THEME 4
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I want to be connected to a strong community network.

 
 
 

Those who are physically or socially isolated from strong personal and professional networks miss out on vital information, resources, and support.

 

Across the state, we heard about the importance of strong formal and informal networks. A network describes the people, institutions, places, and resources individuals contribute to, and leverage, to get by.

For our participants, formal networks like unions, associations, and congregations were critical resources — or delivered access to critical resources. For example, some participants found that unions gave them a way to learn about their rights as workers, meet other workers in their field, and provide a platform for their voice to be heard.

Informal networks, like family and friends, help supplement formal networks and were cited as critical for daily life. Family, friends, and neighbors provided childcare, rides to work, food, and other help. They also provided much needed empathy and emotional support.

We discovered resilient, reciprocal, and trusted networks across the communities we visited. However, many Californians were looking for ways to make them even stronger. For some, “strong” described a diverse network that connected individuals or families to people and resources outside of their extended family or neighborhood — like a job training center or English as a Second Language (ESL) class across town.

For others, “strong” described a tight-knit community where people knew and cared for each other. Community leaders we spoke to emphasized the importance of feeling like you are a valued member of a network. Individuals need to have confidence they have something to contribute to the greater good.

Networks produce positive results. Participants from across California repeatedly described experiencing strength in numbers. In East Oakland, single mothers shared contact information so they could forward website links to local childcare.

In Salinas, young adults described being energized by seeing other community groups come out to march for immigration reform. And in Los Angeles labor union halls, the power of being a member of an organization fighting for worker rights was palpable. When Californians band together, their individual voices and assets are amplified.

 
 
 
 

WE HEARD

FINDING A JOB DEPENDS ON WHO I KNOW
 

When looking for work, many of our participants told us, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” That sentiment rang especially true for young adults just starting out, new immigrants, as well as more seasoned workers without a strong network in place. We met a number of participants who found much needed work through friends and family. Migrant workers in several regions described the importance of having a family member already working at a farm in order to get a job.

Having a strong network in the context of work meant knowing enough people who are currently employed, knowing people who are well-connected to other networks, and knowing those who have influence in their own workplace. Even those who were able to land entry-level positions faced barriers to advancement due to on-the-job favoritism — they were often passed over for opportunities because their immediate supervisor was not well-connected.

 
 
It was so hard to find a job. The Brotherhood Crusade helped me relax and take a chill pill and just keep going. Don’t give up.
— Shipping Worker and College Student, Torrance
 
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I don't know many people, so you rely on experience and I don't have that either. When I try to apply for a job, I'm just not qualified. It's frustrating.

— Single Parent, San Leandro

When you apply for work, they ask if you have any family working there. It shows you’re a good worker.

— Participant, El Centro

 
 
 

WE HEARD

IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE
 

There are 1.5 million working poor families in California. Source: 2014 Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

It’s no surprise that our listening session participants felt that their greatest support system was family and friends, neighbors, and church. A strong “village” unit created a safe haven when times were tough. Young mothers talked about banding together to provide childcare. A table of migrant workers talked about sharing food and offering rides to work for those who had fallen on hard times. In Los Angeles, we heard how churches in the community provided spiritual and emotional support, as well as hot meals and clothes.

When communities come together they are more resilient. Many were able to derive energy from sharing their expertise and helping others. However, the definition of the village is changing. Traditionally, the village referred to family and friends who were physically close to one another. While this is still true for some Californians, many were forced to move to find better jobs. We heard from young families and immigrants who “don’t know anyone” in their new community and, as a result, feel isolated.

 
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My neighbors are a part of our lives. [One] helps me with my homework. I babysit for her. I attend her child’s field trips. We volunteer at our children’s schools.
— College Student and Single Mother, Fresno
 
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It really does take a village. My whole family helps. If I had to raise my three kids and help with my nephews by myself, I would be overwhelmed.

— Home Healthcare Worker, Lancaster

Tell the teachers of Mendota Elementary and those who had my children for the last two years, ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.’ I know my kids wouldn’t be where they are now if it wasn’t for your patience and guidance.

— Mobile Research Participant, Firebaugh

 
 
 

 

WE HEARD

TOGETHER, OUR VOICES ARE AMPLIFIED
 

Many of the Californians we met felt their voices were magnified when they came together. Speaking out as part of a group helped build confidence when taking on difficult political or community issues. It was a way to distribute responsibility and create momentum.

Californians have a higher rate of participation in many group political activities. Source: Advancement Project

Seeing the results of their combined efforts — both positive and negative — kept participants motivated. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 2015 members in Los Angeles celebrated results like Proposition 55 and Kamala Harriss election as a United States Senator. They cited the importance of one-on-one interactions, and rallying and educating friends, neighbors, and Californians outside their existing networks. Most believed that advocating together is far more powerful than doing it alone.

Young people in Salinas came together to speak out about issues in their own community. They made signs and stood together on the side of the road to remind people of the consequences of drunk driving. They regularly attended city council meetings to advocate for their own neighborhoods. And they pulled others into the fold, encouraging their peers to be active and outspoken.

 

March For Immigration Reform:
A participant from San Diego drew an idea for more marches to bring attention to immigration reform and show that it is supported within their community.

 
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The reason I am going to keep my union job is because I want to see what happens with the Propositions I worked on ... you’re invested.
— Home Healthcare Worker, Lancaster
 
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Seeing all of these different groups come together to protest was so powerful.

— Participant, Salinas

Through networking you meet people who are dealing with the same things. It connects you like a chain. I showed them there are youth who actually care.

— Warehouse Worker and High School Student, San Bernardino

 
 
 

WE HEARD

I WANT WAYS TO MAKE MY COMMUNITY STRONGER
 

In every listening session, we heard how deeply participants appreciated having the chance to share their stories. They felt that coming together to discuss both their challenges and their ideas for change was important for their community. In multiple sessions, participants mentioned wanting to learn more creative ways to gather feedback, imagine solutions, and build unity at their own community meetings.

This desire to learn new tools and methods to build strong communities showed up when participants brainstormed possible solutions to their challenges. Some drew ideas showing venues where they might hold regular community meetings and events. They shared their desire for not only improving their family’s well-being but also the well-being of those around them. With the help of local nonprofits, communities of agricultural workers in Salinas were already using methods like brainstorming to come up with ideas to improve their neighborhoods.

 

 
 
As a minority and a young voter, my generation is going to be the one handling things in the future. It’s important for us to come together and do what is best for everyone — not just oneself.
— Mobile Research Participant, Oceanside
 
 

It’s not just about organizations giving money. We also need training and tools. It’s the knowledge you have — pass it on.

— Participant, Ontario

 

 
 
 

Unite as a family and as a community, that’s what makes strength and hope.

— Participant, Oakland

One participant expressed a desire for a community center to bring everyone together to create a more beautiful community—similar to how a mandala is made up of many pieces coming together to create a beautiful image.