Photo: Alice Rocha at the 2017 Fresno Community Facilities Challenge. Left to Right: Alice Rocha, Mary A. Rogier, Joanne Lee, and Karen Sullivan.
For eleven years, Alice Rocha has spearheaded our Central Valley office, significantly increasing our ability to provide critical resources to the area. In January 2018, she will leave her full time role with Community Vision, but will stay closely connected. She has been invaluable to our team and we’re sad to see her go. Learn a bit more about Alice, her work with Community Vision, and what she’ll be up to next. Stay tuned to learn more about our growing team in the area.
What originally drew you to your position at Community Vision? Why did you think this work is important to the region?
I had previously worked for Certified Grocers of California, a food co-op, for about 20 years. I was asked to open an office in Fresno, but as the economy took a turn the corporation asked me to move back to Los Angeles, but that wasn’t my plan. I was volunteering at Catholic Charities Diocese of Fresno, also where they needed a lot of help and were doing a national search for an Executive Director.
My work began in immigration and the resettlement of newly arrived immigrants. My work at that time was so rewarding that when the new Executive Director was hired I was offered a major position to help run two major organizing projects under Healthy Communities.
I knew nothing of organizing so I was trained as an organizer and trained a staff of five organizers for each county in the Central Valley. Our projects were so successful that both Foundations continued to fund this work for the years I worked there. The experience opened my eyes to all the needs in the Central Valley. It also introduced me to the word Social Justice. Organizing and my work with the poor has taught me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. I realized the lack of resources and funding in the Central Valley was a major issue for many of the communities, and I made it our mission to bring as much resources into the Valley as possible.
I was then offered the Program Officer position at a small foundation, which I felt was an extension of the work that I had started at Catholic Charities and would help local nonprofits to build their organizational capacity. The funding of small to medium grassroots nonprofits was the focus of the foundation, which fit well with the mission of many Central Valley nonprofits. Their work focused on communities where housing conditions were similar to third world countries, but in our own backyard. You would see families living in garages with no electricity or water and being charged high rents. The school nurses would report finding roaches in the children’s ears who slept on the floor in their damp homes. We not only helped train local nonprofits to organize, we also provided basic needs to nonprofits that addressed this disparity to remove any barriers to their advocating fully for this cause.
Peter Stern, a board member of the foundation I was working for and an employee of Community Vision at the time, sent me the job description for a position at Community Vision. I realized that the work at Community Vision was a continuation of the work that I had been focusing on at the foundation which was building resources for the Central Valley. I also had high respect for the board members and founders of Community Vision and thought this to be a highly respected organization. The Central Valley organizations needed capital to build and expand and I thought that Community Vision could help in this way. I envisioned that Community Vision could be a key player in the region because our mission was so aligned with the needs of the Valley, and I especially thought the technical assistance would benefit the Central Valley because so many nonprofits mostly asked for technical assistance for fund development when in fact there was such a need for financial management training also. By providing organizational assessments I was able to help organizations see the value in getting financial management training. Organizations that put financial management as a high priority were able to survive the economic downturn and have become stronger.
What kind of changes have you seen in the type of projects over the years?
Originally the projects that came to us were ones that had been under planned from organizations that were financially not ready. The economic downturn of 2008 put a halt to many of the organizations that had approached us in the beginning. Some of the projects that had some potential were not ‘shovel ready’ and it could take a few years for those to realistically come to fruition. Also, there were a lack of Nonprofit Housing Developers in the Central Valley.
Our first project was in Kern County refinancing a senior housing development for the United Farm Workers (UFW). Kern County at that time was not even within our service region. The economic downturn hit hard in the housing market and basically came to a standstill. New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) allocations made it possible for us to work on projects that were focused in areas of greatest need and provided services that addressed these disparities and projects were in the millions.
The food access work that Community Vision is doing helps provide financing for small to medium businesses. In the Central Valley there are many areas of low food access and some of these communities have only access to poor quality produce. Not only does it fill a gap but provides jobs to the local communities.
One of our projects, Vallarta Supermarket was built in one of these areas. The community did not have a market in this area and it had very little access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetable as well as living wage jobs. The Vallarta Supermarket hired people within the neighborhood and filled a need for the community to access affordable fresh fruit and vegetable as well as to provide jobs for people with a living wage. Vallarta is an excellent employer that also provides programs for their employees and families.
What was your experience like of building a network and presences in the Central Valley? How do you think this is reflected in Community Vision’s recent work in the area?
I was fortunate that both my previous jobs included the region from Kern to Sacramento Counties. This gave me a head start in developing my network. The other thing that helped was finding Central Valley Advisory Council members that worked the same areas in the region. I also had an Community Vision board member work with me to set up the Advisory Council and to plan the meetings. Trust was and is a major issue in the Central Valley. There had been a lot organization that had come here and took credit for the work being done by local people as well as receiving the limited local funding that is available for this work. So there was a lot of mistrust from the local people about any organization coming in from the Bay or Los Angeles Area.
It helped that Community Vision hired locally. I had already built a reputation in the Valley and people trusted me. I was adamant about making sure that people knew that Community Vision was here to stay. You see many of the organizations that came into town either had no office here, or opened up an office and then closed it. In the beginning it was important to me and Community Vision that people know the San Francisco staff as well. Community Vision staff members were all supportive and have been recognized as very professional and giving people. Networking is a lot of work and being in the right place at the right time you find out what is really happening in the area and what opportunities are out there.
In the beginning so much of our work, due to the economic downturn, was providing technical assistance. So much was in helping organizations build financial capacity to support major projects. Having workshops and providing technical assistance has helped to give us recognition in the region. Community Vision’s willingness to provide pro-bono work to organizations that cannot afford to pay for this technical assistance was a way for organizations to get to know who we are and that we were here to help them build their financial management capacity. Community Vision is now recognized as valuable resource and is asked to participate in planning committees, partnership and collaboratives like CSUF, San Joaquin Rural Development, San Joaquin Valley Housing Collaborative, Better Blackstone, and the City of Fresno. Our projects are highly recognized in this area.
What are 1-2 projects or moments you are especially proud of?
I am proud of a recent project that is almost completed, Magnolia Crossing, a senior assisted living facility. This project was first a dream that we have been proud to support making into a reality. I knew Mike Sigala from Innovative Development & Living Solutions (IDLS) was interested in how they could address the issue of very limited supportive independent housing for low-income seniors in the area and started researching financing options for such a vision. Mike had no financing commitment and without the support of Community Vision, including Bay Area lending and consulting staff, this project would not have gone forward.
Another notable project is the partnership Community Vision has built over the past seven years with Fresno State University to create the Fresno Community Facilities Challenge, which works with Fresno State University student teams to address a real life nonprofit facility issue. This project really is dear to my heart and I get the opportunity to work with some fantastic professors at Fresno State.
What are you up to next? How do you plan to stay involved with Community Vision?
I just want to spend time with my husband and especially with my two granddaughters. My granddaughters are now getting to the age that they will be so busy with their lives that their grandparents won’t be the most important people in them. So I want to make sure that I am there for them these next few years. I plan on continuing to travel since I have been too busy to take long trips. My next trip will be to visit my family in Costa Rica. I have some projects around the house that I want to complete, too.
I will always be part of the Community Vision work family and will continue to keep in contact when I resume some of my community work, and I hope to connect other organizations to Community Vision as a resource. I have been asked to be on the board of many reputable organizations and have asked them to wait until after a year before I commit to a board. Meanwhile, I will be working as a consultant for Community Vision on my favorite project, the Community Facilities Challenge, until April of 2018. During this time I will also be helping train the new Central Valley staff.