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Silvia Romano, a key leader within Faith in the Valley Kern, and Daniel Rodela, Faith in the Valley organizer

Faith in the Valley Leaders’ Election to Special Economic Board Marks a New Era for Kern County

Leaders in the Central Valley were already working to help vulnerable communities overcome economic disparities before COVID-19. Now, with our organization’s assistance, a powerful multi-sector coalition is working together to create a surge of support for those most impacted by the crisis.

In a landmark move earlier this month, two Faith in the Valley leaders were elected to the Kern Coalition Governance Council for the California Jobs First initiative, formerly known as the California Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF), ensuring there is greater opportunity for the people we serve throughout the region.

The Community Economic Resilience Fund aids vulnerable communities in recovering from COVID-19’s economic distress and long-standing inequities. This board will allow community activists, along with industry, labor, workforce development and others to bring these resources to our cities and rural areas. Exciting news for our region!

Let’s explore this initiative and how Faith in the Valley will be able to make an impact.

Community Economic Resilience Fund snapshot

Over the past year, Faith in the Valley has been engaged in efforts to shape regional economic recovery efforts through the CERF process. CERF (now California Jobs First), is the state of California’s historic $600 million fund that is supporting the development of regional economic roadmaps to diversify local economies and invest in industries that create a more equitable economy in the transition to a carbon-neutral future.

Over 150 Indigenous and Hispanic leaders from rural Kern County, along with our organizing staff and partners across the region, have been working to shape regional economic recovery plans, aligned with their vision and interests related to job training for essential workers being phased out of agriculture jobs, support for minority owned businesses, more Hispanic supermarkets in rural areas, affordable housing and more.

Governance Council election for California Jobs First initiative

Building on these efforts, Silvia Romano, a key leader within Faith in the Valley Kern, and Daniel Rodela, a Faith in the Valley organizer, ran for and were elected to the Kern Coalition Governance Council for the California Jobs First initiative to ensure that the voices of disinvested communities are not only heard but actively considered in the decision-making processes.

Romano and Rodela are among 17 elected representatives from across Kern County who will vote on economic and workforce development proposals that will be submitted to the state at the end of the Planning Phase for the California Jobs First Initiative.

A new wave of civic engagement

The election sparked a new wave of civic engagement, bringing renewed hope and empowerment to immigrants who have historically been excluded from the electoral process. There was a significant turnout among immigrant communities in McFarland and Delano.

Romano says, “Many had never participated in anything like this. 90% are people who have been working in the fields for years, but they have never been listened to. This is a new beginning of what will come.”

She emphasized how this election was different, noting that it was one of the first where she saw a sense of equality and inclusion.

Rodela shared his reflections as well: “Leading up to and during the elections, I saw people manifesting their faith, their hope, their vision and trust in candidates who they believe represent their interests. And it got me thinking about the countless opportunities that exist when grassroots efforts are advanced to put marginalized folks at the center. And they in turn put their faith into action.”

The path forward

The election served as a powerful catalyst for change, offering hope for a more equitable and participatory future for all residents, regardless of their legal status, as well as a path forward toward a more inclusive economy.

This is significant given the income inequality and poverty that Kern County communities face. In 2020 in Kern, 21% of Latino workers were working full-time and living below 200% of the poverty level compared to 7% of white workers.

Household income further underscores the disparities, with rural communities like Arvin being especially hard hit with a median income of $42,961, well below the state average.

Targeted efforts like the California Jobs First are much needed to address these disparities and to ensure that our economy works for everyone. To learn more or to get involved, contact Daniel Rodela and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Together, we can expand who has a seat at the table in building a more inclusive economy and a clean energy future. Join us!

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