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UpValley Family Centers passionate about providing needed services

UpValley Family Centers passionate about providing needed services


First of two parts

Now more than ever, the UpValley Family Centers’ services and collaborations with social agencies are needed in St. Helena and Calistoga.

The UVFC is a trusted source for information and provides a wide variety of services for children and youth, for families and for seniors. In the past year, it served 3,161 individuals, spending nearly $2.6 million. The UVFC is critical in building a strong community. And now, with its staff working remotely, Jenny Ocón, executive director for the past six years, says, “We have been absolutely swamped with calls for assistance.”

On Thursday, Feb. 27, before the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I spent three hours interviewing 17 people who make up the UpValley Family Centers. I wanted to find out what makes the UVFC tick. This week, I focus on the board members and staff.

The 17 were board members, staff, clients and volunteers working at both of the UVFC offices, the older in Calistoga, established in 2000; and in St. Helena, founded as a nonprofit in 2005. Interpreters, when needed, were Lupe Maldonado, Family and Senior Services manager in St. Helena, and Ocón.

I asked three questions:

- Why is the UpValley Family Center so important?

- Why do you work so hard?

- What will you do in 2020 to help the UVFC successful?

Additionally, the clients were asked about their families and how long have they lived in the area. Obviously, this was before the need for social distancing, so the interviews were done around small tables and desks in both St. Helena and Calistoga. The people in the photos were shoulder to shoulder, both on the porch of the St. Helena office on Spring Street and outside the Calistoga office, adjacent to the Calistoga Elementary School.

Hayne, Georges & Welsh

“The UpValley Family Center is important because it helps people help themselves,” said Christine Hayne, one of three board members interviewed in St. Helena along with Kristen Georges and Genevieve Welsh.

Hayne added, “We have a lot of services that assist people in finding resources that are not available Upvalley and we’re able to partner with organizations to have them come up here or we provide services ourselves.” Those groups include COPE, OLE Health, Mentis (mental health counseling services), Collabria Care (senior services), Triple P (Positive Parenting Program), and the Community Health Initiative, which helps people with health insurance applications during open enrollment periods.

Georges said the UVFC works to help families and individuals “gain independence and help them become self-reliant. We’re helping strengthen their lives, so they can get out there and do things on their own,” she said. With services, “their families can get stronger and they can be a stronger part of our community,” she said.

Georges knows what she’s talking about since she once served as the executive director of the St. Helena Family Center – a precursor to the combined UpValley Family Centers. She said she works so hard because she is part of an incredible team “that makes our community more self-reliant. We support individuals, we support families and that makes us all stronger.” The team includes 14 board members, 24 staff and 170 volunteers.

Beyond that, the UVFC is “a trusted resource in the community. Trust is a gigantic thing,” Georges said, “When people come here looking for housing, food, clothing, money to pay a bill, trust is so important.” With a two-year track record, “people get to trust you,” she said.

Board member Genevieve Welsh grew up in Calistoga and has lived in the Upvalley all of her life. Prior to having children – currently hers are in the fourth and sixth grade at Calistoga Elementary School – Welsh said she has always known the UpValley Family Center had a hub on the elementary school campus. “I was able to watch how often the school community was served by this hub and how it was absolutely beginning to help the quality of what was going on at school,” she said.

As a parent, she sees how intricately the UVFC is involved in the daily life at the school. “Our school superintendent uses the UpValley Family Center as a working partner in all she does in the school community. I think it is profound and I think it is amazing. I feel privileged to be on the board,” Welsh said.

She works so hard as a board member because it is her way of giving back to the community – one that “constantly took care of me” when she was growing up. “I work so hard for the UpValley Family Center, because the majority of the staff is from the Upvalley, they went away to college and came back and now they’re doing the exact same thing, giving back to their community. I don’t know how else you have another generation of me – people who believe that if you don’t give, you don’t get.”

Hajer, Ferriz & Maldonado

Staff members interviewed were Charlotte Hajer, Development director; Norma Ferriz, Finance Administration director; and Lupe Maldonado, Family and Senior Services manager.

Hajer said even though there is a lot of wealth in the Napa Valley, there’s also a lot of poverty. “Not a lot of people realize that,” she said. “And, it’s hard to be poor here, I think in part because it’s hidden, but also in part because this is a rural area and there are not that many resources available.”

Before the founding of the UpValley Family Centers, she added, there weren’t a lot of resources at all. “People had to go down to Napa or over to Santa Rosa. When you’re working long hours or you’re not very mobile, that just isn’t an option. Bringing those services here to people’s doorstep, I think that’s incredibly important and that’s just what the family center has worked to do.”

Creating a network of services in a safe, secure space makes for a strong community, Hajer said. She works hard with Ocón to raise the money the UVFC needs – last year, that amount was $2.78 million, almost three-quarters from foundations and government.

Why does she work so hard? “I think what really resonates with me is that everyone has something to offer to the community. Everyone will contribute to the community as long as they have the resources to do that.” And, as part of Hajer’s fundamental belief, the reverse is also true – “the community becomes stronger when everyone has the opportunity to contribute something.”

This year, she will continue to tell the UVFC’s story, the work it does and the story of the impact it makes in the community. Telling that story allows people to open their wallets – “we are all part of the community and these are our neighbors who need support,” Hajer said. A core group of 150 to 200 people continue to support the UVFC year after year.

Ferriz said the UVFC is a “place of opportunity” for people to find resources, talk to someone they can trust, and solve issues. She works hard because she lives in and cares about the community. “I care about my people, I care about the planet in general,” which is why she rides her bike as daily transportation. Beyond that, though, Ferriz said she has the skills and “I want to put them to good use to help the people around here.”

As Finance Administration director, Ferriz manages the center’s money, using systems “to help the staff do their jobs,” for instance, and for more mundane things, like paying the rent.

Revenues in 2018-19 included:

  • Foundations provided $1.24 million (44%)
  • Government, $797,000 (29%)
  • Annual Fund, $690,000 (22%)
  • Other, $55,000 (2%)

“I work very hard to protect the investment of our donors and put their money where they want it,” Ferriz said. “I work hard to be efficient with those dollars to get more bang for the buck.”

As Family and Senior Services manager, Maldonado is busy as she manages the UVFC’s family and senior services, provides support to case managers, oversees the domestic violence program, its Positive Parenting Program and oversees the client database system with Amy Lopez, who is the program director. She also does some direct client work.

Maldonado, who is based in Calistoga, has worked for the UVFC for the past 10 years. Nearly three years ago, she and a team provided “intense case management” for survivors of the 2017 wildfires, providing help for those who lost everything as well as those who were evacuated. She said she worked collaboratively with the UVFC case managers.

As a program manager, she said the agency has a lot of goals in mind for 2020. “I think a big one for us, with power outages and wildfires being the new normal, there’s a lot of preparation we need to do in our community.” She echoed the words of others, saying the UVFC is both a trusted entity and trusted messengers. She said the UVFC staff will go wherever they are needed to help those be better prepared for a disaster.

Maldonado said although she was born in Mexico, her parents brought her to Calistoga when she was 2 years old. “I grew up here, this is my community,” is what she said when asked why she works so hard. “I grew up in a household with a lot of issues. We struggled with poverty and I had people help me along the way. I want to bring that back to my community,” she said.

Next week: We talk to 10 clients and volunteers who talk about their experiences with the UpValley Family Centers.

You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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