Monument Impact has been working in Concord and surrounding cities for more than two decades
By JAKOB RODGERS| Bay Area News Group
It only took minutes for Marvin Saravia to go from budding entrepreneur to unemployed handyman.
What began as a quick errand inside a Concord Home Depot store in September 2021 ended when he emerged to find nearly every tool in his truck – the lifeblood of his humble handyman business – stolen. All he could do was stand in shock and think, “I’m just going to give up.”
“I was hopeless,” said Saravia, who spent the next several months unable to work.
That is, until the nonprofit Monument Impact stepped in.
Using a grant program to help small businesses – particularly those run by immigrants living on poverty’s edge – the Contra Costa County-based organization cut Saravia a check to begin restocking his tool chest. Now, the nonprofit wants to expand that program, all while continuing its mission of helping low-income residents prosper in the Bay Area despite high housing costs and difficult language barriers.
Through the East Bay Times’ Share the Spirit campaign, which helps the neediest in our communities, Monument Impact is hoping to raise $10,000 to help boost its day labor program, as well as its Emerging Business Support Program that it started just last year.
For Saravia, that single, $1,500 grant helped him remain in business and off unemployment.
He lost about $5,000 in tools that day in 2021 – including drills, plumbing equipment and a table saw. He stopped working for three months and became despondent. While the nonprofit’s assistance didn’t cover all of his losses, it was just enough to keep him going so that he could keep earning money and replenish his equipment.
His business was among 13 last year to receive grants from the nonprofit, which totaled slightly more than $13,000. More grants are being awarded this year, and they typically amount to $1,000 to $3,700. The organization also provides reimbursements for certain business fees, which can prove a challenge to companies getting off the ground.
Saravia minces no words. Without the assistance, “I know I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I was so depressed,” he added in Spanish, through an interpreter. “My business would have ended there.”
The nonprofit’s roots date back more than two decades, when it largely focused on providing day labor opportunities to immigrants. Known back then as the Michael Chavez Center for Economic Opportunity, it worked in partner with the city of Concord, which sought to reduce the number of people gathering on city street corners seeking work.
A decade ago, the organization merged with another Contra Costa County nonprofit, Monument Community Partnership, that had been focused on community organizing and health-related issues. It was then that it took on its current name, Monument Impact, which harkens to the Concord street along which its main offices exist, Monument Boulevard.
The nonprofit has become an increasingly influential voice in county politics on issues of affordable housing and rent control. Such advocacy is considered a growing pillar of its work – a way to create more foundational change, so that fewer people show up at its doorsteps seeking help. That includes successfully advocating for a rent stabilization ordinance in Antioch, where it recently opened another office.
In all, the nonprofit often serves more than 10,000 low-income people each year. The majority of its clients are immigrants and refugees, often from Central America or Mexico. Many also come from war-torn countries halfway across the world, including Afghanistan and – more recently – Ukraine.
“Economically, they want to be self-sufficient,” said Judith Ortiz, Monument Impact’s executive director. “And housing is just such a great need. And if housing is not stable, then everything else seems to also fall apart.”
“We want to help them establish small business – whatever they feel they could succeed in, we want to be able to help them,” Ortiz added. “A lot of them already have ideas – they already know what they want to do. They just need a little push to get started.”
Much of the nonprofit’s work remains focused on connecting day laborers with prospective employers. Every weekday morning, usually before the break of dawn, dozens of people assemble at the organization’s nondescript storefront in Concord, sipping coffee and waiting for someone from the nonprofit’s list of employers to walk in requesting help.
Working through a nonprofit ensures that the businesses hiring those workers actually follow through on paying them at the end of the day – a common problem for street workers, said Fortino Morales, 54, who has sought day labor through the nonprofit for decades. A recent widower, he relies on the nonprofit to secure painting jobs, all with the goal of helping to support his children in the U.S. and his relatives back in Mexico.
“We have a lot of benefits here,” said Morales, in Spanish through an interpreter. “If it’s raining, we’re indoors. We have coffee. The employers already know to come here, pick us up or send us to a job.”
Still, just helping clients find work isn’t always enough, Ortiz said. The organization offers business education classes, along with one-on-one help guiding clients through the red tape of securing handyman or contractor’s licenses.
For Morales, that has meant receiving help in obtaining his handyman’s license. Saravia, meanwhile, has received help in applying for a contractor’s license, which allows him to work on far more lucrative jobs, including those whose estimates exceed $500. He expects to finish that process in February.
The timing should be perfect – a couple months later, Saravia’s wife is expected to give birth to their first child.
None of it would have been possible without that first offer of help to restock his tool box. It made his next trip to Home Depot – the one where he carried the money from Monument Impact to restock his supplies – a life-changing experience.
“That day I went to get all of my supplies that I needed at Home Depot, I was very happy,” Saravia said. “There was hope.”
How to Help