last fall in partnership with College of Marin and By the Bay Health, our CNA program has completed two cohorts, with 27 people having completed the training. Another 14 students are currently enrolled in a third cohort that will graduate on June 6, 2024. Since completing the program and passing the state licensing exam, graduates like Jorge Gonzalez are now launching careers in the health industry and working toward their professional and financial goals. 

Also new in fall 2023, we launched a Latinos in Finance program in partnership with College of Marin, UnidosUS, and Bank of America. The eight-week program trains bilingual participants who are interested in pursuing careers in the financial industry. Like all our training pathways, this program is offered at no cost to participants and includes case management services to address any challenges participants may face while enrolled in the program, such as finding childcare, transportation, professional attire, or rental assistance. The first cohort graduated 13 students in November 2023, and the second cohort, which began in March 2024, enrolled 14 students. We are encouraged by early program results which indicate that graduates are realizing a 47% increase in wages as a result of securing new jobs in the banking industry.  

Anticipating the summer launch of our new Entrepreneurship Program   

Each year since 2019, Canal Alliance has partnered with the Marin Small Business Development Center to offer a 10-session Spanish language business course called Construyendo Mi Negocio, which annually supports 40 to 60 Latino entrepreneurs who wish to launch their own small businesses. Recognizing that these entrepreneurs face many challenges and obstacles to launching their own successful small businesses, we outlined a five-year plan to expand our support for those who wish to pursue entrepreneurship. 

In the summer of 2023, we conducted a feasibility study to explore models for developing employee-owned small business cooperatives. We engaged Project Equity, an Oakland-based nonprofit, to provide consulting services. We also interviewed four nonprofit organizations to assess their strategies and success in supporting employee-owned co-ops. We also conducted a focus group aimed at understanding the needs and obstacles facing small business owners from the low-income Latino community. The focus group included 10 small business owners – seven women and three men – all of whom graduated from our Construyendo Mi Negocio course. Professions represented include pastry chef, customer service, restaurant worker, auto repair specialist, and a producer of home-cooked food. Through this study, we learned that the primary needs facing small business owners are technical and legal assistance, mentoring support, and access to capital. 

In response to these findings and to address the needs of entrepreneurs in our community, we will expand our entrepreneurship services in the summer of 2024 by partnering to launch a new Entrepreneurs of Color program. The program is targeted to provide more intensive support for small business owners who have completed our Construyendo Mi Negocio course. The new Entrepreneurs of Color course will be taught virtually by College of Marin, with a curriculum provided by Workforce Innovation Labs. ESO-Ventures will provide technical and administrative support, capital for small business loans, and assistance with loan applications. Canal Alliance will provide case management to help clients apply to college, enroll in the course, and complete the training. We aim to enroll a total of 60 budding entrepreneurs in two pilot cohorts offered in fall 2024 and spring 2025. 

A new Latinx Leadership Academy helps residents express their leadership potential 

In February 2024, we launched a new Latinx Leadership Academy to give low-income Latino residents opportunities to discover their leadership potential, to learn strategies for working in groups, and to connect with organizations and community advocacy groups. This year, we plan to offer five cohorts of the academy to a total of 75 resident leaders.  

The academy includes four workshops aligned with our initiatives to expand affordable housing, improve transportation equity, mitigate sea-level rise, and increase voter participation. Graduates from the Latinx Leadership Academy are already working with low-income Latino residents and community activists on political issues and non-political measures designed to strengthen democracy and improve quality of life in the Canal neighborhood.  

Thirteen students who graduated from the first cohort are now applying their new skills within school PTAs; in their work with the local resident-led advocacy group, Voces del Canal, and in their church communities. Four are also now serving as co-facilitators of the second cohort, which began in April with 15 people enrolled. The impact of this training is already being seen as academy participants were critical in supporting and organizing residents to participate in the City Council meeting which resulted in the implementation of an urgency ordinance for tenant eviction protections.  


For several years, Marin has had the highest number of unaccompanied minors being released to sponsors among all Bay Area counties. In 2022 alone, 382 unaccompanied minors were released to sponsors in Marin County. Many of these young people are fleeing extreme violence and poverty in their home countries. Others want to reconnect with family members but must be released to sponsors to remain in the U.S.  

In June 2023, after applying to the Legal Services Funders Network Fellowship in search of a fellow to build the capacity of our Immigration Legal Services (ILS) program, we were matched with Neha Singh Malik, a recent graduate of the University of California Davis Law School. After five months as a fellow at Canal Alliance, we hired Neha in November 2023 as a full-time staff attorney with our Unaccompanied Children Unit.  

Today, Neha provides legal representation for clients who entered the U.S. as minors under 18 and without a legal guardian. Many of these young people have a strong case to apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status based on abuse, neglect, or abandonment by one or both parents in their home countries. There is an urgency for them to find and secure representation both because they need to file their cases before turning 21 and also because the majority are put in deportation proceedings and can be ordered deported if they do not have representation. We are very proud to have Neha on our team as she is deeply committed to providing safety from deportation for these vulnerable Latino youth arriving in Marin seeking an opportunity to build a better life.  


Deysi Mendez grew up in the Canal neighborhood with her family and always felt a strong connection to the community. When she was preparing to enter sixth grade, Deysi enrolled in our Youth Education Program (now called UP!) and remained in the program until graduating from San Rafael High School in 2010. By 2015, Deysi had earned her B.A. in Business from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York. Following graduation, she worked as an accountant for various firms in Oakland, San Francisco, and Palo Alto. Since 2017, Deysi has served as a board member and treasurer for “E3: Education, Excellence & Equity”, and from 2020 to 2022, she was a Giving Circle Member for the Latino Community Foundation, where she worked with colleagues to identify how to invest the Foundation’s resources in alignment with funding priorities. Now Deysi has joined the Canal Alliance board of directors, where she will serve as a member of our Finance and Development committees. We are very pleased to have Deysi on board as a strong advocate for the community in which she grew up. 


From left to right: James Sarria and Gary Hume.

In December 2023, we welcomed two new staff directors to the Canal Alliance team, both of whom contribute valuable skills and experiences that will position us to advance our key programs and track our growing impact on the community we serve.  

James Sarria, our new Director of Education and Career, brings a wealth of experience to overseeing our Adult and Youth Education programs. James is a proud Peruvian-American and first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Community-based Natural Resource Management from UC Berkeley. He has more than two decades of global experience in community organizing, fundraising, communications, and organizational management to establish programs aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. James has dedicated his career to education-focused community organizations in the Bay Area, including roles at the Seneca Center for Families, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and Young Community Developers.  

Last December, we also welcomed Gary Hume as our new Director of Impact, Learning, and Data Governance. He spent the last nine years as the Director of Information Technology at Cognerate.org, and previously worked in eCommerce for 12 years. With his extensive experience in information technology, Gary will track outcomes and compile data and reports to confirm that our programs are yielding the positive results our community expects and deserves. 

Again, I want to convey my deep gratitude and appreciation for all your contributions to Canal Alliance and to the Latino community we serve. I invite you to contact me to learn more about the news shared in this letter. If you’d like to schedule a visit or tour, please reach out to me directly or contact Jennifer Caynan, Senior Manager of Leadership Giving, at jenniferc@canalalliance.org

Without you, our progress and success would not be possible. Thank you for all you do to make Marin a place where everyone can live, learn, work, and thrive. 


Omar Carrera 

Chief Executive Officer 

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