Rubicon offers help for those hit hard by economy

January 3, 2011 8:22:27 AM PST
An East Bay social services agency that's helping to provide a second chance for many Bay Area residents hard hit by the economy is now getting some help of its own.

What kind of landscape company offers job training, help with finding housing, and even legal services? The landscape company run by the East Bay social services agency -- Rubicon.

"Rubicon has been around for 37 years and the need has never been greater," said Rubicon president Jane Fishberg.

Rubicon is based in Berkeley, and it serves about 4,000 people a year. Many of them are newly homeless -- people who lost their jobs and homes to the economic downturn. Last year about 10 percent of Rubicon's clients went straight from job training to a new job. But, it can be a challenge.

"We help people who have limited literacy, with substance abuse problems, who may have had prior involvement with the criminal justice system, who are really trying to make a contribution to the community," said Fishberg.

Like client Juanita Villafuerte -- a young mom whose had her run-ins with the law.

"I was charged with selling drugs and in the process of that I was using," said Villafuerte.

A ten month transition program and then a new baby kept her out of the workforce. But, now she's learning new skills in landscape maintenance and more.

"I was referred to Rubicon. They got me into the training program. They fixed up my resume. It looks great. It looks like I've been employed my whole life doing lots of stuff," said Villafuerte.

"They've reached the bottom, there's only one way out and that's going back up. So a lot of them work hard to get back to where they were," said trainer Tony Lopez.

Rubicon's in house landscaping division brings in about $4 million a year to help pay for programs. But, there are not jobs to hire every graduate. Meaning many are given job leads outside of the agency. Wherever they work, Rubicon's president hopes they take the agency's core values with them.

"Which are compassion, respect, integrity, innovation and accountability," said Fishberg.