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Editorial: Canal Alliance Continues to connect as it Expands

November 5, 2023

By Marin IJ Editorial Board| Marin IJ

Omar Carrera, chief executive officer of Canal Alliance, visits the building the nonprofit recently purchased at 711 Grand Ave. in San Rafael on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Sections of the building are under renovation. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

Canal Alliance has taken a huge step in its history of serving and representing one of San Rafael’s largest and most challenged communities.

The nonprofit, formed in the 1980s to provide services for the residents of San Rafael’s most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods, is moving into larger quarters and, for the first time, a building that it owns.

For years, the nonprofit has worked out of space it has had to rent. Its space constraints have long put a limit on some of its services.

But its acquisition of two office buildings on Grand Avenue, at the west end of the neighborhood, is doubling its space and energizing plans to increase the programs and services for the large neighborhood, which is largely comprised of Latino residents, many of whom struggle to afford to live in Marin.

The buildings are being renovated for that work.

The agency got its start as a service provider and advocate for the Canal area. Many of its programs, at that time, were launched in response to the influx of refugees from war and oppression in Southeast Asia and a growing number of Latino immigrants seeking better lives.

Mostly composed of large apartment buildings, the Canal has long been San Rafael’s largest neighborhoods, larger in population than some of Marin’s towns and cities.

The agency was one of the first to benefit from ongoing support from the Buck Trust, now managed by the Marin Community Foundation.

Since then, it has become a hub for not only meeting the needs of Canal residents, but also advocating for the community at city hall and the county Civic Center.

Its constituents include many of the people who make up Marin’s workforce.

It is through the Canal Alliance’s programs that they can take classes in English, prepare for citizenship exams, find legal support, get connected to job-training programs and find assistance they need.

Often, it is the front door for newcomers seeking services and information.

During the pandemic, the Canal Alliance played a pivotal role in getting public health information to Spanish-speaking residents and advancing the level of vaccinations.

Many of these residents were part of Marin’s “essential” workforce during the pandemic.

Over the years, the alliance has not only provided “wraparound” services for residents, but has been a strong voice for its population, many of whom speak limited English or remain silent fearing possible deportation.

Whether it’s been cleaner streets, tenants rights, speaking out against racism, overcrowding, police protection, parking problems, helping bridge language gaps (as well as cultural gaps) and increasing awareness about community needs, the alliance has been a dependable and effective advocate for Canal residents.

It is that effectiveness that has won the alliance the longtime support of local philanthropist Maja Kristin, whose $7.5 million contribution has made the agency’s move possible.

For example, Omar Carrera, the alliance’s chief executive officer, says the new larger location should make it possible for the nonprofit to grow its workforce development programs and work toward setting up co-ops supporting Latino entrepreneurial endeavors.

The complex will also bolster the Canal Alliance’s visibility.

This is a huge milestone for the Canal Alliance and the result of its years of accessible and effective service in meeting the varied needs of the people of an important community in our county.

Read the story on the Marin IJ

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