Service organization Familia del Valle’s distribution team is shown in Slab City recently when the group provided donations to the homeless in the Niland and Slab City areas. Among the group are Familia del Valle’s core members, Camila Musso (second from left), Vanessa Kilps (third from left), Angel de Dios (fourth), and Yomar Aguilar (seventh). | COURTESY PHOTO
Familia del Valle is a recently founded group made up of five teenagers who use social media to raise awareness and provide aid to homeless communities in the Imperial Valley.
Their cause has about 50 members, from Calexico to Calipatria, who this year have donated more than 500 items, ranging from blankets to personal protective equipment kits.
Founder Yomar Aguilar, age 19, a Southwest High School graduate now at Imperial Valley College, shared the group’s mission statement.
“We recognize that being part of a community means that no person is left behind. As such, Familia del Valle will dedicate themselves to being the family we all need.”
Continuing to donate and give to others what we have is at the heart of what makes Familia del Valle a family, a lesson that Aguilar sums up in his experience serving the homeless who were gathered recently near the Starbucks in Calexico.
“I handed a man a blanket, a sweater, and socks, but 30 minutes later, when I came back to check on him, he didn’t have any of the donations. He told us he had given them to one of his friends because he was also very cold that night,” Aguilar said. “And it hit me that people who have less give the most, and that’s what our message is, these are our community members, it’s our family, and it’s something we need to take care of.”
Their plans to take care of their family consists of two goals: distributing goods and working with local politicians, businesses, and other service groups to raise awareness within the community and gather donations.
Aguilar explained why these two goals are central to their work.
“If we don’t start at a legislative level, it’s never going to end. The whole goal is to eradicate the problem of unhoused people,” Aguilar said. “We need to keep pushing on a legislative level, and while we do, keep donating what we have.”
Group member Angel de Dios, age 16, who currently attends Calexico High School, shared other ways Familia del Valle hopes to make a difference.
“We hope to continue to advocate. We have a research team who finds out information about the certain characteristics that separates the Imperial Valley from the rest of California and what problems are rooted in our system,” de Dios said.
While donating, the group members have seen firsthand the variety of ways social issues, such as a lack of housing, can impact our community members.
The group’s social media coordinator, Calexico High graduate Vanessa Kilps, 18, who is now attending the University of California, Berkeley, shared a moment that stood out to her while distributing in Brawley.
“People who come in for donations tell us where else we find more people in need. And a woman was telling me about this veteran whose house burned down, and now has nowhere to go,” Kilps said. “We made sure to get his contact information and are currently working with the government services to get him some help and hopefully some shelter.”
Camila Musso, an 18-year-old Calexico High grad studying at Imperial Valley College and the group’s outreach leader, shared another situation that a member of our community is facing.
“We were giving an elderly woman donations in El Centro. She ended up in her situation because she had a brain tumor and was left in debt in healthcare costs because she was underinsured,” Musso said. “Now her and her daughter ended up in the street and are waiting for Social Security (benefits).”
Moments like these are reasons behind Musso’s continued efforts to reach out to groups willing to provide resources and help raise awareness and take action. Their recent collaboration with Calexico Needs Change, another recently formed service group, is an example of the team’s efforts, as are their upcoming plans to work with Brown Bag Coalition and start a food drive.
Working closely with outreach efforts is Jasmine Flores, 18, a Southwest High School alumna, now at IVC and San Diego State University. She is responsible for facilitating communication between Familia del Valle and local businesses and political leaders.
Flores shared that even if someone can’t go out to distribute donations, one can always be an advocate for the unhoused populations in the Imperial Valley.
And each one of us can help by being advocates for their cause. All it takes to be a part of the “familia” is helping by reposting and spreading the word on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and donating at their drives, according to group members.
Kilps expressed how growing the family and continuing to donate is her teammates’ hopes for the future of Familia del Valle.
“We hope to become an even bigger and more established organization and get even more volunteers of all ages, and keep donating, and spread awareness about the housing crisis here in the Valley,” Kilps said. “And we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”