ABC7 Stars: Tenderloin community organizer leads 'Safe Passage' for kids

Saturday, September 1, 2018
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Over the past decade, the Safe Passage program in San Francisco's Tenderloin District has helped thousands of kids with navigating the gritty neighborhood.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Over the past decade, the Safe Passage program in San Francisco's Tenderloin District has helped thousands of kids with navigating the gritty neighborhood.

If you've walked through the Tenderloin, you know about the homelessness and the open drug use that at times can make your heart break. But every afternoon during the school year, there's a temporary transformation, led by Kate Robinson of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District.

"We meet people. We talk to people. We involve everybody in this process, and just that alone, makes everyone feel safer," said Robinson.

Ten years ago, a group of moms in the neighborhood came together with the goal of making the streets a little safer for kids walking to and from school. Robinson got wind of the effort and decided to help formalize the program.

Robinson said: "The solutions for the Tenderloin are going to come from the Tenderloin, and this program is proof of that."

Volunteers begin their shifts at 2 p.m. every afternoon with a briefing inside the Tenderloin CBD office on Ellis St. They then go out and "sweep" the streets -- clearing away trash and asking drug users to halt their activities as hundreds of students pass through.

The program, funded entirely by grants and private donations, now has nearly 170 volunteers who are trained to serve as corner captains.

Co-founder Margarita Mena was one of the original moms who helped launch Safe Passage and credits Robinson for much of its success.

"A lot of people clear out right away while we are in the corners, because they have gotten to know us (and) they realize we are there to help children and elderly cross the street," says Mena.

The Tenderloin is home to hundreds of low-income and immigrant families. Many can't afford to live anywhere else, in what's become one of the most expensive cities in the world. Tenderloin-beat officer Eric Robinson from the San Francisco Police Department says the work of Kate Robinson, no relation, and the Tenderloin CBD, has resulted in less crime and fewer calls for service.

"Straight shooter. I mean, there's no ulterior motives for her on what she does. She really likes what she does and it shows in her enthusiasm," said Ofc. Robinson.

Co-workers say Robinson is truly dedicated to serving others.

"These are families that you're affected by, that become part of your family," says Fernando Pujols, one of Robinson's colleagues at the Tenderloin CBD. "That's something that Kate leads, and I think influences the rest of the staff to sort of carry that same personal touch throughout everything we do."

Safe Passage corner captain Stephen Tennis added: "She (Kate) is perfect for this job. I mean, I can't imagine anyone else being in her position. It can be very difficult cause people can really test you."

ABC7 News is proud to recognize Kate Robinson as an ABC7 Star who leads by example.

"This community has what everybody desires, which is connected-ness," said Robinson. "I've never been in another setting that has it that strongly, and I feel very lucky to be a part of it."

The Tenderloin CBD will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Safe Passage program later this fall. Click here for more information on how you can volunteer or contribute to the organization.

To read about more ABC7 Stars where you live, visit this page.