The Central Valley Empowerment Alliance (CVEA) was established as a nonprofit in 2019 and serves residents who live in Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, and Madera counties by promoting access to affordable housing, quality education, food, and health care, as well as creating civic engagement and leadership development opportunities.
For nearly four years the organization operated without a physical location, often holding meetings in local resident’s homes, fields, and cars. Rooted in the Central Valley and as the only service provider in the Poplar region, Mari knew the organization needed a physical location where people could receive support. CVEA approached the City of Poplar to negotiate a lease for a vacant city-owned building, which they successfully secured. Located on Road 192, the building is one of the oldest in Poplar and is next door to Adam’s Market, a full-service grocery store that houses a bakery, meat market, hair salon, and taqueria.
On October 24, 2021, CVEA held a grand opening of the Larry Itliong Resource Center, named in honor of the Filipino farmworker who led the 1965 Grape Strike and co-founded the United Farm Workers. The event took place just months after an electrical fire devastated Adam’s Market, the businesses, and the resource center’s garage. After voluntarily running CVEA for six years, the fire prompted Mari to quit her job and start operating the nonprofit full-time. “In a small town such as Poplar, a fire like that has a huge impact on the community. There was so much that needed to be done to support people in recovering from the fire,” said Mari.
Unable to access federal, state, or county financial aid, the business owners and CVEA partnered to fundraise for housing assistance and building repairs. CVEA applied for and received an $80,000 predevelopment grant from California FreshWorks, a fund administered by Community Vision. “The FreshWorks grant helped us achieve what others said was impossible– to clean the fire debris and have the property ready for the grand opening of the Larry Itliong Center,” said Mari. The grant supported clean up and a redevelopment process for the market, as Mr. Muthana is committed to bringing back the businesses located on the parcel. He has future plans to expand the property from 2,800 to 3,500 square feet in order to incubate more businesses in the future, including a laundromat.