Helping the Helpers
Global Exchange rides into Salinas to raise money for hurting Citizenship Project.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
When international nonprofit human rights organization Global Exchange pedals into Salinas next week for the fifth year in a row, their mission will be simple: to educate, to be educated, and to raise awareness of the Central Coast Citizenship Project in Salinas. A little money for the Citizenship Project would be nice, too.
Bike Aid’s trek for a handful of bicyclists will begin in San Francisco on July 25 and end in the border town of Tijuana on Aug. 7. Salinas will be the group’s second stop along the way, where they will arrive July 26 and depart July 28. Only Los Angeles will see a stay for any similar period of time. Other cities on the group’s itinerary will be overnight visits or brief respites.
Tony Acosta, the Citizenship Project’s director of services, says he’s glad the group’s stop will be for nearly three days. “Anything we can do to raise awareness that we’re here and that we have services to offer will help,” he says.
Without that awareness—and without money—Acosta says the Citizenship Project is in real fear of having to close.
In true grassroots fashion, Acosta says he’s hoping that community members will reach into their own pockets and contribute to the Citizenship Project, sponsoring a Bike Aid rider or making a donation at one of Global Exchange local events. Money raised by the Citizenship Project for Global Exchange’s ride will stay with the Salinas-based organization.
The Citizenship Project has been around for nearly a decade. Its original mission was to help immigrants become citizens. But that description just barely scratches the surface of what it does now.
“We reach out to the community,” Acosta says. “We do things that nobody else will do. We collect clothes, or toys at Christmastime. We help with people trying to go back to their home country. We contact their consulate and find money. We teach people how to live in this country while still holding onto their own culture. And we raise money, money for all kinds of things.”
One fundraiser was last weekend, when the Citizenship Project held a car wash to raise money for a funeral. “We raised $800 bucks,” Acosta says.
It’s a lot of money for a good cause for people who might not otherwise have an alternative. But the Citizenship Project is itself in a place where funds are at a critical point.
“Six years ago, we had three offices,” Acosta says, and nearly a dozen staff members.
Things are different now. There is just the one office in Salinas, two full-time and three part-time staffers. Each took a 20 percent pay cut in January.
“We couldn’t cut services,” Acosta says. “We live by our services. Instead, we took pay cuts. But we’ll get by.”
Global Exchange spokesperson Alison Happel says the community is counting on it.
“It’s organizations like the Citizenship Project in Salinas that raise awareness,” she says, “awareness of things that affect more than just their own communities: fair trade, sustainability, immigrant and border issues.”
The two agencies have a history, including previous Bike Aid rides and an event earlier this year when Global Exchange helped organize a read-in to raise money for Salinas libraries.
The benefit, though, is mutual.
While the riders are in town, they’ll gather information on real-life experiences of immigrants, including going out into the fields at 3am with farmworkers to see what a day’s work is all about. They’ll also roundtable with Citizenship Project staffers, volunteers and community leaders to exchange ideas and collaborate on immigrant issues.
“It becomes this exciting, grassroots, educational exchange,” Happel says. “Not only do we learn from them, but we spread information we’ve gotten from other places and organizations.”
Global Exchange was founded in 1988 and, according to its Web site, seeks to promote “social, economic, and environmental justice around the world.” A big part of that promotion is the bike rides. The ride from San Francisco to Mexico is just one of many the nonprofit does in its efforts to both obtain and disseminate information.
Along the way, riders will also jump right into the communities they pass, offering their time for brainstorming community projects and even digging in with physical labor. “Whatever we can do while we’re there,” Happel says.
For information call the Citizenship Project, 424-2713.
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