Each month, COTS staff are proud to share news of our programs, our community, and our clients as they work towards permanent housing. Thank you for reading and for supporting our work to end homelessness in Sonoma County!

Laure Reichek continues to serve

Laure Reichek and Mary Isaak founded COTS in 1988. Now, 32 years later, Laure continues to serve.

We were thrilled to see here on Friday when she brought by a huge supply of clothes and housewares donated by her friends. You can read more about Laure here.

Updates at the Kids First Family Shelter

The pandemic meant we had to put on hold our plans for a remodel of Kids First Family Shelter.

But three cheers to John McEntee and his COTS Facilities Team who have used this time to make the shelter safer and more welcoming.

Case Manager Wendy Lindberg is thrilled with her large and well-ventilated new office where she can easily meet with residents and maintain recommended distancing. Her former tiny office is now a storeroom and “free store” where residents can choose items like diapers, wipes, masks and gloves.

The residents now have a room dedicated to business, whether it’s homework, job applications or housing searches. There are plenty of computers and they’re set up in carols to enable focus and concentration. And the recreation room has been spiffed up, too, and organized so that residents can maintain distance from one another but still watch a movie together or chat.

Because of the pandemic, county guidelines required us to reduce the number of people at the shelter. John and his team have taken the opportunity to paint and spruce up rooms that aren’t in use.

Welcome to our newest board member, Sam Yee

She didn’t get handshakes all around, but she got plenty of smiles when our board unanimously voted by Zoom to welcome Samantha Yee to COTS Board of Directors.

Sam is raring to go. And we’re just as eager to have her help.

The Petaluma resident works as the Retail Service Manager at the Exchange Bank’s Stony Point branch, and she brings to the table all the skills you’d expect from someone in that field. She understands numbers, she’s attentive to details, and she has great people skills—so great that she’s been recognized for outstanding customer service two years in a row. Board members are our face to the community, explaining our programs, listening to concerns, and eliciting support. They’re our cheerleaders and our eyes and ears. They also make complicated and sometimes tough decisions about spending and program direction. Sam has the focus and the understanding to be clear-headed when making those decisions.

She also has a heart for our work. And that comes from a lifetime.

Some of you may remember Sam from The COTS Hour. She was our co-host in December with Chris Ranney, and, in 2016, she shared her story as a former participant in COTS’ transitional housing.

“I can flash back to that time like it was yesterday,” says Sam. “I think that gives me an empathy, a level of understanding. I know what helped me, and I can share that.”

Already a valued volunteer in our food programs and our holiday store, Sam is eager to start fundraising, helping with events, and volunteering in skills-building programs. “I’m a renter myself,” she says. “I know how hard it is to find a place, I know how hard it is to budget and save. But you can do it. I can share that with people.”

Fellow board member Chris Ranney, and Sam’s co-host for the 2019 COTS Hour is thrilled that Sam will be sharing her “deep level of empathy and understanding for the challenges that individuals and families are facing, especially in these very challenging times in our local community and country-wide.” Chris says he and other members are thrilled to have a new colleague with “strong leadership and exemplary skills in community relationship building.” Most of all, Chris says, he welcomes her passion, something he got to see up close and personal as they rehearsed together for The COTS Hour.

By happy coincidence, Sam was just asked by her team at the Exchange Bank to coordinate employee volunteer efforts for her branch. “This is a win-win,” she says. “I’m going to be talking about COTS a lot!”

Welcome, Sam! And thanks to all our board members, who volunteer hundreds of hours of their time for COTS each year. They are: Bill Gabbert (President); Ben Leroi (Vice President); John Baxter (Treasurer); Karen Nelson (Secretary); Andrea Pfeiffer; Chris Ranney; Curt Peters; Erin Hawkins; Judy Tuhtan; Ken Savano; Marie McCusker; Matt Ingram; Mike Resch; Chaplain Raymond Dougherty; Troy Sanderson; and Wendi Thomas.

Mary Isaak Center Shelter Update

What does Robin Phoenix, our Shelter Services Manager want you to know?

Number one: no one from among our residents or staff has tested positive for COVID-19. Part of that is luck. But it’s diligence and cooperation from both her staff and our residents that has kept us healthy, Robin says. Our resident can’t tear off their masks the minute they walk in their front door, can’t let their guard down. Not when they share their front door with dozens of other people. Our success depends on strict adherence to safety measures and we’re so grateful to staff and residents for taking the situation seriously.

Number two: thank you! “Since this whole thing started, people have just been showering us with love and support,” Robin says. “You hear people say, ‘We’re all in this together.’ I get to live it every day.”

Number three: the virus has changed how we deliver services, but it hasn’t changed our commitment to serve.

County guidelines mean that we have fewer residents, but we continue to serve anyone who’s outside who needs a meal or a shower. Our outreach workers are building relationships with those who are camping in the southern end of our county and, when the fit is right, referring outreach clients to stay at SSU’s temporary housing program. They drive people to treatment and help with medical appointments and planning for the future.

Those in the shelter continue to meet with case managers, continue to do community service, continue to find housing. We even have recovery meetings that happen across a 12-foot expanse in the dining room. “It’s anonymous, but it is loud,” Robin says.

We’re also taking the time to think about how we want to deliver services in the future. Stay tuned for our summer newsletter for an in-depth look.

Number four: “We miss our volunteers.” “We can’t wait until it’s safe enough for them to come back.”

Masked Action for COTS!

We hope you’ve heard of the Petaluma Maskateers, those tireless volunteer sewists who to date have fashioned and furnished over 2600 cloth masks to nonprofits and do-gooders in our community. Our staff and clients are wearing them. So are PPSC’s Meals on Wheel’s Drivers, PEP residents, Petaluma Health Center patients, members of the Petaluma Village Network and many more.

It takes between 30 minutes and an hour to make one mask. We’re humbled when we contemplate this massive, life-saving gift.

We’re also super grateful to Out West Garage which gave masks to customers and gave them the opportunity to donate COTS. And did those customers ever give! If we took our masks off, you’d see that we’re overcome to the point of blushing. Thanks to all who gave. And many thanks to Out West Garage, a COTS stalwart.

The masks are made out of Out West’s specialty branded bandanas. Think nuns, cowboy boots, guitars, fiddles and banjos—everything that makes the folks at the garage happy. Special shout-out to the volunteer who sewed all the masks. She wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll think of her as “M.M,” the heroic Masked Maker. Thank you, M.M!

Our board member Curt Peters and his family sewed over 90 masks for us and dropped them off on Monday. Many thanks to Curt and Catherine, their kids David, Thomas and Will, and Curt’s parents Brian and Nancy!

Mary’s Table news

It’s hot and sweaty behind that mask and she has twice as much work as she did before, but Nichole Bankson is smiling. She’ll tell you it’s because she’s helping to ensure that anyone who is hungry can get a meal that is substantial and beautifully flavored. Our residents dine in stages at the Mary Isaak Center. And anyone can come to the door and get a meal in a compostable container (many thanks to World Centric for donated containers). Check out the beautiful eggplant parmigiana over spinach and chive tagliatelle with salad and fruit that we served last week.

Miyoko’s Creamery to the rescue

Imagine eating a grilled sandwich, fully confident that no animals were harmed in its making. Then imagine a grilled cheese sandwich more delicious than any you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Thanks to Miyoko’s Creamery our diners and quite a number of our staff didn’t have to imagine. Aziza and Lyndon from Miyoko’s Creamery rolled into our parking lot on Friday and stayed all day, grilling hundreds of vegan grilled cheese sandwiches for all comers. We’re among the first to try Miyoko’s new oat-based cheeses.

Can you tell that Shelter Services Manager Robin Phoenix liked her sandwich?

Many thanks to Miyoko’s Creamery!

Zoom with us, volunteers

Volunteers, please join us for a Zoom meeting at 2 p.m. on July 2. Diana Morales will be getting you invitations. We want to hear what you’ve been up to during this shelter in place, and we want to plan for our volunteers’ eventual and safe return!

Thank you for your support. Thank you for all your messages!

We live for the notes that you send us with your donations. Here are just a few of the messages that have lifted our hearts in recent months:

“Take care and thank you for caring for others!”

“My wife and I know you can use this and want to contribute what we can in the midst of having our work drastically affected right now. We recognize we are still among the very privileged. Thank you for what you do, COTS!”

“Donation to help keep your team and residents safe.”

“In this time of stress and confusion, I hope this helps in some small way.”

About a stimulus payment forwarded to COTS: “I decided you probably had people who needed it much more than I do!”

A video of thanks from COTS CEO Chuck Fernandez, Chef Janin Harmon, and Engagement Specialist Diana Morales