Every month, we highlight a grantee that we’ve recently funded through our Equity Grants Program, which advances racial and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.
Canal Alliance: An Anchor for Low-Income Immigrants in Marin County
Tucked between the San Francisco Bay and Highway 101 in Marin County, which has one of the highest income disparities in the country, is Canal Alliance, a multi-service agency dedicated to serving immigrants and other native born residents in San Rafael’s canal district. The enclave is home to a majority of Latino and Vietnamese immigrants and other low-income residents.
The organization was founded in 1982 to communicate neighborhood needs to local elected officials. Since then, Canal Alliance has emerged as a local anchor, innovating programs to serve the needs of its clients. Under its founding and long-time director Tom Wilson, the organization offered an array of immigration-related legal and support services. In 2005, it merged with the Canal Ministry. At its helm today is Omar Carrera, an Ecuadoran immigrant with a business background who came to the U.S. speaking no English and rose through the ranks of the agency to serve as its executive director. Today, the agency employs over 50 people and offers myriad services to help break the generational cycle of poverty and mitigate the challenges faced by immigrants and low-income residents in the area.
Canal Alliance is a one-stop shop for newcomers and other low-income residents. It operates a food pantry and provides bilingual information and referral services, education programs for youth and adults that include university preparation and support, mental health, and immigration services, including a new mobile legal unit serving neighboring farmworker communities. It also seeks to stem the deeply entrenched poverty in the community and engage local leadership to address the marginalization of low-income residents in the canal area.
In 2007, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 57 residents from the area and immigrants were too frightened to leave their homes, Canal Alliance staff arrived with groceries for immigrant families. In these uncertain times, when immigrants and other low-income and people of color are under attack, Canal Alliance stands ready, not only to serve and protect its clients, but also to engage new leaders, forge new partnerships, and leverage power for this resilient community.