Calexico Neighborhood House has been working on new ways to continue to serve the Imperial Valley during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the years the organization has served the community through its homeless shelter for homeless women and children, youth programs, clothing and food donation services. | MAYELLA VASQUEZ PHOTO
CALEXICO — Calexico Neighborhood House has been working on new ways to serve the Imperial Valley during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the years, the organization has served the community through its homeless shelter for women and children, youth programs, clothing, and food donation services.
Though the pandemic has closed many of Neighborhood House’s in-person services, the organization has made use of technology as an aid to continue to serve the new needs of the community.
At the moment, Neighborhood House is using technology to facilitate its largest program, the CNH Happy Kids Preschool to educate children and support their parents through distance learning.
There are also plans to use technology to create a “teleresource” network that the agency says will serve the homeless community by remotely connecting homeless people with providers of the supplies they need, such as food and clothing. The importance of this project, known as the Neighborhood House Street Outreach Services Initiative, is that it has the potential to change the way the homeless population is served throughout the Imperial Valley.
Molina Healthcare informed Neighborhood House that it will receive a $75,000 grant to support the organization’s NH-SOS Initiative, which uses technology as a tool to assist the homeless population’s needs in the Imperial Valley.
The hope is that Molina’s donation and a grant from Imperial County will support the organization’s initiative, “which is dedicated to building a positive relationship with people experiencing homelessness throughout the city,” Neighborhood House states.
The goal is to provide teleresources that directly connect a person in need with a provider that can help them through mental health services, shelter, housing, and food/necessities.
Special Project Director Ricardo Ortega elaborated on how Neighborhood House currently uses technology to serve the homeless communities and their upcoming plans.
“We are trying to identify people and where groups are meeting, meaning that maybe a group meets at the men’s shelter or a group that meets in downtown El Centro. Within these groups, we try to find who is the leader, the person turned to, and we give them information and help the people who are with them,” Ortega said. “We are making an effort to do that.”
Eventually, there are also plans to set up laptops in different locations where they can have access to resources. The goal is to take the concept of telemedicine and expand the concept into teleresources. Doing so is a challenging project since many organizations and services and their clients both have to be set up with the proper equipment.
“It’s not giving them a list, but direct contact to see and talk to somebody, but getting to that point will take a year, maybe two years,” Ortega said. “The problem is how to ensure someone who calls will be connected with someone who is ready for their call or can consistently contact them and know how the technology functions. It may also take a while because many providers are also not set up, and there are many different groups doing food and clothing services.”
Getting everyone coordinated on both ends is the current issue Neighborhood House is working on with Molina Healthcare and Imperial County to get this project off the ground.
Meanwhile, another focus of Neighborhood House is its preschool.
Ortega explained some of the provisions the organization has been phasing into its education. At the moment, it is holding classes virtually, and plans to continue until in-person classes can be resumed. A priority has been working with parents to keep them informed and well supported.
“We have continued distance learning for the children — that is the largest program. We have almost 280 to 300 children. They are our major focus,” Ortega said. “We are trying to work hard with the parents by keeping them informed on what is coming up from the health department, or CDC, so that has been a big focus for us.”
Neighborhood House has also been working to ensure that parents are equipped with the proper resources to help their students at home. Teachers have been restructuring their classes by creating “double lesson plans,” a lesson plan for themselves, and one for the parents to understand what is being taught. The hope is that these resources will help parents become “PATs,” or parents as teachers. Additionally, Neighborhood House has been working alongside homeschooling associations to learn some ways to continue to provide quality education for their students.
Another service being provided is meals for the students, especially those who do not have access to transportation.
“We are just beginning to look into meals for the children. The Calexico (Unified) School District has been fantastic. They have provided meals for kids in Calexico on Tuesday and Thursday,” Ortega said. “What we’ve done is identified parents in our preschool who have not been able to pick up the food maybe because they do not have a car, and we pick up the food for them and take it to their house.”
When preschool students are allowed to resume classes, Neighborhood House plans to implement 10 portable handwashing units it recently purchased to maintain classroom cleanliness. But as of now, organization will continue to improve its distance-learning framework.