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Central Valley Opportunity Center offers new avenues for those who need them most

Central Valley Opportunity Center offers new avenues for those who need them most

A welding student with the Central Valley Opportunity improves his skills. CVOC has helped an estimated 100,000 low-income earners and farm workers escape poverty through vocational education and a...

POSTED July 5, 2011 8:05 p.m.

Nearly two years ago Turlocker Freddie Gomez-Mercado was having a rough time with his life. He was just out of incarceration, and it took him the better part of six frustrating months to find a job with the Turlock plant Valley Fresh. Unfortunately six months after he was hired Valley Fresh announced it was moving to another state and Gomez-Mercado was once again out of work and down on his life situation.

                But hope and prosperity soon presented itself with the Central Valley Opportunity Center. Soon after being laid off from Valley Fresh he enrolled in CVOC’s truck driving school. After earning his Class A license he quickly became employed as a driver for several nurseries and farms. With better pay and a supportive wife, Gomez-Mercado hopes to save enough money for a down payment on a new house in the next two years.

                “I truly believe CVOC has changed my life. I’m blessed and so thankful and now I have a career,” said Gomez-Mercado.

                The CVOC slogan “Helping People…Changing Lives” summarizes the non-profit organization’s role and Gomez-Mercado is one story of thousands in its service area of Stanislaus, Merced and Madera Counties.

                Since CVOC was founded 32 years ago an estimated 100,000 people have benefited from its plethora of services which include, vocational education, remedial education, English Language instruction, housing assistance, energy payment assistance, emergency supportive services, transportation, emergency food, youth employment, health care acquisition, child care services and community education services.

                The primary goal of CVOC, which is funded by federal, state and county grants, is to enrich and uplift farm workers from poverty and stimulate agricultural employment. Also it offers financial assistance to those who need it most.


Helping the poor with emergency assistance

                One of those people, Ebony Campbell of Turlock, turned to CVOC for emergency rental assistance when all others doors had been closed. The mother of three young children faced eviction and homelessness due to a difficult life situation. “We were unable to afford our rent payment and there were no other resources available. CVOC has been a blessing. Their program was able to help myself and my children during a time when there was nowhere else to turn to,” said Campbell.

                For those people who can pay rent but struggle with other bills like electricity, CVOC offers emergency assistance to people who can’t afford to pay for their electricity or receive a shut-off notice. The CVOC can pay up to one full payment per year or one shut off bill per year. Recipients must be low-income.

                In addition to emergency assistance CVOC offers free weatherization to low-income Stanislaus County residents. The program provides installation of energy conservation devices, minor home repair, energy conservation education and carbon monoxide safety checks.

            As if that wasn’t enough-- CVOC can also offer emergency food vouchers, holiday food baskets and scholarships for needy students.


Educational Programs

            The bread and butter of CVOC are of course the free vocational training programs. According to CVOC Executive Director Ernie Flores 400- 500 workers find jobs in the months after receiving their vocational certificates. Programs are offered at locations in Modesto, Merced, Madera and Winton.

            Educational programs are taught in English and Spanish and all CVOC instructors are bilingual. Welding, commercial trucking, culinary arts and business/ computers make up the core of curriculum. Programs are typically less than six months and include General Equivalency Diploma classes.

            “Many of our students started out working on the farms as teenagers and they had to drop out of high school to help support their families, so it is beneficial to include GED classes into the curriculum,” said CVOC Director of Operations Jorge De Nava.

            Students are bused from various stops throughout the three service counties. Classes for each program are certified to ensure they are relevant in today’s marketplace. “These are all skills that employers want and need currently,” explained Welding Lead Instructor George Maravilla.

            Leading up to and following completion of an educational program students are introduced to job search skills including resume building, job search workshops and dress/ interview techniques.

            ‘We do everything we can to help our clients get a job, the only thing we can’t control is the economy,” said De Nava.


Funding under attack

            In the current economic plights of the Valley CVOC funding is under attack. In the past seven federal budgets CVOC federal funding has been erased, later regained after aggressive lobbying.

            “Our elected leaders, in the name of being fiscally responsible, are proposing decimating the very programs that have lifted so many low income people out of poverty. And they are doing so in the middle of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Flores said.  “There are already cuts on the table, the pots of money that the deficit hawks are going after now are the discretionary budgets and those happen to be where all the job training and human services grants are.”

            The total budget for CVOC is $9.4 million, the vast majority of which comes from the federal community services block grant. “This year we are expecting to take a $2 million reduction which can affect everything we offer from educational programs to emergency food vouchers,” said De Nava.

            For more information on the CVOC and its programs visit or call 357-0062.

            To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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