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April 2024


Carlos Declared Community Champion

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SFB-CRC Executive Director Carlos Valles was honored in Phoenix March 25 as a Community Champion by Digital Equity Institute. The award recognizes those whose tireless work helps provide equal access to connectivity and technology for underserved members of their communities. Carlos developed a passion for ensuring that more and more of our residents, particularly those in rural areas, could gain access to broadband. The pandemic highlighted these access gaps, exposing the negative impacts on education for K-12 students confined to their homes, as well as those trying to rejoin the workforce. Not having computer access was not just inconvenient. It was a barrier to learning and employment and career opportunities.

Even with an infusion of federal and state funding to continue strengthening digital access, the gap in internet connectivity continues. In the last few years, fiber conduit lines have been installed along all major highways in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, but it’s not enough. The costliest part of the work is connecting “the last mile.” Often in rural communities like Amado it’s the last five or ten miles. Carlos and other community champions continue to advocate for funding to get it done.

Providing access to more isolated communities is essential in giving them the chance to succeed and thrive in a digital world. Project AZUL, our mobile service unit, is carrying technology and computer training to others as it travels from town to town in rural Arizona. The Starlink satellite connection is blazingly fast and can provide on-line job searches and conveyance of resumes so that more of our rural and underserved neighbors who are trying to expand their futures can be digitally connected.

It's why the work Carlos has done for these communities is so important. All of us at SFB-CRC are extremely proud of him. In presenting the award to Community Champions, Digital Equity representatives said, “Their dedication in improving the lives of people in Pima, Coconino, and Maricopa Counties is remarkable and we were honored to share the impact of their work. Each has left an indelible mark on Arizona and we are grateful for their dedication and leadership.”


On the Road Again…and Again

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Our mobile service unit is rolling. Project AZUL features portable programs that assist rural residents in acquiring basic skills and knowledge to expand their opportunities for employment, and it’s reaching out now all over Southern Arizona.

Our rural project coordinator Nathan Watts, along with our community outreach coordinator Juan Arredondo, and trilingual instructor Zyanya Gutierrez, are out in Arivaca every Thursday providing computer classes. They travel Mondays and Wednesdays to Summit, a very underserved community of 7,000 just south of Raytheon where Zyanya teaches English to up to six students twice a week. GED classes began April 3 and will continue till May 22. More and more residents are signing up. Many are moms of students at Summit View Elementary where 93 percent qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Nathan and his team also organize fairs in Arivaca, Summit, and other locations, such as the Santa Cruz Lutheran Church on Valencia that on April 17 brought in our Pima County resource navigator Ana Camarillo to the community, as well as the UA Mobile Health Team and Goodwill Career Centers.

With transportation a challenge for many people, Project AZUL serves as a resource hub right in the community, with a classroom of eight student desks, capacity for food distribution, an office, and a bathroom, especially helpful on those long day trips. Our partners and staff provide an essential service to all those who have started their personal journeys toward better health, better employment, and a better life for themselves and their families.

SFB-CRC is excited that we have been able to launch this program and keep it on the road, reaching out to everyone out there—and way out there—who needs our help.


Foodie Finds Community Again

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Weezie Bryson talked about “finding community” when she managed a meal program in Montana, and we and she are fortunate she found it again here with us at SFB-CRC.

She became a volunteer with us only a month after moving here and intuitively knew that it would be a place where she could become a part of a community committed to serving and meeting the needs of our local neighbors. SFB-CRC very quickly realized what an asset she could be and welcomed her aboard as our culinary manager.

“Everybody deserves to be fed,” she declared. “Food is a basic need and delicious and nutritious food can turn your whole day around.”

Thanks to a grant through Arizona Complete Health, SFB-CRC provides diabetes education and food preparation programs. There are currently nine students in a class with Spanish interpretation that features measurement of changes in blood glucose levels, a snapshot of blood sugar levels, and A1C, a measurement that reflects changes in eating habits in 2-3 months on a diabetic-friendly diet. Qualified through a Harvard Medical School class on managing pre-diabetes and diabetes concerns, Weezie continues to consistently explore and monitor the needs in the community through our new client intake process.

“We should provide those services that people actually need, not what we think they need,” she explained.

She manages the produce sorting process with her team of volunteer “sorters,” while maintaining Line and Prep classes that help students learn basic food prep skills leading to restaurant jobs. She handles ServSafe manager classes and testing for those who qualify to manage a restaurant and other food programs. Weezie handles this for all of Pima County! She also heads up the Meals2Go/Catering, which will suspend operations for the summer to orchestrate strategic planning as this program develops for the future.

Weezie’s vision is to create and implement a rigorous nine-month culinary program nested in the Saguaro Skills Center, our vocational training school, that would lead to certification. She dreams of offering a different kind of cookbook with three tiers of recipes for each dish, such as a quick and easy pasta meal with a bottled sauce, a more involved and more nutritious recipe with a homemade sauce, and a recipe for a party dish for a dozen people. The goal is to keep it simple, healthy, and economical.

“Life is good,” she affirmed. “My day revolves around food. I go home and spend time with my kids and family. I’m enjoying my life in Southern Arizona.”

Benefit Rocks Amado

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The Longhorn Grill featured Larry Worster and his Silver and Chrome band in a charity performance on a cool evening March 25 in Amado that raised $15,000 for SFB-CRC from our community supporters.

Portable heaters inside a massive tent kept sponsors, donors, guests, staff, volunteers, and musicians warm and comfortable as everyone enjoyed cocktails and an amazing gourmet western barbecue buffet from Longhorn Chef Nim and her team.

Board President Roberta Lopez-Suter kicked off the reception by thanking all those who support our work, and those who attended the event. Senior Program Manager Sofia Castro offered information to the audience about our programs, highlighting the numbers of food-insecure people we serve at our Sahuarita hub and in outlying communities, such as Arivaca, Summit, and Amado. Project AZUL’s rural program coordinator Nathan Watts was on hand to show off the 46-foot mobile unit and explain the outreach that Project AZUL provides to rural communities.

Attendees were moved by the generous gesture from the winner of the 50/50 raffle as she immediately insisted on returning her half of the winnings to the cause. That put everyone in the mood for a little impromptu dancing to the variety of classic tunes performed by Silver and Chrome. The band kept everyone applauding through the final song.

Brenda Bloomer, Rich Stottlemire, Kitty Bottemiller, and Jackie Smith, SFB-CRC Treasurer, organized the event. SFB-CRC is so grateful to them and to event sponsors Freeport McMoRan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Foundation, as well as table sponsors Cox Communications, Green Valley News/Sahuarita Sun, Disabled American Veterans, TRICO Electric Cooperative, Brenda and David Bloomer, Mary Ferland and Tom Buinicky, Tom and Marilyn Regnier, Larry Worster, and John and Penny Pestle.  

“It was a wonderful evening,” observed SFB-CRC Board President Roberta Lopez-Suter. “The food was good, the band was great, and we were all there to support SFB-CRC! A special thank-you to the organizing committee and the band for all their hard work."




Local First Chose Us

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SFB-CRC was the first site chosen in March for a series of planned field trips organized by Local First, a state-wide organization with a focus on small business and rural well-being. This visit was for members of their rural funders’ roundtable. All enjoyed a tour and delicious lunch from Weezie’s kitchen, followed by an honest dialogue about how rural funders and potential grantees could work together most effectively. Visiting organizations included Freeport McMoRan, Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, Burton Family Foundation, Vitalyst Health, Halle Foundation, Arizona Complete Health, and PNC Bank. “We are so grateful for this most welcome and productive meeting,” SFB-CRC board member Penny Pestle told Local First founder and CEO Kimber Lanning and her colleagues.

Church Rescues Us

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Food donations for SFB-CRC are reduced significantly as summer approaches, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Sahuarita Stake and Marana Stake rallied their congregations and collected and delivered an incredible semi-load of non-perishable food to be divided between the two food banks. Their efforts have made a tremendous difference in our ability to provide food to clients and their families. Both locations are seeing an alarming increase in food insecurity in our communities, so this will go a long way in service to them in the coming weeks. 

MFB-CRC Honors Volunteers

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Marana Food Bank created a volunteer tree to recognize their dedicated group of 35 volunteers. Each apple honors one of them. Our recent collaboration with them is strengthening every day. With only two staff members, MFB-CRC is serving more than a thousand families per month.

Cleaning Crew Visits

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Organized by our office administrator Kellie Tonks and our community outreach coordinator Juan Arredondo, Raytheon HR, staff folks, engineers, and even a senior leader from Colorado came down 70 strong to power wash vehicles, clean dumpsters, chairs, and shelves, and even washed walls! Weezie provided a delicious taco bar to reward them for their unselfish contributions to our organization. “Everyone was very willing to help,” Juan noted, “even willing to clean bathrooms!” Volunteer visits are obviously always appreciated at SFB-CRC.

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