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Philanthropy 831 Blog about the people and organizations invested in the future of Santa Cruz County.


Cooking Up A Menu of Opportunity With El Pajaro CDC
By Kevin Heuer / May 14, 2018

How do you go from struggling to get by to getting ahead in Santa Cruz County?

To find out, we recently caught up with Carmen Herrera-Mansir and her team at El Pajaro Community Development Corporation. On a tour of their business incubation programs in Watsonville, we learned about companies like RVS Technology Group, El Nopalito Produce, and Lidia’s Oaxacan cuisine stand at the Watsonville Farmer’s Market.

What do they have in common? All three were founded by immigrants who, like so many before them, strived to turn their dream of economic independence into reality. All three are successful graduates of El Pajaro Community Development Corporation’s small business development programs.

The recipe is a familiar one: equal parts ingenuity, work ethic, and a willingness to take risks. But the secret ingredient was the sprinkles of help they got along the way from El Pajaro CDC in the form of expert technical assistance, business incubation, and micro-lending. El Pajaro’s offerings are bilingual, culturally relevant, and targeted to low-income and minority business owners, a reflection of the nonprofit’s dedication to promoting equal access to economic opportunity.

Thanks to generous contributions from donor-advised fundholders like John M. Sobrato and the Driscoll’s Charitable Fund, the Community Foundation has invested over $150,000 in El Pajaro CDC’s mission work since 2012.

Our tour showed off some of the 30 businesses who make the commercial kitchen facility a vibrant regional food hub. In a state of the art facility, a new generation of Pajaro Valley entrepreneurs turn local farmers’ harvests into delectable treats, healthy snacks, and edible products ready for market. We learned of their investment in a new co-packing facility that will help clients scale-up their production by turning over the manufacturing to El Pajaro staff. 

At the Plaza Vigil in the heart of Downtown Watsonville, we walked the storefronts and heard stories of how access to prime retail space and tailored business support keyed success for dozens of low-income entrepreneurs. Ricardo Rocha’s recipe for success included a Cabrillo College computer science degree, business development consulting from El Pajaro, and office space in Plaza Vigil in which to grow his customer base.

RVS Technology has taken flight, moved to a bigger location, hired more staff, and grown its portfolio of clients including Second Harvest Food Bank, Scurich Insurance, and Erik’s Deli. Each year more than 200 individuals like Ricardo get help nurturing their businesses thanks to El Pajaro’s services.  

Our visit satisfied our hunger for insight into the real economic gains of investing in entrepreneurship. Local giving blended with proven solutions helps those who dream turn “one day” into “day one.” Now that’s something to savor.

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