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Learn About Who We Are

Project History

We Belong is a collaborative research project based at UC Santa Cruz that grew from several on-going campus-community programs: the Community-based Action Research and Advocacy (CARA) Program, directed by Dr. Leslie Lopez, and No Place Like Home, co-led by Prof. Steve McKay. Both programs involve and train undergraduate researchers, as well as have long-term partnerships with community organizations. Our key partners are leading anti-poverty groups who work closely with local immigrant communities and include the Community Action Board/Thriving Immigrants Collaborative, Community Bridges, and United Way/Jovenes Sanos. They identified a clear need for better research on the experiences of immigrant families in order to improve their services and support advocacy efforts. They also expressed an urgency for better data in light of changing national immigration policies and fear among immigrant communities. 


– Produce and share new data on the experiences and critical needs of immigrant communities

– Elevate immigrant voices

– Inform and articulate a county-wide action and policy agenda for inclusivity and justice

– Strengthen existing networks and coalitions on and off campus

– Train and involve undergraduate students and local youth to engage with the community and build research skills.

– Provide immigrant families with information on their rights and available resources and services

Our Coalition

UCSC Campus Teams

Co-Principle Investigators

Steve McKay

Leslie Lopez

Graduate Student Researchers and Coordinators

Karina Ruiz

Latin American and Latino Studies

Web Development

    • Marla Hernandez, Sociology
    • Tayler Olson, Sociology
    • Alejandro Ruelas-Mora, Intensive Psychology & Sociology w/ a Concentration in GISES
    • Sophie Shaw, Sociology & Legal Studies

Data Analysis

  • Marlen Reyes, Sociology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies
  • Karla Santiago-Reyes, Sociology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies


  • Shayda Hami, Sociology & Latin American and Latino Studies
  • Janetzi Juarez, Education & Legal Studies
  • Anakaren Quintero Davalos, Psychology
  • Danae Yepez Grageola, Sociology & Latin American and Latino Studies

Project Partners

Thriving Immigrants Collaborative is an alliance of organizations under the leadership of Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County (CAB), that provide direct services and advocate for a community where immigrants are truly welcomed and supported to thrive. TIC’s vision describes a united, thriving, and equitable community built on our diversity and shared history of migration. Their main mission is to enhance the quality of life and advance the rights of our immigrant community through advocacy, organizing and realignment of services. Through TIC members and collaboration with other community partners, services available include: family preparedness team & referral coordination, emergency referrals, Pro-Bono legal services, funding for emergency needs, and case management & crisis response. Using their values of Dignity, Justice and Equity, the goals and focus for year two of their two-year plan, include building on the advances made in year one and outlining a proposition to guide the Collaborative’s development and efforts to increase the access and improve the effectiveness of immigration services in Santa Cruz County.

The Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County is celebrating over 50 years of Community Action! CAB operates 6 programs assisting close to 10,000 low-income people with emergency, sustaining/self-sufficiency services and serves an additional 7,000+ with requests for information and referrals. Over three quarters of CAB’s clients have family incomes of less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and at least a quarter of clients have less than 150% of the Guidelines. CAB’s mission is to partner with the community to eliminate poverty and create social change through advocacy and essential services. CAB also works with networked agencies on projects, campaigns, and at its various community sites.

Jovenes SANOS is a youth advocacy and leadership program based in Watsonville, California. Since 2005, Jovenes SANOS has been striving to empower, educate, and raise awareness about public health issues, such as childhood obesity across 3 sectors: city planning, markets, and schools. Jovenes SANOS helps develop and implement policy to shift the local culture, seeking to increase opportunities for healthy and affordable eating and physical activity for young people of Watsonville and implement a long-term environmental policy and system change. Jovenes SANOS aims to grow powerful skilled young leaders working towards creating a culture of health and a thriving Watsonville community deeply rooted in equity and justice.

Community Bridges is a network of ten programs throughout the county that offers essential services and support to low-income families. All ten of their programs are deemed essential services and continue to operate in serving vulnerable populations. Their mission is to deliver essential services, provide equitable access to resources, and advocate for health and dignity across every stage of life. Community Bridges’ programs give community members access to transportation, healthy food, health care, and senior adult day health care. Additionally, they also offer crisis support, case management services, early education, grade school tutoring, as well as classes in breastfeeding, nutrition, parenting, and literacy.

Community Partners

The County Office of Education is in charge of Santa Cruz County school districts, that provide a wide range of student services and education programs. The Board of Education is composed of seven trustees each of whom represents a designated trustee area in the county. The primary responsibility of the Board is to evaluate, update, and adopt policies, in accordance with the law, for programs administered by the County Office of Education. The Board also provides community leadership on educational issues and advocates on behalf of students and public education at the local, state, and federal levels. It also collaborates with the elected County Superintendent of Schools so that the shared vision, mission, goals, and policies of the County Office of Education can be implemented. Dr. Faris Sabbah has served as the county deputy superintendent and is committed to partnering with districts and other organizations to create a network of support that propel our students to achieve and thrive.

CRLA is a nonprofit legal service program created to help California’s low-income individuals and communities. Their mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society. Their vision of justice coincides with seeing a rural California where all people are treated with dignity and respect, and guaranteed their fundamental rights. CRLA serves low-income families residing in over 22 California counties, and maintains specialized programs that focus on services for farmworker populations. CRLA clients also include individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, school children, LGBTQ+ populations, seniors and individuals with limited English proficiency.

CRLA provides legal services in conjunction with a series of innovative programs and special initiatives that focus on the most pressing issues facing low-income communities: housing; employment; education; workplace safety; discrimination; income maintenance and healthcare access.

The Watsonville Law Center provides free legal services to low-income individuals within California’s Central Coast. WLC focuses on supporting individuals with long-term legal impacts, such as worker’s rights, consumer rights, and access to employment. WLC works for the mixed-status community at the local level by fighting for economic justice.

The Resource Center for Nonviolence supports the community by organizing peaceful and impactful engagement strategies for local change. Social change groups and non-profit organizations work together to establish justice for all. RCNV works to empower the mixed-status youth-adult community by encouraging positive activism for real social change.

Senderos works to create successful pathways for the Latinx community of Santa Cruz County and build cross-cultural connections for everyone to participate in. Senderos empowers individuals by the different historical, cultural, and music classes they offer. Senderos strives to keep the culture alive at the local level. Being volunteer-based, all programs within Senderos are free to attend and participate in.

The Health Improvement Partnership project of Santa Cruz County is a nonprofit coalition of public and private health care leaders dedicated to increasing access to health care and building stronger local health care systems. The cornerstone of HIP’s work to improve health outcomes and access for Santa Cruz County residents who receive care through publicly-funded programs, such as Medi-Cal, and the uninsuredHIP’s Mission is rooted in improvement: of systems, quality, relationships, and access to care. They aim to create opportunities for local healthcare leaders to make our community healthier.

Sanctuary Santa Cruz was formed by and for the Santa Cruz community to support neighbors, friends, and fellow-workers who face discrimination and harassment. Sanctuary Santa Cruz unites on behalf of immigrants and refugees who are, at this time, our most vulnerable community members. SSC gives tips on dealing with ICE and knowing your individual legal rights.


Institute for Social Transformation -Sprout Grant

Division of Social Science – Building Belonging Internships 

UCSC Student Fee Advisory Committee

Monterey Peninsula Foundation