"One, two, three!"
On that count, about 100 people -- laborers, City Council members, school officials and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce -- simultaneously tugged segments of the long cloth ribbon which stretched around the side of the squat building. A cry went up as the knots in the sash were undone, signifying the grand opening of the Mountain View Day Worker Center on Nov. 18.
After 14 years of bouncing from one temporary location to the next, the center finally has its own home. Located at 113 Escuela Ave., it will serve multiple roles.
It is first and foremost it is a community center of sorts, where day laborers can congregate in the morning and wait to be hired for odd jobs.
The center provides laborers with coffee in the mornings and meals throughout the day. Laborers are recruited each day to prepare breakfast, lunch and an early dinner. Food is donated, bought with donated money or obtained through contributions from the laborers themselves. English classes, taught by volunteers, are held regularly throughout the week. Each Tuesday, a mobile medical unit visits the center to help keep the workers healthy.
The idea is not only to keep day laborers from loitering in parking lots and on city sidewalks -- it is meant to build camaraderie and a sense of community.
In that spirit, the Day Worker Center is one of seven local charitable organizations that will receive donations from the [I Voice's annual Holiday Fund drive. Contributions from readers and local foundations will help support the Day Worker Center's mission of matching community members with skilled laborers, while helping the laborers -- many of whom are first-generation Latin American immigrants -- integrate.
"It's like our house," Pablo Juarez, a day worker, said of the center.
Juarez can speak English in part due to the Day Worker Center's classes. Before he found out about the Day Worker Center, Juarez used to stand out on the street and hope for work. "When I come here, I feel much better," he said.
Juarez and his fellow day worker Freddy Castro said the city's approval of the Day Worker Center is reassuring to them.
"We are welcome to be here," Castro said.
"The community spoke very loud about their support for us," Maria Marroquin, executive director of the Day Worker Center, said. "We provide a really crucial service to the community."
The 300 or so people in attendance at the grand opening seemed to second Marroquin's assertion.
Those who come to the center to hire help can be sure the men and women they are paying are honest and hard working, Marroquin said.
In order to become a member of the Day Worker Center, laborers must fulfill certain requirements. If they are non-English speakers, they are required to take English classes regularly. The center also has one volunteer dedicated to conducting follow-ups with people who have hired workers from the center. If the evaluator receives complaints about a worker, that worker may lose his or her membership.
Marroquin said about 80 to 100 laborers use the center every day and provide a wide variety of services to the community, including painting, landscaping, carpentry, plumbing, housework and catering.
The building that houses the center, along with its adjoining parking lot, were all obtained through donations and community fundraising -- totaling about $1 million in all. Marroquin said she hopes the community will continue to support the Day Worker Center and the services it provides.
"We're trying to help people," she said. "People make the community. If you help the center you are helping the community."