PASADENA — For 10 years, Helen Patton has worked to help the impoverished in northwest Pasadena find employment, food and shelter in her job as a staff member of the Consumer and Community Action Center.
And even though she stopped getting a paycheck when funding for the center dried up June 30, Patton plans to keep helping the disadvantaged--perhaps at the risk of joining the ranks of the needy and elderly who frequently turn to the center for help.
"Really and truly, I can't afford it, but I'm concerned about the community. . . . I can't just walk away," said Patton, 58, a divorcee who has custody of two school-age girls she is rearing for a former foster child.
For Patton and the two other staff members at the consumer action agency, which is headquartered at the city-run Jackie Robinson Center in the predominantly low-income and minority northwest area of city, it is the satisfaction of helping others that keeps them working without pay.
"It is very hard to see someone come in and say, 'I have three kids and they don't have any food,' " Patton said. "It is going to be a strain, but I'm determined to keep going."
"When you help someone find a job, find food or find a place to live, it is very gratifying, and that has been part of our payment," said Gilbert Moreno, 40, director of the center, which provides a range of free services, including help with income tax preparation, consumer complaints and legal advice for about 600 people a month.
The consumer agency, which has operated out of the Jackie Robinson Center since it opened 10 years ago, ran into financial problems in January. It lost federal funding that had been channeled to it through Foothill Area Community Services Inc., an umbrella agency that administers social service and senior citizens programs in the area.
At that time, the Pasadena Board of City Directors allocated $34,000 to keep the center operating through June.
The center receives free office space from the city of Pasadena. Most of its estimated $80,000 annual budget goes to pay the salaries of the staff, which was cut from five members to three when the center lost its federal funding.
Now, staff members hope that corporate and individual contributions will bail out the program, although no specifics of a financing plan have been outlined.
Willing to Sacrifice
"If we have to work at a lower rate, that is fine," said Moreno, who has worked at the center for eight years. "If you're going to work at providing community service, you have to give."
The biggest concern of the three staff members and two volunteers, who work at the center several days a week, is that if they leave, the needy will have nowhere to turn.
More than half of the center's clients are senior citizens, about one-fourth are Latinos, many of whom do not speak English, and about 40% are blacks with incomes below the poverty level.
"Persons come because a landlord is going to throw them out, and we tell them, 'No, you have some rights,' " said staff member, Hector Rivera, 64, who has worked at the center for five years.
Rivera deals primarily with people who have problems related to landlord-tenant disputes, Social Security and income tax preparation.
"There is a satisfaction in working with people who are truly needy," Rivera said. "At my age, a job that doesn't give satisfaction is nothing."
Like Patton and Moreno, Rivera said he will collect unemployment benefits, but that they will amount to only about $80 a week, well below his $17,000-a-year salary.
Moreno said that staff members probably will have to dip into savings, and that none of them had really thought about how long they will be able to continue working without a regular salary.
"I am optimistic and hope something is going to come around," Moreno said.
Bruce Philpott, an assistant to the city manager who is helping the agency in its attempts to find funding, said he has hopes that financial backing can be found, but did not elaborate on possible funding sources. "I think we will have a program in place," he said.
Philpott is in charge of coordinating the city's Northwest Plan, which is designed to revitalize the area and to stop erosion of the neighborhoods through a partnership between the city and businesses.
He said that closure of the center would represent a "symbolic" setback for the Northwest Plan and would cause a hardship to those who use the center's resources. We would be going backward more than forward," Philpott said.
Philpott said that about 25% of Pasadena's 130,000 people live in the northwest area and that most of them have incomes at or below the poverty level.
"They don't have the same resources that people in the middle class have," Philpott said.
Moreno said that if the center closed, there would be a big gap in services for the people of the northwest.