Teodora Soto’s family life was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced millions of Californians into monthslong lockdowns and made her job as a hairstylist suddenly feel dangerous.
After becoming pregnant, Teodora quit her job to stay at home in Bethel Island and keep her unborn baby safe from the virus. But as the pandemic lingered, her husband Antonio’s construction and remodeling work also took a hit, scaled back to 15 hours of work per week.
Spending more time than ever stuck in their house together, the pair started to fight.
“We started to have conflicts as he was getting tired, and I was irritated being at home all day,“ Teodora said. “We even talked about having a separation.”
Teodora knew that they needed help. But where could she go? A friend recommended the couple sign up for a workshop hosted by a local nonprofit called the Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC) of Contra Costa.
The council first opened its doors in 1985 as a volunteer-led organization focused on addressing the maltreatment of children in Contra Costa County. Back then, child abuse was only just emerging as an issue of focus to Californians.
The organization is seeking $6,000 through the East Bay Times’ Share the Spirit campaign, which provides relief, hope and opportunities for vulnerable East Bay residents. The money will be used to help ease the financial burden for 60 families during the holidays.
Despite the name, the Child Abuse Prevention Council doesn’t just intervene to help families deal with ongoing child abuse. A lot of its work, including workshops, are designed to promote healthy family dynamics and prevent abuse from happening.
Each workshop begins with a shared meal, where parents and kids all sit down and break bread together as they discuss whatever is going on in their lives.
Teodora tried to get her husband to attend the first workshop with her and their kids, but he was too tied up with work to go.
When she sat down for the first meal with seven other couples, she was stunned to see that she was the only one there without her spouse.
“When I started to listen to each of the participants, I said, ‘I’m not the only one (going through difficult times),’” Teodora remembered. “My husband has to listen to this.“
After dinner, the parents and children were given separate lessons led by trained professionals who provide guidance on a range of issues, like navigating mental health challenges and addressing hard-to-discuss topics like intergenerational trauma.
But all this learning isn’t confined to the sessions. “Once they go home, they get to practice and talk about what they are learning,” said CAPC supervisor Maggie Velasco, who helps run the workshops.
Teodora’s 8-year-old daughter Vanessa took that instruction quite literally. When she and her mom got home, Vanessa went up to her dad and spoke her truth.
“Why didn’t you go to the program, dad?” Teodora recalled her daughter saying. “Mom went, a lot of kids went with their dads. Everyone hugged their dad, and I didn’t have anyone.”
Antonio demurred. He was busy with work, and just too exhausted for a 2-and-a-half hour workshop. Providing for the family was enough, wasn’t it?
The Sotos’ struggle in the face of economic uncertainty is not at all unusual in Contra Costa County. When CAPC first opened its doors it quickly became apparent that there was pent-up demand for an organization that specialized in helping families navigate turbulent times. Only two years later, in 1986, the council formed into an official nonprofit so that it could scale its services with the resources it needed to serve families.
In 1995, CAPC launched a countywide mandated reporter training program, which instructs people whose jobs involve interacting with children on how to spot and report possible signs of child abuse.
In 1999, CAPC launched its signature Baby Bag Program, which provides new parents with informational materials that give advice on child safety and how to prevent child abuse.
In 2007, the organization hosted the first round of workshops like the one Teodora attended. The program started with four workshops in Spanish and two in English. Now there are 11 Spanish and eight English workshops that last 18 weeks and are free to attend. Velasco says that many parents, like Teodora, hear about the program from friends or family members who previously participated and rave about it.
A week after the first workshop, Teodora once again rounded up the kids and headed back to the second session — without her husband. But when she and the kids arrived, she was shocked to see her husband already there, still in his work clothes that were covered in dirt from working all day at a construction project.
“He arrived earlier than me!” Teodora said. “My daughter was very happy… She said – ‘Dad, you came!’”
In the remaining 17 weeks of the program, Teodora and Antonio continued to show up to the workshops, participating avidly together. She said she was surprised by how much her husband was willing to share about his childhood, which he had not spoken about for years, if ever. It was a major change not just in their marriage, but to her sense of what fatherhood can look like.
“My dad never participated in a school meeting, never attended a family event, never went to a Father’s Day event,” Teodora recalled about her own childhood. “I don’t want to follow that mold. I want something different.”
Share the Spirit
The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunities for East Bay residents by helping raise money for nonprofit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
How to help
Donations will help the Child Abuse Prevention Council purchase $100 grocery gift cards for 60 families during the holiday season to use for a special holiday meal, traditional treats for children, or basic needs, reducing the extra stress and burden families often feel during the holidays. Goal: $6,000
How to give
Go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or print and mail in the coupon.