Up and working: Permanent center for dayworkers addresses problems with loitering, accountability

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier

Dayworkers Antonio Varraza, above left, and Jose Moreno fill out applications at the new Day Worker Center of Mountain View.

As a real estate broker and homeowner, Los Altos resident Richard Strock often needs dayworkers’ services.

On a rainy day in the 1990s, a leaking roof forced Strock to approach workers on a busy street. At least 40 faces gathered around his car, pleading their cases for work.

“It was so undignified,” Strock said. “How was I supposed to choose a worker? It was awful.”

It was a problem partially solved with the arrival of a dayworker center in Mountain View in 1996. Now the center, providing workers and employers a safe and supportive environment, has a permanent home. A grand opening ceremony last week culminated years of effort by local leaders, including many Los Altos residents.

Although detractors felt the center’s undocumented workers should be deported, supporters felt a humanitarian need to address the problem locally, since workers were being drawn to the area’s demand for inexpensive labor.

Strock began volunteering at the center when it was just a small room at the top of a flight of stairs, jam-packed with at least 50 dayworkers.

“That was the genesis of my involvement,” Strock said.

A spark of inspiration

María Marroquín assumed duties as the Day Worker Center of Mountain View director in 1999, embracing its mission to connect workers and employers, not only in a sheltered environment, but to empower workers to improve their socioeconomic condition through fair employment, education and job-skills training – participate in advocacy efforts that support the day-laborer community.

For 14 years, the center has provided a safe shelter from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays for dayworkers seeking work and employers looking for workers. Volunteers support the center’s mission, teaching English, socialization and cultural indoctrination, while benefactors, foundation grants and city donations fund lunches, medical care and legal advice.

Several relocations have posed difficult challenges through the years. Renting building space has drained funds needed for supplies, and limited storage didn’t allow the center much growth.

“Not having a permanent home was a real problem,” Strock said.

Five years ago, volunteers and dayworkers agreed: “Enough is enough,” Marroquín said.

When 113 Escuela Ave. in Mountain View came on the market, Strock negotiated and wrote up an offer: $300,000. Next they would need the money.

“Our first $10 donation – it was a very moving thing,” Marroquín said. “It was like an energy, a spark.”

Financing fundamentals

But $10 is a long way from $300,000 – and that was just to purchase the building. The Escuela site needed a major makeover. Estimates projected the center would require $1 million to complete the overhaul.

Enter Los Altos residents Cindy and David Luedtke.

“Without them, this could never have happened,” Marroquín said.

With professional banking experience, Cindy spearheaded the center’s capital campaign committee for fundraising.

It snowballed – $25,000 from the city of Los Altos Hills, large donations from Los Altos residents Sue LaTourette and Strock that sparked the Los Altos City Council to grant $75,000 and a $60,000 community development block grant from Palo Alto.

“A third of what we needed came quickly,” Cindy said. “The middle two years were painful.”

Beyond committees, Cindy had two other jobs – her full-time banking duties at First Republic Bank and finding a design architect for the dayworker center. She subtly and quietly worked on her husband, Dave.

“I knew – I knew – I knew he would be interested, as long as I wasn’t direct,” Cindy said. “(Dave) loves to have the challenge of doing a lot with a little.”

Breaking ground

With architectural and engineering experience, Dave fell for the challenge.

“(Cindy) knows that’s one of my pet hobbies,” he said.

With the building purchased and a designer onboard, Strock “thought (the center) was going to be a piece of cake.”

Dave spearheaded the building’s redesign. The mechanical, electrical and landscape designs were submitted to Mountain View’s planning department five times and six times to the building department. Obtaining permits and building-plan approvals and addressing controversy stalled the project.

A major challenge center organizers faced: answering the question of how any organization could support possibly illegal immigrants. Cindy said they had to adopt a constructive approach in encouraging the community to be part of the solution.

“It all just comes down to – we’re all human beings and we all have basic needs,” she said. “Once we broke ground – standing in that leaking building – people could see it was going to happen. And wanted it to happen.”

Dave coordinated work between civil and structural engineers, collaborating with Nexgen Builders Inc., the project’s general contractor, which called in favors from its subcontractors to help keep the remodel under budget and on time.

“There was a lot of horsetrading going on,” he said.

And though there were no change orders throughout construction – a big accomplishment in any project, Dave said – it did rain on groundbreaking day, May 25. Some say that’s a good omen.

Community connections

The dayworker center isn’t merely a building to shelter workers seeking paid employment. Dayworkers take pride in the neighborhood and community and contribute their labor skills for many causes, Marroquín said.

“We really want to be a part of the solution – it’s our philosophy,” she said. “The best way is to volunteer.”

Dayworkers volunteered at the senior community garden, participated in local blood drives, assisted in neighborhood and coastal cleanups and earned certifications in CPR and disaster preparedness. Many donated funds to Hurricane Katrina and Haiti earthquake victims.

“They are very generous,” Marroquín said. “It is something natural with them.”

They raised $20,000 for the center through carwash and recycling fundraisers, assisted builders inside and helped plant the garden outside.

“We had 300 hours of labor from the workers themselves on the construction and planting projects,” Dave said.

And then it was time to move.

It was a bittersweet farewell to Mercy Street’s Trinity Church, where the dayworker center has operated since 2007. But dayworkers continue an alliance with parishioners – an alliance that Marroquín is sure will remain strong. The church is just blocks away.

“We are always on call, ready to help,” she said.

Celebrating success

The center’s main lobby wall will honor the donors and supporters, Marroquín said, next to art depicting dayworkers waiting on a street.

“It’s our past,” she said. “But now we have a future because we have our new home. The art is very meaningful for us.”

Also inside the 3,500 square-foot building: a skills and learning center, a conference room, a lunch room, bathrooms and a kitchen with two ovens, a dishwasher and lots of storage cabinets.

More meaningful is the community support. Before last week’s grand-opening celebration and fundraiser, Cindy said the center had surpassed its $1 million goal.Icing on an already delicious cake – the pharmaceutical company Roche donated $40,000 in furniture and kitchen supplies, items the dayworker center could never accumulate before because of lack of storage space.

And more success – the standing-room-only crowd of volunteers, community supporters, city officials and dayworkers who joined the celebration.

Guadalupe Alvarez sat next to friends, happy to have a place she can come when seeking work – cleaning houses, cooking meals – she does it all, she said. Alvarez has used other centers, but Mountain View’s is the best, offering much more than safety and shelter.

Marroquín is proud of the expanded hours, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., that better serve the 70-120 workers seeking employment each day. Future plans include adding computer and sewing instruction, as well as cooking, yoga, Zumba and Spanish-grammar classes.

Volunteers are always needed to maintain office functions and for dayworkers’ classes, including tools’ instruction, U.S. history and culture, health education, financial skills, small-business information and legal aid research.

And, of course, donations are always needed, and welcome.“The doors are going to be open forever,” Marroquín said.

For more information, call 903-4102 or visit

Contact Mary Beth Hislop at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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