Social Advocates for Youth marks grand opening of Dream Center for at-risk youth

The former Warrack Hospital in Santa Rosa has been transformed into a housing and career-education hub for young people between 14 and 24 years old.|

Dioselina Alcazar didn’t know what to do with her life when she graduated from Elsie Allen High School two years ago and was forced to move out on her own.

She couldn’t get a college scholarship because of her citizenship status and didn’t have a job to earn money for tuition and books.

But things changed when she discovered Santa Rosa’s new Dream Center run by the nonprofit Social Advocates for Youth, which provides housing and career training for at-risk youth.

Alcazar met with counselors and enrolled in on-site classes to prepare her to reach her goals. Eventually, she hopes to enroll in the Santa Rosa Junior College nursing program.

“I don’t know where I’d be without this place,” Alcazar said Saturday at the ceremonial grand opening of the Summerfield Road facility. “It’s awesome.”

Dream Center operators said they hope to be the starting point for many more success stories in the years ahead.

Built in the former Warrack Hospital, the center provides temporary and permanent housing for up to 63 homeless and former foster children while teaching a larger segment valuable job skills.

Since opening in late December, eight young adults have moved in with plans for a dozen more by April. By year’s end, the center will be home to 40 people, spokeswoman Caitlin Childs said.

“We’re expanding slowly so we get it right,” she said.

About 250 people ages 14 to 24 have received career training since the opening. The Sebastopol-based Ceres Community Project is running a culinary school in the old hospital’s remodeled kitchen. Students learn by cooking meals for needy people in the community.

The general public got its first taste of the facility Saturday during a grand opening celebration. Visitors toured the gleaming kitchens and cozy apartments, many marveling at the transformation.

“I’m absolutely stunned,” said Rachel Honey, a Petaluma marriage and family therapist who was visiting the center for the first time. “It was an ambitious vision and they’ve just sort of surpassed it.”

Organizers first proposed building a facility to house the county’s growing homeless youth population about four years ago.

Initial plans to place it at the mothballed Bennett Valley hospital were met with skepticism and angry opposition from neighbors who feared the worst.

But the City Council approved the project and it moved forward with large donations including the hospital itself, which was owned by Sutter Health. A lawsuit by opponents, dismissed by a lower court, remains up on appeal.

“This really is a dream come true,” Santa Rosa philanthropist Connie Codding told people huddled under umbrellas Saturday waiting to look inside. “It’s been quite a journey.”

Dream Center residents apply to get in and pay rent on a sliding scale that depends on their income. The get their own bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, and cook their own meals in another big kitchen with four refrigerators and two stoves.

They come and go as they please but must abide by house rules, including no drugs or alcohol.

A separate short-term shelter is set up in the former hospital’s remodeled intensive care unit.

“Now it’s kind of our ICU,” Childs said.

Visitors on Saturday gave the new site high marks.

“Astounding,” said Phil Swetin, a retired Santa Rosa resident and SAY volunteer, as he looked at the kitchen.

“It’s a little institutional but it’s got what you need. That’s one thing these kids didn’t have,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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