RICHMOND — Warnisha Smith knew she had to dramatically change her life — not only for herself but for her children, ages 4 and 6.
Hampered by an incorrectly listed criminal charge on a pre-employment background check, the 28-year-old single mother was having trouble finding permanent work. Her hopes for the future were fading: She once dreamed of being able to open her own care facility for the elderly and disabled.
She heard about Rubicon Programs from a family friend and went to the Richmond-based organization in 2019 to get back on her feet and connect to resources that would help her move forward.
Smith was a bit unsure at first, she said, and her attendance was spotty. But she finally realized how much her life needed to change and “dedicated my time” to what the agency offered her.
She has no regrets and realizes how valuable and productive her continuing relationship with Rubicon has been. She knows “I can be one of those who does make it.”
The mission of Rubicon, a 50-year-old organization that serves both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is to transform East Bay communities by equipping people to break the cycle of poverty. It has prepared thousands of participants, many with criminal records, to succeed in new lives with help in four program areas: income, assets, wellness and community connections. It provides comprehensive services including workforce readiness, employment placement, behavioral health, legal services and other services.
“From our early years as a mental health services provider to our current programs that center workforce development and the unique needs of the reentry community, Rubicon has impacted thousands of our East Bay neighbors by restoring hope and confidence and increasing access to resources and opportunity,” said Dr. Carole “DC” Durham-Kelly, president and CEO of Rubicon Programs.
“Rubicon Programs is committed to facilitating generational change that lasts in our East Bay communities. That’s why we partner with individuals to build economic mobility for themselves and their families while we’re also resourcing empowered communities through our systems change work at the local and state levels.”
Rubicon is hoping to raise $25,000 through the East Bay Times’ Share the Spirit campaign, 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 provide job counseling, job placement, behavioral health and legal services for 1,700 people, of which 1,100 will be new participants, and 300 will be ready to secure employment at an average starting wage of $22 an hour.
The biggest roadblock to Smith’s hoped-for career in care providing was a first-degree robbery charge years ago that appeared on a criminal records check — the charge had been reduced to a misdemeanor by a judge and should have later been removed. She had other run-ins with law enforcement and has been incarcerated but the robbery charge would prevent working in a care facility.
In 2019 Smith connected with Pat Kaspar, an attorney for Rubicon Programs, who confirmed the charge listing was wrong and immediately began working to correct the information with the state Department of Justice and the FBI. After a year, the record had been corrected.
But the inaccurate report triggered an automatic lifetime ban with the Community Care Licensing Board at the Department of Social Services prior to the record correction. Removing the ban would require another lengthy appeal process that took until 2022 to get done.
Kaspar said she “kept working with (Smith) because I believe in her. She is really so wonderful. She has a knack for working with people and she is extremely tenacious.” She also said that Smith has the perserverence to reach her goal of operating her own care facility.
“She just works so hard, it makes it so easy to want to keep helping her,” Kaspar said. “A lot of things have gone wrong for her, but she had the spirit to keep going.”
While waiting for her appeal to process, Smith kept working with Rubicon coaches and is still involved with the organization. She is one of eight members of Rubicon’s Participant Advisory Board, which does community engagement and advocacy.
She now works at different care facilities and visits the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes, continually “building experience to get my own facility,” she says.
The idea of having her own care business originated when she was a “little kid” being around elderly relatives and other relatives who had developmental conditions such as autism, she said.
She saw what they went through and wanted to do what she could to make people like them as comfortable as possible and accepted by others.
And her ultimate goal of owning her own facility keeps getting closer. It has now become a passion for her. “This is what I am supposed to do,” she says.
She says her children are her inspiration and keep her focused: “Looking at my kids I know I can make it. They are looking up at me. I know I can make it in life.
“I went from having no hope, not really doing anything with my life, bouncing from job to job to now having my own stable housing, stable income, and better opportunities ahead of me right now,” Smith said. “The opportunities I wouldn’t have had the chance to get if it wasn’t for Rubicon Programs.”
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 Rubicon Programs provide provide job counseling, job placement, behavioral health and legal services for 1,700 people with barriers to employment. Goal: $25,000
How to give
Go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or print and mail in the coupon.