Rubicon Programs: supporting and strengthening our local communities

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
– Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, actress, and American Civil Rights Movement activist

Rubicon's headquarters in Richmond, CA.

Rubicon’s headquarters in Richmond, CA.

My friend Jane Fischberg, whom I’ve known for almost 22 years now, and I were discussing charitable giving over lunch back in January. While I knew Jane has been with Rubicon Programs (510.235.1516, 2500 Bissell, Richmond, CA 94804) for the last 17 years – she is president and executive director of the nonprofit provider of integrated housing, training, employment and mental health services – I didn’t know, but should have known, that raising funds is the “primary purpose,” as well as the most challenging aspect, of her job. Jane invited David and me to attend Rubicon Honors 2014, the nonprofit’s annual gala and fundraising event on April 5th at the Oakland Rotunda, which I accepted. When I brought up doing a profile on Jane and her work at Rubicon, we set aside time in March for me to meet her colleagues at their Richmond office. After being honored to hear their stories, I knew there were in fact three profiles to present – one of Jane (to be posted on April 4th) and two of Rubicon itself and the people who are the face of Rubicon (the second one to be posted April 1st).

More than 40 years of serving the community
Rubicon, founded in 1973 in Richmond, CA, was appropriately named, with its provenance being “a decision from which there is no turning back – the beginning of the journey to change.” The nonprofit’s mission is to “prepare very low-income people to achieve financial dependence and to partner with people with mental illness on their journey of recovery.” By offering a comprehensive set of services, which includes job placement, housing, legal services, and financial literacy, and offices in Antioch, Berkeley, Concord, Hayward, and Richmond, Rubicon is able to serve a significant number of people in the hardest-hit communities in the East Bay.

Rubicon was able to help many community members, including this client.

Rubicon was able to help many community members, including this client (photo credit: Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover).

Indeed, from the 2013 Annual Report, Rubicon served 3,400 people last year. After receiving help with interview preparation, resume building, and local employer connections, 657 people – out of 883 people seeking employment – were placed in jobs, earning a collective $17 million. What is even more impressive is that more than a third had been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Nationally recognized, Rubicon is one of only five organizations in the country awarded a special federal grant to help ensure that parents coming out of the criminal justice system can provide financial and emotional support for their children, while staying free of the criminal justice system.

More than 300 families were placed in housing in 2013, receiving help with budget planning, affordable housing connections, and rental application. Eight hundred low-income East Bay residents accessed legal services in the areas of eviction prevention, disability rights, education, and advocacy. Substance abuse recovery, counseling, and medication management services resulted in a decrease of nearly 70 percent of psychiatric crisis visits by Rubicon clients burdened with serious mental illness.

A Rubicon Programs client works with a staff member (photo credit: Pat Garvey).

A Rubicon Programs client works with a staff member (photo credit: Pat Garvey).

Rubicon’s success is due in part to its integrated services delivery model (the other major factor is the staff, but more on that later). People who come to Rubicon – and indeed many of the residents in disadvantaged communities – don’t need just one social service but oftentimes several services across the spectrum. Clients typically fall through the cracks when they’re being referred from one agency offering a single service such as legal services to another organization that only deals with housing, which creates a siloed and alienating experience. The various divisions within Rubicon – Economic Empowerment, Mental Health and Wellness, and Legal Services – work collaboratively, which enables them to work with their clients holistically through one entity and to develop personalized programs for the greatest success and sustainability.

Rickie, "living and loving life clean," at two years of being clean.

Rickie, “living and loving life clean,” at two years of being clean.

Rickie Harris: ‘Begin the journey to change’
Rubicon’s tagline, “Begin the journey to change,” could not be more appropriate for a woman I met who took up Jane’s offer to a conference room full of people at the end of a meeting to talk to me about their Rubicon experience. Rickie Harris, who serves as a substance abuse intern at Rubicon, stepped right up. Rickie had battled drugs and alcohol abuse for 23 years, going in and out of substance abuse treatment programs for two decades. She would stay clean for three years but then go back out, while her mother – whom she gives credit for supporting her though the years – took care of her six children, three boys and three girls, now ages 19 to 28. Rickie kept coming back because her children “were worth it,” but the addiction was overpowering. It wasn’t until she reached a point where she was suffering from the “mental part of the disease” – losing her mind and talking to inanimate objects – that she realized she had to finally get clean and stay clean. But she also realized that while her mother and her children wanted her to stay sober, she had to do it for herself. She was ready to “make the changes and achieve the good” that she saw for herself.

Rickie at 5 years of being clean.

Rickie at 5 years of being clean.

Rickie is painfully aware of the “awful” state of her community, but it also is the source of her determination. “I used to be a problem in the community, but now I’m working diligently to become a solution,” she explained. Sober for more than five and a half years, Rickie completed four of the required certificates for substance abuse case management and dual diagnosis screening from Contra Costa College, with two semesters to go before graduation. She has worked hard, and earning straight A’s and making the Dean’s List without fail since 2010 has kept her motivated. “My mind is still intact,” she said, with pride. “I want more and more.” She will attend the University of California at Berkeley in the fall of 2015 to earn her BA in social work, with bigger sights set on earning her masters and PhD degrees. Rickie vows that she will return to the city where she was born and raised, and make a “powerful impact” for her fellow women and her community.

Editor’s notes: Rubicon Programs Part II will be posted Tuesday, April 1.

If you would like to make a donation to Rubicon Programs, click here.

Rubicon Honors 2014, Rubicon Programs’ annual gala, is set for next Saturday, April 5th, 6pm to 10pm at the Oakland Rotunda, 300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Last year, more than 2,000 children in the East Bay were positively impacted by the work Rubicon Programs did with their moms and dads. This year, Rubicon Programs has set a goal of raising $200,000 to change the lives of 2,100 children who are most in need in our shared community. At the gala, come enjoy live music, wine reception, butlered seasonal hors d’oeuvres, sit-down gourmet dinner and dessert, and the live and silent auction. Individual tickets are $225 and a table of 10 is $2,000. You can purchase your tickets here.