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Abba's House: New resource center provides array of bilingual social services
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Abba's House: New resource center provides array of bilingual social services

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Even before Abba’s House Resources Inc. was up and running, members of the community knew Beatriz Sanchez and the house itself quite well.

The small building on East Fesler Street already housed Abba's Auto Glass, owned by Sanchez's husband, and the name stuck when the house became the site of the nonprofit late last year.

“We decided, 'Why not keep the same name, because people are already familiar with the actual house?' So we decided to say ‘Abba’s House,’” said Sanchez, a client resources coordinator. 

Abba’s House provides nearly 20 types of professional consulting and resources in both English and Spanish related to worker compensation, domestic violence, applications for supplemental security income, passports and visas, unemployment and more.

The name means “father’s house,” although many people refer to it as “the little house.”

“People come in, and they don’t even know my name, they just say, ‘I’m looking for the woman in the little house!’” Sanchez said with a smile.

Currently, coordinators at Abba’s House collect whatever resources or money they can to assist clients in desperate situations, calling on community connections, pharmaceutical companies to discuss medications and district attorneys to assist with legal cases.

The nonprofit's goal is to obtain more funds to assist clients more fully, and coordinators have been applying for community grants to this end.  

“We want to be able to empower and educate and provide those services to anybody that has a special need,” Sanchez said. “There are people from all walks of life.”

Sanchez and her fellow client resources coordinator, Art Alvarez, met at Santa Barbara Catholic Charities, where they worked in social security and medical social work, respectively. Sanchez left due to illness in 2017, and started working in the office of her husband’s auto glass shop. It was there that past clients began seeking her out for assistance. 

She began to discuss the idea of running a nonprofit out of the office with the owners of the house, Joseph and Mary Jane Humphrey, who also worked at Catholic Charities in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria for 24 years.

“[Sanchez] started talking to people about their problems, and she kind of started it up. Since I was the owner of the place, I said, 'What can I do,' 'How can I help?'” Joseph Humphrey said. “I’m in and out of there every day to see what I can do. We make a pretty good team. Whatever needs to get done we sit down and we get it done.”

Alvarez came on board in December after leaving Catholic Charities last year, shortly after Abba’s House was officially inaugurated in October.

Just as with Sanchez, Alvarez’s past clients who had sought help with social security and immigration inquiries began coming to see him at Abba’s House and telling other community members about him and Sanchez.

“We’re here to meet the words in our motto, which are, ‘We’re here to serve,’ and we’re all on board with that statement,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said at Abba’s House, he and Sanchez are able to work with clients in a way they couldn't at Catholic Charities, where the doors closed after business hours were over. He said although it’s just the two of them, they are able to go beyond what other social work agencies provide, staying with clients late into the evening or meeting with them on weekends.

Despite the young nonprofit’s low funds, they still find ways to provide for clients.

Sanchez described one family with a 3-year-old son who was dying of surgery complications following a terminal illness and was sleeping on the floor of their house because the family did not have a bed for him.

Sanchez said she was horrified that none of the social workers who had visited the family before had provided a hospital bed, and she coordinated for a mattress to be brought to the family.

“That just broke my heart,” she said. “The posture of that child on the mattress when we laid him on it, I can’t tell you how his little face just changed. It was unbelievable.”

After his death a few days later, Sanchez said she called the consulate of the family’s home country and obtained several hundred dollars to be used to hold a funeral for the child.

The work at the new resource center is not easy, especially with only two people meeting so many different needs with little funding, but Humphrey said if there's anyone who can do it, it's Sanchez and Alvarez. 

“The need is here, it’s overflowing,” Joseph Humphrey said. “Those two put their hearts and souls into it. They’re the best team I’ve ever seen.”

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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