In a big old house on a quiet street in Oakland, a Christmas tree glistens with tinsel in a hallway corner while upstairs little feet pound the hallways. Someone picks out a song on a piano. Dishes clatter in the soapy kitchen sink.
This is a home like any other. Yet it’s not. This is Oakland Elizabeth House, refuge for 10 women and their children who are transitioning from the toughest of circumstances — homelessness, violence, addiction, and poverty — to the future: education, new skills, and fulfilled dreams.
Soon more activity is added to the house — vacuuming, painting, and laughter. Two dozen Kaiser Permanente employees are spending the day with the nonprofit HandsOn Bay Area to organize, clean, and paint rooms. They’ll even put away that Christmas tree for the year. It’s MLK Day, time for helping one another and making a fresh start together.
9,000 Hours of Help
Across Northern California on Jan. 15, more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered 9,000-plus hours at 22 work sites.
This year marked the organization’s 14th Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service — a “day on” in which employees and physicians sign up at kpcares.org to volunteer at a pre-arranged work site.
While volunteer opportunities ranged from a food bank in Sacramento to a community garden in Santa Cruz, the one commonality was an extra focus on homelessness this year.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s most recent Homeless Assessment Report, 36 percent of America’s chronically homeless reside in California, and of these people 86.6 percent were unsheltered.
In one of its big projects for MLK Day, some Kaiser Permanente employees put together hygiene kits that were given for distribution to homeless outreach organizations, according to Curshanda Cusseaux Woods, Northern California Community Relations manager. She added, “Our goal is simple — to get employees involved, even if they can’t get away from the office, and to maximize the impact to the community.”
Sometimes it’s not just shelter that people want, but a place to love and call home.
At Elizabeth House, one of the residents played hide and seek with her young daughter and a playmate. The pair have been there one year and have another to go before they’ll be ready to live independently.
“I’m always grateful when the community can come and help out. Today they’re painting my room from a smoky gray to a lavender. I peeked in. It looks really bright and good,” she said.
‘Every Person Matters’
“Giving back to our communities is core to our values,” said Janet Liang, president of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, to Elizabeth House volunteers that morning. “It was an amazing day, surrounded by the generous spirit and capable hands of the people of Kaiser Permanente. We not only take care of our members, but we invest in the communities in which we live and work.”
Richard Isaacs, MD, CEO and executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, said, “I am extremely proud of the physicians and staff of Kaiser Permanente, whose commitment to health and volunteerism helps to serve and to improve the overall health and well-being of our communities — on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and throughout the year.”
The Kaiser Permanente executives’ sentiments were supported throughout the day as employees transformed rooms throughout Elizabeth House.
“I’m always looking for ways to get involved in the community,” said Amy Penning, who works in IT at Kaiser Permanente and brought 2 close friends to clean and organize. “This cause spoke to me. The idea of coming out and helping other women is empowering.”
At day’s end, Elizabeth House had a newly organized donations room, freshly painted rooms upstairs and down, and even some newly assembled furniture.
“In the true spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the people of Kaiser Permanente tackled important work to benefit our community,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO, who stopped by to visit employees and residents. “Every person in Oakland matters, so I’m glad we could help support Elizabeth House’s great work.”
View more Kaiser Permanente Northern California volunteers in action on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a short Twitter video.