Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
Issue Home
Past Issues
Pomona College Home
Related Links
·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·
Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
550 N. College Ave, Claremont, CA 91711

Online Editor: Mark Kendall

For editorial matters:
Editor: Mark Wood
Phone: (909) 621-8158
Fax: (909) 621-8203

PCM Editorial Guidelines

Contact Alumni Records for changes of address, class notes, or notice of births or deaths.
Phone: (909) 621-8635
Fax: (909) 621-8535
Email: alumni@pomona.edu
·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

One Life at a Time

For students who created Pomona Valley Low-Income Services, fighting poverty means helping individuals.

Fasting as part of a peace protest during his sophomore year, Michael Gechter ’05 was
feeling disillusioned about his ability to make a difference. While he believed the fast
for peace in Iraq had symbolic importance, it seemed to be doing very little to effect
change. “What was exciting to me was realizing that people are willing to make this big
commitment, and I was frustrated to see that go to waste,” says Gechter.

That evening, on the deck near his room in Athearn Court, Gechter expressed his
frustration to neighbor David Henderson ’05. “Being my cynical self, I was like, ‘You’re
damn right it’s not doing anything,’” Henderson says. “So we moved the conversation inside
my room, and it was right then and there that we decided, ‘Let’s do something.’”

From that decision, Pomona Valley Low-Income Services was born, a group that has, to date, helped to increase the incomes of more than 200 people living in the greater Pomona
Valley—averaging an additional $400 per month per client.

The mission of PVLIS—a volunteer organization that is now more than 30 members strong—is to help people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless to reach economic
self-sufficiency. With their “PVLIS: Case Manager” software, volunteers steer clients
toward significant resources that are available yet unknown to many who are unemployed,
homeless or struggling to make it. PVLIS caseworkers visit six meeting locations, helping
clients find employment, housing, legal assistance and the like. Although employment is
the primary aim of the group, Henderson points out, “Our commitment has been to being
holistic; to really trying to get at what is going to help this person the most.”

The software program has hundreds of questions to determine the client’s needs, whether it
is counseling, legal referrals, employment, child support or other services. If a single
man recoving from alcoholism is looking for a sober living home, for example, the program
will produce a list of sober living homes in the area, screening out ones that are for
women or people with dependents.

Pomona resident Josephine Baca has been coming to the Wheeler Computer Lab, in Claremont’s Wheeler Park, to use the PVLIS resources since last fall. The lab is a brightly decorated preschool room, used at night for computing by the City of Clare¬mont, Healthy Start and PVLIS. Baca, who is a single mother, brings her two children with her on her visits to Wheeler so they can use the computers and access the Internet to do their homework.
Caseworker Julia Ornelas ’06 has helped Baca find housing, additional work and legal
guidance for divorce procedures, as well as to build a résumé and attain tutoring for her

“They have so much help with all different kinds of resources,” Baca says. “Almost anything I ask for, it’s like, ‘Okay, I can look it up for you.’” On this visit, Baca works with caseworker Ellen Moody ’06 to find additional work hours for her job as a substitute preschool teacher. “I haven’t found anything they can’t do,” says Baca. Though the City of Claremont has its own services for dealing with homelessness and joblessness—through its partnership with the Claremont Healthy Start Program—officials are very appreciative of PVLIS’s helping hands and have offered the organization its own office space.

Gechter and Henderson, both graduating seniors, aren’t sure where they will be next year,
but both expect to continue to work on behalf of those in need. The two have already been
an active and vocal part of a contentious effort to build affordable housing units in Northwest Claremont. They also have visions of expanding and professionalizing their software so that the services PVLIS provides to people of the Inland Empire could be accessible to low-income people all across the country.

“The college, really any college, can turn into a social service—at no cost and at incredible benefit to the students and to the community,” says Henderson, who applauds the student volunteers who have “done incredible things for their clients that I would never have thought to do.”

Another PVLIS counselor, Karen Wong ’05, whose clientele consists solely of single mothers, says of the experience: “It makes me realize how sheltered I am. I’m not upper-middle class, but I’ve never lived in a situation where my family is financially unstable. I think it’s good to be exposed to the way you’ve lived and the privilege that you’ve had.”

Much as they value what they’ve accomplished with PVLIS, however, neither Gechter nor
Henderson is satisfied. “We made an agreement that we were going to end poverty,” says
Henderson. “But we haven’t done that, so we haven’t succeeded.” And if that goal seems to
be a bit of a stretch, that’s the whole point. Says Gechter: “I think that it’s important to never say ‘Okay, I’ve done enough.’”
—Allison Don ’05

For more information about PVLIS, visit the group’s Web site at www.pvlis.org.
©Copyright 2004
by Pomona College
Top of Page Pomona College Magazine • 550 N. College Ave, Claremont, CA 91711 • Contact us for editorial matters