San Pablo


Nestled between the East Bay cities of Pinole and Richmond, San Pablo is a thriving residential and business community. Strong resident leadership and a commitment to improving the community shape this emerging city. With a population of approximately 30,000 in just three square miles, San Pablo is known for rich diversity, affordability, and access to the entire Bay Area.

Education is transforming in San Pablo. The city has a community schools coordinator dedicated to raising achievement throughout the city’s eight public schools. Educators, nonprofits, and government agencies collaborate on the Building Blocks for Kids project, an innovative initiative that brings a range of academic and family support services to adults and their children attending Helms Middle School. A vital hub for the community is Contra Costa College, which offers more than classes, but also job training, and opportunities for students to transfer to the state college and university systems.

San Pablo has challenges, such as high unemployment, crime, and many homes in foreclosure. Nearly one in five residents lives below the poverty line. Yet strong partnerships between the diverse City Council, the city manager, faith groups, and the school district hold promise for positive change. The city collaborates with job training programs to boost employment opportunities for youth and adults. The Brookside Clinic, a community institution, has joined forces with private and public medical providers to create a centralized health corridor to enhance community health and healthcare.

In 2010, the Koshland Committee selected 15 San Pablo leaders who stand out for their drive and dedication to uplifting the quality of life for their neighbors and community.

San Pablo Koshland Fellows website

City of San Pablo web page for the Koshland Fellows

San Pablo Koshland Fellows

Humberto Alvarez

Sergeant, San Pablo Police Department

Sergeant Humberto Alvarez’s fond memories of growing up in San Pablo fuel his desire to serve the city’s children and families through his work. At the Youth and Education Services Program of the San Pablo Police Department, he devotes his time to preventing youth violence, bullying, and drug use, while offering hope to young people. He also teaches a citizen emergency response team and parenting classes in both Spanish and English. Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Humberto has lived and worked in the San Pablo community for more than 40 years.

Joseph Camacho

Student, San Francisco State University

A military veteran who faced several challenges returning home from service, Joseph Camacho is dedicated to helping others like him reach their educational and career goals. Before attending San Francisco State University to study political science and education, Joseph was president of the Associated Students Union at Contra Costa College and founded the Student Veteran Organization, helping veterans receive resources and benefits. He continues to supports his fellow veterans by volunteering with the Richmond-based organization Their Angels, which sends packages to deployed troops around the world. Joseph is member of United Latino Voice, an organization that advocates for Latino rights throughout Contra Costa County.

Gladys Garza

Patient Advocate, Brookside Community Health Center

Gladys Garza looks forward each day to empowering her community through her work as a patient advocate at Brookside Health Clinic. To improve the quality of life of her low-income patients, she helps them identify services and support, while also providing educational materials, referrals, and resources. Outside of the clinic, Gladys volunteers at health and information fairs, and delivers presentations about health services at various churches in the San Pablo area. Gladys also advocates for the elderly, offering one-on-one counseling and referrals to seniors to promote their mental and physical well-being.

LaZena Jones

Independent Educational Consultant

LaZena Jones is a champion for student achievement. As the community schools director at Walter T. Helms Middle School in San Pablo, LaZena has joined forces with city leaders and community organizations to turn Helms into a full-service community school that brings a range of academic opportunities and family support services to students and whole families. Her work was instrumental in passing a city resolution to implement the community school model throughout the West Contra Costa County Unified School District. LaZena further supports the community as administrator of the Helms Community Project, a pioneering effort to provide services, engagement programs, and enrichment activities for students, parents, and community members.

Khammany Mathavongsy

Non-Profit Consultant

More than 20 years ago, Khammany Mathavongsy came to the United States as a political refugee from war-torn Laos. His early experiences fuel his desire to reduce inequality and give back to the community. An emerging East Bay leader, Khammany serves as a bridge between mainstream and traditional Laotians. He served as director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center’s California office, successfully advocating for the extension of the Supplemental Security Income, which supports elderly and disabled refugees. He has also spent more than a decade strengthening vital community institutions such as the annual International Lao New Year Festival and the Lao Buddhist Temple.

Mayra Padilla

Director, METAS

As a teenager, Mayra Padilla was a strong student, yet she was challenged by the violence and myriad social issues facing her low-income community. A mentor inspired her to focus her energies on making a difference for youth in her community. Today, as director of METAS (goals in Spanish), a program based at Contra Costa College, Mayra supports Latino students in grades K-12 to achieve their personal, educational, and career goals. The program offers supplemental academic courses that are culturally relevant to students, as well as parent workshops and a daycare literacy program. Mayra has directed the program on a part-time volunteer basis for nearly 11 years.

Lisa Raffel

Immigration Integration Division Officer, Catholic Charities of the East Bay

Lisa Raffel’s commitment to social justice for youth and families was first sparked by her experience growing up as a child of a single mother. Today, Lisa is dedicated to supporting children, families, and teachers to make sure all young people are successful. She works with Project ACCESS, promoting opportunities for immigrant women in the field of early childhood education. She also teaches English in the West Contra Costa Adult Education Program and serves as board president of the Crestmont Elementary School Parent Co-op in Richmond. Previously, Lisa developed educational and employment programs for Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

Maria Resendiz

Healthy Start Coordinator, Ford Elementary School

Maria Cristina Resendiz’s Mexican parents raised her to be compassionate and responsive to the needs of others. The values they instilled drive her work to support San Pablo families by connecting them to community resources. Maria first developed her leadership skills as a volunteer for the parent-teacher association at Riverside Elementary, where her eldest son attended school. This experience led to further work in the community as a bilingual aide, teacher assistant, and community organizer. Today, Maria is the Healthy Start Coordinator at Ford Elementary School in San Pablo, which aims to improve birth outcomes and health disparities in communities of color.

Alexina Rojas

Director, First 5 Family Center West Contra Costa

Alexina Rojas relishes the opportunity to support whole families by creating new experiences for parents and building their confidence. As the director of the West County First 5 Center, she helps deepen parents’ understanding of early childhood development through free programming that promotes healthy parent-child relationships, positive parenting skills, as well as school readiness and social support. The Center addresses the many challenges facing San Pablo parents, such as financial stress, joblessness, immigration issues, and lack of housing. By providing affordable childcare and essential resources, Alexina strengthens families in her community.

Gonzalo Rucobo

Executive Director, Bay Area Peacekeepers Inc.

While Gonzalo Rucobo was growing up in Richmond, he glamorized the gang lifestyle and joined a gang at age 12. But in 1991, when his wife and two daughters were almost caught in the crossfire, he began a journey to turn around his own life and the lives of youth. For several years he worked in violence prevention programs, developing a reputation as a respected leader among gang members. In 2005, he co-founded Bay Area Peacekeepers, Inc., a community organization that helps former gang members reach their potential and contribute to society. By intervening with gang-affiliated communities in San Pablo and Richmond, he helps channel grief and anger into activism, creating positive alternatives to violence.

James Solis

Program Coordinator, Project FOCUS

When Meuy Yong Saephan came to the United States as a child refugee from Thailand, she spoke just enough English to translate for her grandparents and elders in the community. Over the years she used her language skills to help her family and neighbors obtain vital public services and resources. She developed pride in her ethnicity and a desire to support the under-served, which fuels her current volunteer work at Lao Family Community Development, Inc. Working with youth, seniors, and families, Meuy continues to bridge cultural gaps and uplift her community.

Nancy Thome

Youth Services Program Manager, City of San Pablo

Born in the Philippines, Nancy Thome immigrated to Canada, where she first met her father at the age of two. His determination to seek a better life for their family sparked her desire to work with children and youth in under-resourced communities. As youth services program manager for the City of San Pablo, Nancy focuses on reducing youth violence while enhancing opportunities. She helped develop the San Pablo Youth Futures Task Force and the recent launch of San Pablo Team for Youth, a community grant program funding gang prevention and interventions in the community. She brings many years of experience supporting youth and families in diverse communities.

Robert Turner

Executive Director, 21st Century Mentors Foundation

Growing up poor, Robert Turner would have had limited opportunities without the support of mentors who took him outside of his community to meet legendary leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez. These early experiences inspired him to lift up others and help them fulfill their dreams. Today, Robert is a conflict/peer mediator at Helms Middle School and the founder of the 21st Century Mentors Foundation. Robert trains students who maintain good grades to resolve conflicts in school and at home as certified conflict mediators. More than 3,000 youth in his mentoring program have gone on to graduate from college, start careers, and follow his lead of serving the community.

Norma Valdez-Jimenez

Puente Counselor, Contra Costa College

Norma Valdez-Jimenez is a firm believer in education as a means to achieve social justice and create ripples of change in individuals and communities. Her commitment to serving first-generation college students and their families began when she enrolled at Contra Costa College (CCC) as a first-generation college student herself. Since 2002 Norma has served as counselor of the Puente Project at CCC, a transfer preparation program whose mission is to increase the number of educationally underserved students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities, earn their degrees, and return to their communities as leaders and mentors. Norma is also a poet whose work has appeared in various literary journals and blogs.

Meuy Yong Saephan

Hand to Hand Program Coordinator, Lao Family Community Development Inc.

When Meuy Yong Saephan came to the United States as a child refugee from Thailand, she spoke just enough English to translate for her grandparents and elders in the community. Over the years she used her language skills to help her family and neighbors obtain vital public services and resources. She developed pride in her ethnicity and a desire to support the under-served, which fuels her current volunteer work at Lao Family Community Development, Inc. Working with youth, seniors, and families, Meuy continues to bridge cultural gaps and uplift her community.