2021 USW Cares District 12 Jefferson Award Winner, Local Union 8599 Women of Steel Committee and Child Welfare Liaison Staff

USW Local Union 8599 represents the classified staff of Fontana Unified School District in Fontana, California. Three members work in the Child Welfare and Attendance Liaison department providing aid, resources, and support to students in need, and the local has small but active Women of Steel Committee that fundraises for Relay for Life and Ronald McDonald House, and volunteers to chaperone the Special Education Prom.

The Liaisons and Women of Steel Committee each carry their own weight of community service for the Local, and because of their incredible combined impact on students in need and people battling cancer, these two groups are the 2021 USW Cares District 12 Jefferson Award winner.

Child Welfare and Attendance Liaison

The Child Welfare and Attendance liaisons of Fontana Unified School District are members Connie Arambro, Lydia Wibert, and David Matuguina. They have worked throughout the pandemic to make sure students and families are safe by providing resources, shopping and making home deliveries, delivering supplies for kids to participate in distant learning, and finding resources to get utility assistance and hotel vouchers for families in distress.

“Our position is not just going to families and getting their kids get to school. We’ve been like social workers this last year. When schools were closed, our boots were on the ground, doing services for families, getting kids enrolled in school, delivering groceries, assisting with unemployment applications, being tech support for distant learning, and finding temporary housing for low-income families losing their residence,” said Matuguina.

“We are the first responders at the student level, caring for their welfare and making sure they have access to education,” said Wibert. “My first week back, three different boys lost their mothers: one from an over-dose, one from cancer, and one from an aneurism, and nobody knew; all the school knew was that they were not logging-on. So that’s when we investigate.”

The liaisons transported students and families to doctor appointments, did food deliveries every day, supported kids whose family members died, and supplied children with shoes, books, and supplies.

“While everybody was at home working remotely, we were providing to families during a pandemic. During a time of unknown, we were out on the streets helping people. Our position is much more than what the job description entails. We were providing a service beyond our normal duties at the risk of our own health and our families’,” said Matuguina.

“It all depends on the need of the family. Every day is something; we could be helping a family at 8 o’clock in the morning and it will not end until the evening. I think we go above and beyond to make sure our families and children are safe, and whatever resources they need, whatever help they need, we are there to guide them,” said Arambro.

Women of Steel Committee

The Local 8599 Women of Steel Committee has raised hundreds of dollars for cancer research through the Relay for Life and thousands of dollars through union member bus trips to the local casinos for the Ronald McDonald house. They dedicated the month of October as "Sock-tober” for the past five years for their annual sock-drive which has provided thousands of pairs of socks to the Child Welfare and Attendance Liaison which distributes them to families in the school district.

Before COVID-19, the Committee participated in and raised money for Relay For Life every year, all monies raised went to cancer research. Committee members made gift baskets and craft items for raffles, staff a tent, and collected donations.

They also fundraise for the Ronald McDonald house in Loma Linda California. The Ronald McDonald house allows families whose children are attending Loma Linda Children's hospital to stay for free to be with their child. The cost to sponsor a room is $5,000. The committee organized several bus trips to the casino over the years and is very close to being able to sponsor a room for a year. Anyone is welcome to buy a ticket; during the drive to the casino they a 50/50 raffles and play bingo to raise funds.

Most recently, the Committee collected and delivered personal care items, socks and holiday greeting cards to the Loma Linda Veterans Hospital to spread good cheer. They received donations from Aava Dental and the Fontana Foundation of Hope.

The women have dedicated the month of October as "Socktober for the past five years for their annual sock drive. They have provided Child Welfare and Attendance Liaison with thousands of pairs of socks over the years that have been distributed to school district families.

The Committee participates and sponsors the Special Education Prom every year for the Special Education Seniors. They set up, clean up, dance with students and give the kids glow sticks, glow bracelets, and light-up items to make their night special.

Josie Garo and Bertha Velazquez have served as Co-Chairs of the Committee for over ten years and have been active WOS members for over 20 years. They are both Special Education Aides who will be retiring soon, Josie this year and Bertha next year.

“We are a small group of ladies that will do anything that Josie or Bertha suggest our committee do. They have great ideas that help us get further involved in our Union and community. They push us to be better women and better members in general. They speak to us about the importance of participating in Rapid Response and Civil Rights and Human Rights. They have the passion and drive that is contagious; we all feel empowered with their drive,” said nominator, Local 8599 President, and fellow woman of steel, Dawn Dooley.

(Bertha Velasquez, Juana Sotelo, Valerie Beauregard, and Josie Garro and making masks for the 2021 Veterans Spring Project)

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