Ali Barekat, executive director of Sunday Friends, beams with pride when he speaks about the positive impact his organization has made on low-income families in San Jose.
He can tell story after story about children and parents who have not only bettered themselves but helped others by joining Sunday Friends, which is unlike any other charitable organization in the country. There are no handouts here; participants earn tickets redeemable for items at its on-site store – from toys to toiletries – for taking classes and working on community service projects each Sunday.
Barekat recalled a recent encounter with 8-year-old Jose, who was asked what he planned to do with his pile of tickets.
“I have earned enough tickets to buy my own school supplies for this year,” Jose said. “Now I’m trying to earn more tickets to go buy more school supplies to bring to my teacher to give to the kids that don’t have them.”
Barekat pointed out that Jose – who began attending Sunday Friends programs with his family two years ago – has grasped one of the most valuable lessons that his staff and volunteers try to instill in the nearly 100 children they serve every week.
“He’s not just caring for himself – now he’s caring for others and worrying about how he can help someone else,” Barekat said. “It’s a testament to what we do and why it works. It brings a value system to these kids that many of them weren’t exposed to before.”
Their parents can also benefit from these activities and classes, which run noon to 7 p.m. Sundays on a rotating basis at Lowell and Anne Darling elementary schools in San Jose. Offerings promote healthy lifestyles, English proficiency, life skills and computer education – new this year.
“The computer classes started in January, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the reception we’ve received,” Barekat said. “I feel like these families need to see the value of a computer in their lives. They can get jobs, find bargains and interact with their kids’ schoolteachers through a computer. It can help them break the cycle of poverty.”
He is hopeful that another addition to the program contributes to this cause as well.
“At the beginning of the year, we will have a real bank stationed at our program,” said Barekat, who convinced a major credit union with ATMs at Walmart and Costco stores to work with Sunday Friends. “There’s going to be a computer, and families will bring their paychecks and deposit them into the bank right away. This bank is not going to charge them for cashing them; right now they pay 1 percent to those check-cashing places.”
He added that families would have the opportunity to sit down with a bank representative for a free financial consultation and learn such things as how to apply for a student loan or a credit card with a $300 limit instead of a high-interest payday advance.
“It’s a way to help low-income families and remove their fear of the banking system,” Barekat said. “We have taught them about financial literacy through our ticket system, which allows them to earn 2 percent every month on the tickets they’ve saved, and this is a good transition to using a real bank.”
For more information, visit sundayfriends.org.