By Cherie M. Querol Moreno
Editor at Large
COLMA, Calif. - This town has proven time and again that its heart belies its size.
Less than 2,000 people call Colma home and that's a small but satisfied population that received free cable access long before its North County neighbors and who get treated to a picnic where they get to meet and chow down with their elected officials and city workers while enjoying multigenerational, multicultural entertainment every year.
Last week residents of this valley straddling South San Francisco, Daly City and Brisbane got to share their privilege at the Colma Community Fair, the town's first public gathering focused on resource-sharing, health, service, music and fun for all ages.
From 11 am to 3 pm that sunlit Saturday, July 15, anyone from anywhere who needed information about the town and beyond got to consult with public and private providers and compliment or complain to their officials in and around Colma Community Center on Hillside Boulevard here. San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa arrived before the fair opening and struck a spirited conversation with Mayor Helen Fisicaro, who strolled in and visited each booth. The District 5 representative's chief of staff Tony Bayudan and field rep Mike Richardson soon fielded questions from visitors at their booth alongside San Mateo Human Service Agency's Cal-Fresh program, San Mateo Credit Union, HICAP Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program, Colma Police Department, Colma Historical Society, purveyors and producers of handcrafted art and jewelry, among many goodies.
For all the jokes referring to its underground population outnumbering the living, the town built by cemeteries knows how to party.
Colma Recreation Services Director Brian Dossey and coordinator Cynthia Morquecho made sure to offer treats and thrills for everyone. Coffee, doughnuts and water were offered to guests. A band named SF Rock Project filled the air with hits beloved to Baby Boomers and Millennials alike, pausing only for the two BMX acrobatic stunts by champions from near and far. Zumba and Palenga sessions took place in the Center for those craving a workout. A First Aid station stood by in case of emergency that did not happen.
But Colma knows much more than amusement.
A fortnight ago it hosted a two-hour training on intimate partner abuse in collaboration with the San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services and ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment at the very same location.
BHRS program director for Equity & Diversity Dr. Jei Africa facilitated the training initiated by Colma Council Member Joanne Del Rosario to raise awareness on and plan remedies to what U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has branded a "silent epidemic."
Participants went home with certificates of attendance and a deeper understanding of the root causes and dynamics of dating and domestic violence as well as appropriate responses and resources.
"Too often we see DV (domestic violence) on the TV and just accept it as an everyday occurrence," admitted Vice Mayor Rae Gonzalez. "We all know it happens and perhaps know the victims. With this presentation I now have (knowledge of) resources to offer."
Gonzalez expressed appreciation for learning how to address disclosures of being abused by focusing "not on the victim, not making them feel like the situation is their fault."
Photo: Image: Colma Vice Mayor Rae Gonzalez, Council Member Joanne del Rosario and Rene Malimban visit with the staff of District 5 Supervisor David Canepa. Photo by M. Z. Moreno
She heard tips to empathize rather than judge by asking what barriers may be preventing survivors from seeking help, such as fear, uncertainty, guilt, or love for the perpetrator.
"I was caught off guard ...in disbelief that in a county of 750,000, there are less than 50 beds available (20 through private nonprofit CORA, San Mateo's only DV direct service agency) to help the victims. As an elected official I feel that is something we need to work on for San Mateo County," said the mother of two. " I hope that cities throughout San Mateo County can be better partners with ALLICE (the independent private nonprofit that offers free education to prevent intimate partner and family violence). I plan on looking into this to see how Colma can be a better partner," she said.
New Council Member and veteran CPD office John Goodwin attended the training with his wife Silvia.
They had just arrived home from the training when he got to put his newfound wisdom to use.
"A neighbor texted me to say that an incident of domestic violence had just happened two houses away from her, " he told this writer. "The violence had startled her young son, as well as another neighbor down the block with small children. My neighbor called the Colma Police, who responded to deal with the incident very quickly. With the information I gained from the class, I was able to provide the number for CORA to my neighbor."
Little wonder CPD Officer Mark Francisco abruptly had to excuse himself from the workshop to respond to the 911 call.
Dossey attended the training and imparted with colleagues what he had learned.
"I thought the segment on differentiating between the root cause and the triggers was very interesting," he touched on the societal stresses often cited but do not justify IPV, which Africa emphasized is a learned behavior where the perpetrator takes power and control over the partner. "It was also sad to hear the statistic on how few accommodations there are for victims of the LGBTQ community in San Mateo County."
Once again, Colma has shown how to roll community service.