Watsonville Luna y Sol Youth Center opens

The Luna y Sol Familia Center recently opened in Watsonville, with the goal of supporting local at-risk youth and their families.

Run by the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County (CAB), Luna Y Sol aims to provide children and young adults (ages 12-24) with basic needs, health and education support , employment assistance, community engagement and more. The center seeks to provide young people at risk with a safe space and their families are also welcome.

“Especially with Covid, and all the isolation, it’s really affected people’s lives,” says CAB program director Maria Rodriguez. “A lot is happening. We’ve had stabbings, an increase in crime… We’re really committed to this community, to be able to have a safe space for young people to go. To be understood. We are not judging here. We are an open space where families can come and connect.

In 2020, CAB received a grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections to establish a service center for youth and their families to receive “package” services – the process of surrounding a child who has serious emotional and behavioral problems with the day. day-to-day support and intervention from providers and their friends, family and others in their community.

The nonprofit applied in early 2020, when Covid-19 hit the county, and was approved for funding in July. They were able to hire staff and, in October, began working through individual case management services, by appointment only or via Zoom.

But the center itself had to wait.

“During the pandemic, we were looking for spaces to rent,” says Rodriguez. “We overcame many challenges. There were spaces available that were open to businesses and retail, but not nonprofits.

Finally, they found a home at First Christian Church at the corner of Madison Street and East Lake Avenue, a short walk from EA Hall Middle School and a few blocks from downtown. The owners allowed CAB to carry out renovations, remove carpets and redesign the bedrooms and offices inside the two-story building.

“It was a nice place and the rent was reasonable,” Rodriguez says. “Most of the furniture, desks, chairs, game tables, were all donated to us. The response from the community has been great; there is so much support.

On the first floor is the Youth Drop-In Center, which includes homework and computer stations, as well as a chill-out lounge with games. There is also a gymnasium, which will host indoor events and sports activities.

The second floor houses offices and the Community Hall, which includes space where families can meet for programs such as the Cara y Corazon Parent Engagement Group. Outside in the yard, young people can hang out during programming and participate in outdoor recreation.

This courtyard was packed with more than 250 people for the grand opening on March 30, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, food, resource tables, games and raffles, as well as speeches and testimonials. Guests were also invited inside for small group tours.

Before the inauguration, the CAB gradually invited young people and their families to visit the space.

“We did a soft open,” Rodriguez says. “We brought in our customers, we got them used to it. We just held our first Cara y Corazon session in person. The families said they felt really comfortable being here, which is great. It’s so phenomenal to see things fall into place.

The center will be able to provide outreach services to 150 youth per year, including comprehensive services for 75, in conjunction with the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Probation Department, CAB’s Alcance Program, Santa Cruz County Day, Pajaro Valley United School District Family Engagement Wellness Center and many others.

“We have very high-risk young people here, dealing with gangs, child abuse, mental health… some of the cases are really intense,” Rodriguez says. “It’s so important for us to be here and help them however we can. Even if they just need a haircut or buy some shoes, our staff is there to help them navigate the systems. And sometimes young people are more comfortable reaching out to someone who isn’t in their family.

CAB employment specialist Alexander Zarazua says centers like Luna y Sol can change people’s lives. Such a program did it for him in high school.

“I grew up in Watsonville, with a single mom,” Zarazua says. “My brother and other members of my family have been affected by gangs. I needed a lot of advice, especially (to) avoid gangs. It would have been easy for me to go through that. I was just surrounded by it, I didn’t know any better.

Zarazua says it was a high school work program that kept him busy and on track.

“I had an income and was able to help my mother,” he says. “It gave me the skills and confidence to go to college and apply for jobs. It’s so important for young people to have a center like this because I can see the great things that have been done for me.

Zarazua says they have already helped several young people find jobs.

“So far we’ve had a very good success rate,” he says. “We have placed eight of our nine young people on the job market. They are so happy, excited to have their first job.

The Luna y Sol Familia Center, 15 Madison St., Watsonville. 831-322-9041; cabinc.org.

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