Tag Archives: orange county

Agency Spotlight: RRD Interviews Brateil Aghasi from Women Helping Women/Men2Work

Brateil AghasiWomen Helping Women (WHW)/Men2Work

Provides comprehensive employment support services for all disadvantaged men, women and teens, empowering them to achieve economic self-sufficiency through employment success. When we reached out to our Facebook Contest Winner, Women Helping Women (WHW)/Men2Work, Associate Director, Brateil Aghasi invited us to tour their Santa Ana Client Service Center. She also answered questions about the services WHW provides, the growth of WHW, and general advice for those needing employment support services.

RRD: What are common areas your clients need the most assistance with (i.e. building resumes, interview preparation, etc…)?

Aghasi: Really, all of the above. I made a strategic effort to create comprehensive employment services with multiple programs.  One program without the other just doesn’t have the same effect. If you have the best suit on but do not have a resume or interviewing skills, or vice versa… then you are not the most marketable job seeker.  So you really need to take part in all of our service to be the most competitive. Our demand for all services is extremely high, especially in this economy. I can’t choose just one program, I can’t say job placement is more important than computer classes or apparel is more important than finance literacy workshops. All programs are all so important to each individual and their potential to create a long-lasting economic change in their lives.

Services that WHW does not provide but are very complimentary and our phones ring off the hook for people seeking these services would be for rental assistance and housing.

RRD: How has the face of unemployment changed with the current recession?

Aghasi: There has obviously been a higher demand on services, but I think the people who have been affected since 2008 really includes everyone.  It is you, me, and our neighbor- it’s everyone. Maybe before 2008, there were a lot of middle management jobs, a lot of people in the same job for 10, 20, 30 years making a good salary, with 401K, benefits, vacations, the whole package.  It’s those people since 2008 that have lost their jobs in addition to the traditional low-income population with barriers. This is a big shift, to have people who traditionally have supported a nonprofit now come in and are in need of services themselves. They may not need clothing necessarily, but are in need of computer classes and help with interviewing skills and job search support because the market and technology has changed dramatically. How you job search today is completely different a few years ago.

RRD: Where was WHW 10 years ago compared to today?

Aghasi: 10 years ago WHW was a very small, virtually unknown organization that solely focused on survivors of domestic violence. At most WHW served approximately 700 women with professional clothing a year.  Everything else is new; we’ve really had explosive growth!

RRD: What are the largest misconceptions of unemployment in Orange County?

Aghasi: There are a few, but one that comes to mind is ‘if you have a job, all is well’. In this economy, in Orange County, and nationally, when you have a job you are probably making less than what that job should be paying you. When you have a job, you are probably working part-time and not full-time. This market has changed; having a job now, could mean having 2 or 3 jobs. Pre-2008, a person typically had one job with medical, dental, etc. compared to having a job now, it is essentially not enough.

An additional misconception about unemployment now, is job searching. In this economy, it is going to take longer than 2-3 months to find a job. Even the most qualified and skilled person, it could still take almost a year if not more than a year.

RRD: Can you give us general advice to those entering the job search?

Aghasi: I think everyone tells you to have your cover letter, check your e-mail, very generic basic information. What people are not telling the unemployed or underemployed is that you need to network, because that is how you are going to get a job. It’s going to be through a referral or a job lead that is not made public.  So you have to build your network and be very aware of your personal brand. This is how you set yourself apart from the sea of people who are applying for the same job.

RRD: Can you give us a career fashion tip?

For what we sWomen’s Business Attire ee at WHW, both our female and male clients have a hard time wearing form-fitting pants. No baggy pants or too tight pants allowed at work! It sends the wrong impression. Fashion in the workplace is about setting yourself up for success.  Wearing professional clothing adds to your credibility.  I see it every day at WHW, when a man or woman looks at themselves in a suit for the first time.  They stand up straighter and just shine- they start to believe that they are worthy of employment.  And they are- what a powerful thing!


For our readers: Here are a few resources to help those in need of rental assistance.

  • S.O.S. (Share Our Selves): Direct financial assistance is provided upon request for basic necessities including rent, utilities and transportation www.shareourselves.org
  • Mercy House: Rental Assistance, emergency services, crisis intervention, money management, cold-weather shelter, emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing. www.mercyhouse.net

  • South County Outreach: To receive rental assistance, call (949) 380-8144 ext. 209 for a phone interview and to make an appointment, have all of the documents listed above and a signed lease agreement, eviction notice, landlord email or fax number and bank statement, if applicable. www.sco-oc.org

  • SPIN: Provides move-in costs (first month’s rent and deposit) for permanent housing to low-income working families with children. The GAPP Housing Program is a one to two-year case management program, offering supportive services such as assistance with child care costs, job development, tutoring, budgeting, counseling, workshops, car repairs related to work, as well as other services. http://www.spinoc.org.

AIDS Work Today: Fighting a Changing Threat

When we reached out to the AIDS Services Foundation (ASF) for an interview, CEO Philip Yaeger kindly invited us to tour their headquarters in Irvine. He also answered questions about the ways AIDS prevention and care work together, and how the changing communities and attitudes currently surrounding AIDS shape these efforts.

RRD: For those who are unfamiliar, what is AIDS Services Foundation?

PY:  ASF is the largest provider of direct services to men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS in Orange County.  We have two main focuses.  Our first focus is to prevent new infections from occurring. We do that through HIV testing and HIV prevention initiatives.  Our second focus is to take individuals who are diagnosed or living with HIV, and address issues that get in the way of getting connected to medical care and treatment.  The research has shown that getting on treatment reduces the viral load within the system, causing the individual to become less infectious. So if we can get as many HIV+ individuals as possible identified, in care, on treatment, with a suppressed viral load, we reduce the infectiousness of our community.

RRD: The Positively Speaking program is a unique one to ASF.  Can you please speak a little on it?

PY:  We primarily visit health classes at high schools and colleges. It’s remarkable to have students sit there and listen to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, thirty-something year-old woman who lives in Newport Beach talk about her ideal childhood and adolescence and marrying her high school sweetheart, and 10 years later finding out that she was infected with HIV.  And these kids can say “Wow, this could by my aunt, or my neighbor, or somebody else I know, but this doesn’t look like the gay individual or the IV drug user who I thought was living with HIV. This looks different; this looks like somebody I could bump into on the street.” People need to consistently hear about protecting themselves. We need to normalize HIV testing and remove that stigma as much as possible.

RRD: ASF provides a lot of services targeted towards the Latino population. Can you speak on why it’s so important to provide culturally relevant services to this, or any specific population?

PY:  We initially saw HIV affecting the gay, white community. And what we’ve seen over the last 15-20 years is a shift into communities of color. In Orange County, close to 50% of all new infections are occurring within the Latino community. And so it’s been important to us to make sure that every access point for our services is not only addressed with bilingual capabilities, but bicultural capabilities. It’s something that we believe very strongly in. If your clients don’t feel safe and comfortable coming there for services, then they won’t.

RRD: This economy has been rough on the non-profit industry as a whole.  How have you dealt with an increase in demand for your services coupled with a decrease in available funding?

PY:  Beginning back in 2008, we took an immediate and aggressive response to the downturn in the economy by eliminating eleven positions, consolidating offices, reducing our discretionary spending, rent and utilities expenses. We wanted to make sure that we were targeting our resources and efforts at programs that had the highest impact and reached the largest number of people. We have had to cut back in some areas and rely more on volunteers and interns, but we’ve been able to maintain the core of our client services.

RRD: According to your annual report, there has been a large surge in demand for your transportation services (up to a 100% increase in some instances). Do you have any insight into why this could be?

PY: A lot of the basic services we provide such as food, housing and transportation have seen a dramatic increase. Many of our clients are on disability and are living below the poverty line. They might have had part-time jobs or minimal sources of income that were lost during the economic downturn. So folks who may have been able to afford a car lease payment in the past have found themselves in need of that transportation help just to get to a medical appointment. Others may have had a vehicle, but no longer have the resources to pay for gas.

RRD: Your recent client survey states that 98% of your clients believe that ASF’s case management services have made a significant impact on their quality of life.  With such striking remarks, can you please talk a little bit about what your case managers do?

PY:  One day, somebody may call who needs transportation to get to a medical appointment.  Another case that we are seeing more and more often is when someone is diagnosed in the hospital with AIDS, completely unaware of having an HIV infection.  Then all of these other complications arise: typically there are disability, housing and income issues that need to be addressed.

New clients receive an initial assessment and are placed in one of the four levels of case management. The first phase is social services, which usually lasts for at least the first 6 months. Now if someone comes in and they’re actively using substances or they’re homeless, or have active, untreated mental illness, a lot of times, they’ll go to the social work case managers right away because that’s an additional need. For clients who are diagnosed with AIDS in the hospital, a nurse case manager will often to take the lead in securing the necessary medical care and specialists. The very lowest level of case management is self-advocacy. Those folks know that they can pick up the phone and say I’m sick, or I just lost my job, or my wife just left, or I need to come in for mental health. Ultimately, if they can leave self-advocacy and say “I’m now working, and I no longer need food or housing, I’m great,” that’s our goal.

RRD: What are the current trends in new HIV infections?

PY: The CDC is sticking with an annual infection rate of 56,000. In Orange County, we identify about 350 new infections per year, so about one a day. About 25% [of new infections] are under the age of 25.  We’re also seeing a lot more women infected with HIV. Substance use, especially crystal meth use, is often what leads to an infection for many youth.

75% of new infections are being spread by people who don’t know that they’re HIV+. You sometimes hear the weird stories about people intentionally infecting others. The reality is that 97% of people, once they know they’re HIV+, do not infect others. They do everything they can not to infect other people. That’s why it’s so important for us to identify people, normalize testing, and get people on treatment. I know we’ve removed some of the stigma, because people are coming forward. We have a lot of women coming forward and saying “I don’t trust my husband.” There are often a lot of women who just don’t want to know, but now you’re seeing women who say “no, I need to be here.” We even have those situations where the husband will refuse to get tested.

RRD: AIDS Walk is coming up on May 6th. How do you go about planning such a large-scale event?

PY: We are so fortunate to have AIDS Walk at the Disneyland Resort.  Those guys know how to put on events and they know how to deal with large crowds. Our challenge then is to focus on building teams, because that’s really where we’re going to draw the greatest amount of participation and revenue from the Walk.

RRD: ASF, like many non-profits, relies heavily on volunteers to help out in many aspects of the organization.  How can people get involved and what kinds of opportunities are available for them?

PY:  We have opportunities for everything from food pantry help, to office receptionist help, to help and support with special events, which sometimes happen on the weekends for people who have limited availability. The easiest way to find us is to go to our website, www.ocasf.org, or contact Carolyn Spivak, our director of volunteer services and community outreach, at (949) 809-5771 or cspivak@ocasf.org. She can get a volunteer application sent out to anyone who might be interested.

RRD: After 18 years at ASF, what would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?

PY: It’s knowing that I’m making a difference in people’s lives. If I’ve prevented one new infection from happening, did I save that person’s life? Did I help someone get connected to care? Did I give them an extra couple of years? Hopefully we’ve done that many times over. But without knowing for sure, I can at least hope that we’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life.

Agency Spotlight: RRD Interviews the Director of Laurel House

Charlene M. Ashendorf has worked with nonprofits for over 15 years as a grant writer, consultant, program manager, and most recently as the executive director of Laurel House. For our first agency spotlight we asked her to describe her experience at Laurel House, an Orange County home for teens in crisis.

RRD: For those who are unfamiliar, tell us a bit about Laurel House.

Ashendorf: Laurel House was founded in 1985 by two women who were distraught at the sight of teenagers living on the streets of Orange County, California. What began as an emergency crisis shelter for teenage runaways has evolved over the years into a unique, proactive, preventive program for teens at risk of becoming homeless due to tense family situations at home. Before a teenage girl reaches that crisis point where she feels she has no other alternative but to run away, she can come live at Laurel House for six months to one year for a safe and structured “cooling off” period from her parents. Our goals are to provide a temporary, safe home for the teens, properly diagnose and treat any existing disorders, keep them in school, achieve academic success, and ultimately family reunification whenever possible.

RRD: What makes the Laurel House program so unique?

Ashendorf: Laurel House is unique for several reasons. First of all it is a home that just happens to provide shelter. Our teens reside at Laurel House from six to nine months. We have the flexibility to allow the girls to work the program in a way that suits their healing, not simply having to leave after a short stay. Secondly, we employ full time houseparents, rather than staff support in shifts. The continuity offers stability and in-depth growth and development. Finally, we contract with therapists who are trained, licensed and fully supportive of the Laurel House program model.

RRD: Why is it so important to have a live-in family at the home instead of having staff rotate shifts?

Ashendorf: Our teens come to us broken, whether it is a broken home or heart. They need modeling and healing. Both occur at Laurel House in a home setting where the house parents, Donna and Steve, have been part of the Laurel House family for nearly 15 years! Their commitment to this role is underscored by their commitment to family.

RRD: What is a typical day like for Laurel House’s residents?

Ashendorf: A typical Laurel House day means that the girls rise and shine and ready themselves for school, have breakfast and prepare lunches. Their rooms are straightened up and beds are made and then it’s off to school by 7:00 AM. The girls are on campus at a school in the Tustin Unified School District. Carpooling begins after school by our house mom in the afternoon. Back at the house the girls have snack time and some down time and then it’s homework time typically around the kitchen table from 5:00 to 6:00 PM. The teens then assist with chores, preparing the table for dinner and then it’s family dinner time around the table! After dinner and clean up if all school projects are completed the teens retire to the family/living room. Perhaps they will watch a movie or a favorite television show or play a board game. At 9:00PM the teens prepare for the nightly routine of showering and getting everything ready for school in the morning and it’s lights out at 10:00PM!

RRD: Do you accept referrals from outside of the O.C. service area?

Ashendorf: Yes. However, parents are required to participate in individual and family counseling. What that means is that family members will need to be prepared to travel to Orange County each week for these local sessions.

RRD: How did you find your way to Laurel House?

Ashendorf: Over ten years ago I answered a call to Laurel House and have had the agency in my heart ever since. It began as a contract position, writing grants for Laurel House. Over the years my husband and I supported events and became donors, until I was hired as the executive director in April of 2011. I would say the path to Laurel House was always their, waiting for me to take that walk.

RRD: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Ashendorf: There are two amazing things about my job. First of all, I am surrounded by capable, kind, devoted staff who, in everything they do and every decision they make, have our Laurel House teens’ lives in their hands and hearts. That is a reward and blessing. Secondly, there isn’t a single day that goes by without an unexpected blessing, in which a gift is unwrapped. One day it might by a volunteer dropping by with a collection of goods for our pantry. Another day it may be a call from someone who heard about us seeking help for their teen and Laurel House is that perfect placement. They say “it doesn’t get better than that” and yet each day is unmatched with richness beyond measure.

RRD: Where do you see the human services sector heading in the next 10 years?

Ashendorf: As societal challenges become more complex and volunteer and financial resources become more competitive, the human services sector must be better trained and equipped for the changes in the coming decade. Agencies need to attract and develop strong leaders and continue to build solid organizational infrastructures. More than ever collaboration, partnerships and sharing of resources will be of utmost importance in the future to better serve our populations.