CONCORD -- Cristina Guerrero has just gotten a leg up, a healthy dose of confidence and a hope for a future that doesn't mean moving from one entry-level job to the next.

The Martinez resident is among 353 graduating students, having just completed a series of technology classes at Concord's Michael Chavez Center for Economic Opportunity, while working the graveyard shift at a local mega mart, and is on her way to more gainful employment.

"They have opened a lot of doors for me; what they think I can do," says Guerrero, noting her new part-time jobs teaching a computer class to Spanish-speaking, low-income seniors and working as a receptionist there.

The center and the Monument Community Partnership are wrapping up a $70,000 In Unity There Is Strength fundraising campaign to support such programs.

Guerrero is among the many clients who have given something back through any monetary donations that they can afford.

"This (fundraiser) is necessary to complete our (fiscal) year in the black. Our second goal was to raise community awareness for long-term sustainability," says development director Judith Parker of their largest campaign to date.

The campaign caught the eye of a donor at the East Bay Community Foundation, who has agreed to match dollar for dollar contributions up to $35,000.

At press time, the center needed to raise $10,000 by Dec. 31 of this year to meet its goal.

The Oakland-based foundation, established more than 85 years ago, has long had the focus of helping the disadvantaged overcome various obstacles in securing financial and employment stability, and Diane Sanchez, the foundation's director of community investment, could resoundingly recommend the Chavez Center's efforts.

"The center does great work with populations with high needs," Sanchez says. "They're helping to make families more stable ... and that makes a more sustainable, prosperous community."

Along with its technology courses, the center also provides classes in career development, nutrition and exercise. Low-income youth receive tutoring and mentoring. There are annual health screenings and its day labor program offers vocational training.

"At the heart of everything we do is to empower people to be economically self-sufficient, healthy and safe," says Parker. "Among the many barriers that immigrants face is technology, or it's the simple act of applying for a job, accessing forms, or creating a resume ... Here they gain self-confidence and come to believe they can do something."

matching pledge
An anonymous donor with the East Bay Community Foundation pledged to match dollar for dollar up to $35,000 for the Michael Chavez Center and Monument Community Partnership's In Unity There is Strength fundraising campaign. Deadline is Dec. 31, for the fundraising drive which supports the groups' training and education programs. For more information, visit www.chavezcenter.org.