Va-va-va-voom: it’s Valentine’s Day

V is for “very,” as in, “Thank you very much for all your support.” It’s also for “Valentine.” And here is a young artist making a sweet valentine for all our supporters. She lives at our Kids First Family Shelter. Assisting her in her artistic endeavors is volunteer Tracey Rose.

Are the kids in your life feeling the love this February? Learn how even the littlest philanthropists can give back to our families in need, at “How Kids Can Help” on!


No matter what your position is at COTS, your first duty is to encourage our clients as they struggle to find housing of their own.

New hire Nichole Bankson encourages with her presence alone: only a few months ago, she was a shelter resident herself. Now, after years of homelessness, she rents a room in Cotati and has a full-time job as our Food Services Assistant.

“She’s a living example of hope,” says Shelter Manager Robin Phoenix.

“I had officially had it with homelessness when I came to the Mary Isaak Center,” Nichole says. It was her second stay at COTS. “I was ready to be done,” she says. And she’s happy to help others be done with it, too.

The first tip she’ll share with current residents is to decompress a bit, take a breath and assess your situation. Nichole came into the Mary Isaak Center after years of camping and sometimes staying in hotels. “When you’re living that way, your singular focus has to be survival. Where am I going to sleep tonight? How am I gonna stay warm? Where can I wash? Where can I eat?” she explains. “There’s no way you can plan or save when you’re living that way.”

Taking care of your physical health is part of that decompression, Nichole says. “Once you take care of your body, you can start taking care of your mind.”

Next, “Set realistic goals.” Sometimes, Nichole meets people who want to regain everything they’ve lost in a matter of weeks. “If you’re trying to get to something impossible, you’re going to feel bad when it doesn’t happen.” Nichole’s goal while she was a resident at the Mary Isaak Center was to save money so that she could find a simple shared housing opportunity. Mission accomplished!

Her third tip is to keep a low profile. “I put in my earplugs and listened to music a lot,” Nichole explains. “All of a sudden you’re living with a hundred other people. There’s drama here if you want it. But I didn’t.”

Saving money is high on Nichole’s list. “Staying there was my chance to get ahead,” she says. “I took it.”

Finally, being a positive part of the community helps. Nichole would come home to the shelter after a day of work at an outside job and she’d help clean the dining room or fold laundry. That’s what led our shelter staff to recommend her to be a shelter coordinator. That shelter coordinator position led to her current job.

Working in the kitchen is a great fit. Nichole grew up in Santa Rosa in a family that valued fresh food. After high school, she went on to work at the Community Market, Sonoma County’s only employee-owned, non-profit organic market. She served as secretary on the Community Market’s board during the downturn after 9-11. She’s very proud that during her board tenure, the Market was able to avoid lay-offs, avoid touching reserves, and was able to start planning for expansion. Several years ago, the Market opened a second site in The Barlow in Sebastopol.

“COTS is like the market in that there’s a familial feeling,” Nichole says. “We take care of each other.” Staff and volunteers serve up to 8500 free meals per month in a fast-paced environment, so that’s important to her. Our emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables is another thing that feels right.

Chef Janin Harmon couldn’t be happier that Nichole’s joined her team. “She’s organized, she’s friendly, she follows through on what I ask of her,” Janin says. “You can’t buy peace of mind like that.”


Come hop, come dine, come relax and unwind!

The Lagunitas Brewing Company opens its garden to COTS on April 28 for Hops for Homes.

Please mark your calendars and join us. Foxes in the Henhouse, winners of the Norbay Award for Best Acoustic/Folk Band provide two rollicking sets of rousing tunes, tight harmonies, and expert playing. Anna B’s Kitchen returns with an even more sumptuous meal (included in the price of admission). We’ll have fun and games for the kids and a silent auction and raffle to tempt every taste. Memorialize the occasion with a fun caricature from Pete McDonnell.

Many thanks to Lagunitas for its commitment to local good causes. And many thanks to those of you who’ll be joining us. We promise a good time for a good cause!

Volunteer spotlight: Edgar Marroquin

We’ve known it for years, but now all of Edgar Marroquin’s colleagues know it as well: he is a super star!

Volunteer extraordinaire Edgar Marroquin was recently recognized by his colleagues and management at Subaru as a SubeStar for all his work for COTS. When he’s not selling or leasing cars, you can often find Edgar in our kitchen, sorting, cleaning, chopping and serving.

“That smile of his is from ear to ear,” says Diana Morales, COTS Engagement Specialist. “He can turn anybody’s day around with that smile.” Edgar works side by side with our residents and will frequently share a meal with one or several, listening, chatting, encouraging.

Giving ear to everyone comes naturally.

From his earliest years, Edgar’s navigated different languages and cultures. He spent his childhood in Guatemala and completed high school in the United States. Edgar spent many years working in San Francisco’s finest jewelry stores, catering to the people you see in the society pages. “There’s not that much difference between people,” Edgar says. “It’s just that some of us have money and some don’t.”

His past customers took pleasure in finding a rare diamond or watch; his current customers want a car that works for them. “At COTS, everyone smiles when they have a nice meal, prepared with love,” he says.  “It gives me great pleasure to see that, to be part of that.”

And he’s not there just to make everybody feel good. “He is a do-er,” Diana says. “Technically, he’s there to sort our food donations, but when he’s finished with that, I see him cleaning out our dumpster area, cleaning the mats—whatever it is we need.”

Edgar started volunteering about ten years ago. “My kids were grown,” he explains, “and I didn’t have much to do on my days off, so I started to work at COTS.” Initially, he did office work, organizing and gardening at our Kids First Family Shelter.

Then we needed him at Mary’s Table and he answered the call.

Edgar runs marathons and helps care for his elderly mom when he’s not at COTS or at work. His life is full, and we thank him for sharing it with us and our clients.

If you’d like to volunteer, please take the first step by completing our application at

Find out about Volunteering


Some of you met our heroic Case Manager Wendy Lindberg at The COTS Hour in December. CBS New Bay Area recently ran a story about Wendy’s work at COTS and her exceptional parenting skills. You can watch the segment and learn more about her story here!

Spring forward with us

Business is booming right now at the Mary Isaak Center and at our Kids First Family Shelter. We’re serving dozens of extra people each night because of the rainy weather, and we’re doing a few much-needed repairs. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we hope you’ll be there in the Spring to share your skills and talents with us.

We’re looking for volunteers to bring workshops, presentations, concerts, sing-a-longs, and craft sessions. If you’d like to share your skills and talents with our residents, please contact Community Engagement Specialist Diana Morales with your ideas. You can send questions, proposals and outlines to Diana at

Thank you!

Social Capital for COTS

Did you know that we recently updated our website to enable our donors to create online COTS fundraisers to share with friends and family?  It can take as little as five minutes to set up and personalize your page. You can share it via email or social media.

These fundraisers are a great way to raise funds to help us house the homeless. They’re also a great way to raise awareness and to give people the opportunity to help.

If you want to invest your social capital in COTS, you can click here.

Many thanks!
Create your own Social Capital Campaign today!