Aurora Sanchez was confident she was doing the right thing, following her husband to the United States from El Salvador to start a new life and a family. She hadn’t quite known what to expect in her new country, and finding her way was filled with unknowns and isolation.
It was daunting. Sanchez, speaking through a translator, says it was “very difficult” to leave her family and adjust to a different country with a different language, culture, and way of life. She felt lonely, stressed, and depressed despite her happiness with the birth of her daughter.
That’s when she found Lincoln Families, a 140-year-old Oakland-based organization that works with an assortment of agencies to connect families and children struggling with poverty and trauma with important life-changing programs and resources.
The roots of the organization began in 1883 when its founder, Rebecca McWade, known in the community as “a kind woman,” found a young child on her doorstep and incorporated the first racially integrated orphanage in Northern California, the Little Workers Home.
The orphanage quickly expanded to take in unwed mothers as well as helping families that were struggling to make ends meet. No one was turned away.
Support for the orphanage grew over the years, as did the number of children. A summer camp at Crow Canyon was purchased and when the original home in Oakland caught fire, the children were moved to two new homes on Lincoln Avenue, inspiring a new name, Lincoln Families.
Caregivers and supporters began to realize that providing children with shelter, clothing and food while they awaited new families was not enough. Children in the orphanage and other institutions were suffering from emotional trauma. Social workers were hired and the Lincoln was reorganized as a foster care agency as workers sought to provide complete care for the children.
That insight has continued through the decades, says Kirsten Melton, part of Lincoln Families’ management team.
“Mental health and wellness is still the issue of our time,” Melton says. “It’s so important to provide help and support to those who need it.”
Lincoln Families, which serves Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, partners with both school- and community-based programs to reach children and their parents. Its Intensive Home-based Services teams provide support for foster children and those at risk for becoming part of the foster care system.
Kinship programs focus on care-givers and children in the child welfare system, while Family Resource Centers in the communities take an umbrella approach to care, helping families find resources for housing, education, employment, food, financial aid, child care, and legal assistance.
Lincoln Families relies on grants and donations, and the group is hoping to raise $10,000 through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit program, which provides relief, hope and opportunities for East Bay residents by helping raise money for nonprofit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The money will be used to support families during the holidays, providing turkeys, holiday foods, and gift cards so that parents can select and purchase gifts for their children.
“Parents just want to put presents under the tree,” Melton says. “We don’t give toys anymore. We give gift cards so that parents can feel like the gift is from them.”
It was almost by accident that Sanchez learned about West Oakland’s Family Resource Center during a presentation at Highland Community Center. Two classes offered by Lincoln Families appealed to Sanchez – English as a Second Language and Zero to Five.
Learning English, Sanchez believed, was essential to her fitting into her community and reaching out beyond the walls of her home. The Zero to Five classes offer early guidance and development of children through age 5, and parents learn important parenting skills.
Once Sanchez, 30, began taking classes, other avenues of learning and assistance opened up to her. She took health and wellness classes that explored parenthood, life in general, depression and anxiety; and provided a safe space where in-depth discussions and experiences were shared confidentially. It was then Sanchez began to recognize the stresses in her life, and what was causing her anxiety. She’s also learned coping mechanisms and is teaching her children how to deal with stress, too.
With the help of Lincoln Families, both Sanchez and her husband say they’ve become better parents to their children, a 4th grader and a toddler. Sanchez recently passed her California driving test and is starting to expand her world, although she’s still working up to freeway travel.
Sanchez continues to take classes, but now she’s also volunteering at the resource center, helping out in the community garden, the food bank and clothing closet. She has received so much through Lincoln Families, she says, that she wants to give back.
Most importantly, Sanchez says, she’s found what she had been looking for when she immigrated: “A new world of hope.”
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 Lincoln Families support families during the holidays, providing turkeys, holiday foods, and gift cards so that parents can select and purchase gifts for their children. Goal: $10,000
How to give
Go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or print and mail in the coupon.