Soboba Tribal TANF Programs Expands

◆ By Mike Hiles

The Soboba Band of Luiseño received a TANF grant in 2005 and has continued to build a successful program every year. The federal- and state-funded program provides time-limited assistance to needy families. It was created by Native Americans to provide supportive services to meet the specific needs of Native American families and is designed with the flexibility to address and focus on a variety of cultural and traditional needs. The Soboba Tribal TANF Program (STTP) mission is to assist families and future generations to reach their fullest potential in securing economic stability while encouraging wellness in the family. STTP strives to provide welfare related services to all eligible Native American families who meet all STTP requirements in an equitable and fair method according to custom and tradition.

The first STTP office was opened in Riverside in 2006 and a site at the Soboba reservation opened in 2008 to provide mostly youth prevention activities and services. Earlier this month, the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation was added to its service area.

"Many steps were coordinated among the Soboba and Santa Rosa tribes and state and federal agencies to achieve the expansion of services," TANF Director Maria Aguirre-Mendoza, M.P.A., said. "The planning process started in 2015. We currently have one TANF case, four pending cases and six youth signed up for youth prevention activities from the Santa Rosa site. This is a great start."

The youth are participating in STTP's Summer Youth Academy where they are attending educational workshops, field trips, health and wellness activities and cultural events. The Santa Rosa site will be offered the same services as all other sites: cash aid, educational and employment workshops, Positive Indian Parenting classes, college and career success training, computer classes, cultural workshops and tutoring and other services tailored for tribal youth.

"Providing services to our members has always been difficult as a non-gaming tribe," said Santa Rosa's Tribal Chairman Steven Estrada. "We have been in the land-leasing business for many decades but not enough income is generated to provide services."

Estrada said there are approximately 100 residents on the reservation, including children. He lived on the reservation until he was 23. He is looking forward to his tribe's youth being able to connect with other Native youth through the Soboba and Riverside sites.

Aguirre-Mendoza, who has worked with the program since 2008 and was promoted to director in 2014, said STTP provides eligible parent(s) and/or caretaker participants with job preparation, work, education and supportive services to empower them to leave the program and become self-sufficient. As director, she oversees all TANF program logistics and operations to ensure compliance and quality programming for the Tribe and Native American community.

"I enjoy working with people and helping others," she said. "It is a pleasure and blessing to be able to work in an environment where you get the opportunity to help families in need. I am also honored to work with STTP staff who work hard every day and are dedicated to helping our clients and community."

Two staff members, a family advocate and an administrative assistant, are employed at the Santa Rosa site. Harold Arres, site manager at the Prevention Resource Center at Soboba, will also oversee the Santa Rosa site's youth programs. Angela Diaz, the TANF Riverside site manager, will oversee the adult TANF cases.

"Both site managers are currently working together and with outside organizations, such as Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc.'s Native Challenge Program, to bring additional resources and activities to the Santa Rosa Reservation to meet the needs of the community," Aguirre-Mendoza said.

All STTP participants are invited to attend the annual Back-to-School Family Day and Information Fair on August 3 at the Riverside location.

"We have invited 25-plus community organizations to provide our families with resources, information and giveaways. TANF participants will be provided with backpacks, school supplies, a student clothing allowance and shoe vouchers for their children," Aguirre-Mendoza said.

Beth Bowles works with student relations and outreach at Mt. San Jacinto College and said the school has attended the information fair every year and regularly conducts workshops at TANF sites.

"We are a great resource for TANF clients throughout the county and our district," Bowles said. "By being there, even parents see the value of MSJC's programs and career pathways and want to come back to college or realize they too can start their education/career."

Aguirre-Mendoza said STTP is a great organization that strives to keep families together by providing Tribal TANF services according to Native American custom and tradition.

"It is a blessing to work for the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians who make this program possible and who strive to give back to the Native American community," she said.

Information, www.sobobatanf.org or 951-654-5964.