La Luz Center, in Boyes Hot Springs, is brightly colored—a cheerful place, as much as possible, which reflects the meaning of its name, "the Light."
Juan Hernandez, executive director, sits in an office where the sun lights up bright yellow walls and a portrait of Salvador Dali. It's an uplifting setting in which he and his staff of six help up to 180 people a day with translation and referrals and resources for legal, employment, immigration and relational issues. The cheerful backdrop contrasts with the often difficult cases they deal with, such as domestic violence.
The center needs help.
With government funding becoming more restricted and many philanthropic organizations competing for funding and volunteers, Hernandez says the road ahead is challenging.
"Many of the local workers migrate up here for the work and return south when the seasonal work dies down," he said. "In the past few years, those people haven't been able to get enough work to make money to return south, so they've stayed here and they need services. Some don't speak English, some need housing."
Hernandez said variations in weather and the economic downturn in the past few years have meant little work for the vineyard laborers and reduced opportunities for service industry employees in the city of Sonoma.
"We've had a 400 percent increase in the number of people needing help in the Valley since 2009," he said. "We get about 80 to 100 walk-ins daily and about 50-80 phone calls. We need bilingual volunteers to help at the front desk and to engage with people. We're hiring a volunteer coordinator. We haven't had one for six months."
La Luz is also raising funds for renovations to improve privacy for people who visit the center. Remodeling will include more space between the waiting room and the service area and it will provide two more spaces for service providers. Impact100 , a Sonoma women's philanthropic group, has provided seed money for the work, which is due to begin in July. Completion is slated for the end of the year.
A variety of government agencies and non-profit organizations provide help to Valley residents through La Luz, including California Rural Legal Assistance, County of Sonoma Health and Human Services, Friends in Sonoma Helping, NAMI of Sonoma County, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Catholic Charities, Sonoma Valley Community Health Center and Verity.
La Luz has a community center, which houses areas for therapy and computers. A photography exhibit by local students is currently on display.
Hernandez has been with the agency for just 7 months, but he has worked and lived in the North Bay for years, having completed his masters degree at Sonoma State University. He's originally from Los Angeles. He said La Luz is trying to make the governing board and leadership more reflective of the local community demographics. It is the first time that La Luz has had both a Latino executive director and board president. The board president, Claudia Mendoza-Carruth is from Colombia.
La Luz offices are at 17560 Greger Street in Boyes Hot Spring. To make a donation or for more information, the phone number is 707-938-5131 or you can go to the La Luz website.