Maria Sotelo’s daughters pictured here: Left: Yuriana 8th grade; Right: Jacqueline 12th grade. Jacqueline is planning to attend Cabrillo College after high school graduation to become a dental hygienist. “Ever since the pandemic hit, my daughters have been asked to do most of their schoolwork on their computers. Having internet access has made it so convenient for my kids to complete their homework at home.” -Maria Sotelo.

In January of this year, Cruzio Internet and Pajaro Valley Shelter Services (PVSS) partnered to bring internet connections to local families transitioning out of homelessness. This is the latest community partnership and infrastructure project funded by Equal Access Santa Cruz County, an initiative to close the digital divide in our region.

Pajaro Valley Shelter Services is a non-profit with a mission to help families experiencing homelessness transition into self-sufficiency and stable housing. At any given time, PVSS has up to 130 individuals – children and adults – residing in its shelter and housing programs and serves over 215 individuals annually. Homelessness is an issue pervasive in Santa Cruz County. As of the last count in 2019, there were over 2,000 estimated homeless individuals in the County, and that number has only seemed to increase since then. The pandemic was of no help. PVSS reports that the pandemic disproportionately impacted the predominantly Latinx, extremely low-income families that PVSS serves. In April 2020, a month into the pandemic, 57% of PVSS families lost their employment due to shutdowns and business slowdowns.

The focus of Pajaro Valley Shelter Services is not on providing a roof alone, but on a multi-faceted approach to stability and thriving economically, individually, and as a family unit which all increase the likelihood of maintaining that stability for a lifetime. Among these are family strengthening courses, financial literacy training, and access to GED classes. This also means providing families with the resources and tools many of us might take for granted in our day-to-day lives, and partnerships such as those created through Equal Access can make it possible for non-profits like PVSS to provide them.

“My kids and I love having internet at home! Whenever I’m helping my kids with their homework and I don’t understand how to do something, I just quickly go online and research it. One of my goals is to purchase a home one day. Now that I have internet access, I can join workshops through Zoom that give me information on how to reach that goal, like what type of loans are out there.” – Maria del Carmen Carrillo

In fall of 2021, PVSS reached out to Cruzio Internet for a broadband solution for multiple properties housing their transitioning families. This was a perfect project for Equal Access and thanks to past Equal Access projects in the area, there was already a reliable, updated network available to connect them. Cruzio completed the infrastructure work for five locations, and in the beginning of 2022, brought 17 families online to reliable and fast internet.

“With COVID still being a problem, I have to complete my GED classes online 3 days out of the week. Now that I’m on maternity leave, I’ll be able to put more hours into my schoolwork from the comfort of my own home.” – Sugey Carrizoza

“The Equal Access project between PVSS and Cruzio has had a big and immediate impact on the lives of our families.” says Mike Johnson, Executive Director of Pajaro Valley Shelter Services. Johnson emphasizes that, prior to this project, most families could not afford broadband on their own and PVSS couldn’t afford to provide it for them.

In this age of increasing digital dependence in schools and workplaces, our families were lagging in opportunity compared to their more affluent neighbors. Now our kids can participate in everything their classmates do and their parents can connect via video conferencing with their doctors, case managers, therapists, and employers. Equal Access and connectivity improves our kids’ self-esteem as they are now on a level playing field with their peers and that leads to better success generally.
– Mike Johnson, Executive Director, PVSS

“It has made it easier for us to go to our doctors’ appointments through zoom. My son is scared of every doctor’s office, it has made it less challenging for me.” – Blanca Herera

Internet availability is not a luxury service, but a necessary tool, especially for families getting back on their feet who need all avenues available to them to access resources. As aspects of life become increasingly digital, initiatives like Equal Access are crucial in making sure our community members who are already most at risk have access to the vital resources they need. The generous donations of community members to the Equal Access fund at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County make projects like this possible.

Learn more about Equal Access plans for 2022, and find out how you can support:

About Pajaro Valley Shelter Services

Founded in 1984, Pajaro Valley Shelter Services (PVSS) has been serving the needs of families experiencing homelessness in the Pajaro Valley for nearly 40 years. After the 1989 earthquake, PVSS dramatically expanded its transitional housing inventory by acquiring 17 distressed units and renovating them for its use in housing families. Today, PVSS owns and operates 136 beds in 22 units of shelter, transitional and long-term housing. In the early years, PVSS focused mostly on helping families find a temporary safe haven. Today, PVSS’s mission has evolved to include providing families with a path toward stable, self-sufficient futures through short and longer-term housing and supportive services.

About Cruzio Internet

Founded in 1989, Cruzio is one of the largest independent internet service providers in California. We provide cutting-edge technology services for more than 9,000 households and businesses in Santa Cruz County. 100% locally owned and staffed, Cruzio has on-site technical support, local roving IT, and a welcoming storefront in downtown Santa Cruz. Cruzio is known for its friendly, hands-on customer service that caters to its diverse client population, from residents and local nonprofits to small and large businesses throughout Santa Cruz County.

About Equal Access

Equal Access is an initiative of Cruzio Internet and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County to close the digital divide and bring fast, reliable, and affordable internet to everyone in our community regardless of income level. In 2021 Equal Access raised almost $2,000,000, built out new infrastructure in underserved areas and brought nearly 700 students and their families online. Find out more about the project and how you can help at