In March 2021, Intesa’s long-time client, SBCS, was asked by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to lead the stand-up and day-to-day management of the San Diego Convention Center that would, in a matter of days, go from empty halls to a full-service, human-first migrant shelter. SBCS was tapped to care for thousands of traumatized, unaccompanied children who had fled to the U.S. and were in Border Patrol custody.
The project was a cultural flashpoint and local and national media were eager for access. We arranged for an initial round of interviews to highlight the leadership of SBCS Executive Director Kathie Lembo who swiftly brought in other nonprofit partner agencies to provide social services including food, health services, clothing, education, and healthy activities to the 1,450 incoming youth in a safe, secure environment.
However, it wasn’t until the the shelter closed at the end of June, that Intesa was able to help tell the full story of the shelter in a thoughtful and strategic way. We pitched the story to Kate Morrisey, the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s lead immigration reporter, which resulted in Intesa:
- Identifying and preparing a cross-section of service providers from the project;
- Arranging and facilitating 19 in-person and virtual interviews; and,
- Conducting 19 media training sessions and staffing the interviewees during their conversations with Kate.
After several weeks, the San Diego Union-Tribune ran the story in the Sunday edition on the front page, comprising 90 column inches and nearly 3,000 words. “What it was like working with migrant children inside the San Diego Convention Center,” featured the historic partnerships that resulted in the successful care of 3,213 children and led to 2,408 family reunifications. Highlights include:
During such a difficult time for the children, their deep trauma often rose to the surface as they found refuge at the shelter. We could all see and feel the emotions that came with these children as a result of leaving their countries and being in a totally foreign place.
“The first trauma is they have to leave their home. And their journey for most of them was very traumatic, and then their time in Border Patrol custody was traumatic,” SBCS Executive Director Kathie Lembo said. “That was something you had to realize right away.”
With emotions running high, our agency staff and volunteers did everything in their power to ensure that these children felt comfortable and safe.
“Leslie Lopez Moreno of MAAC recalled multiple girls having panic attacks overnight in the pod she was assigned to during her first shift.
When one Honduran teen told her how much she missed goodnight kisses and being tucked into bed back home, Lopez Moreno began individually tucking in each child in her 50-bed pod each night, while being careful to observe the project’s rules about not touching the children.” – Kate Morrissey, San Diego Union-Tribune
To continue the momentum, Intesa also helped coordinate five op-eds for the San Diego Union-Tribune that were penned by nonprofits who provided services to the children at the Convention Center, including one written by SBCS. They all ran in the paper on July 16, 2021, giving readers further insight into how the organizations were able to work together for the benefit of the children and their families, helping create a brighter future.
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