Safe Place welcomes Clovis WIC location as sanctuary for youth

Fresno EOC WIC Program Director Jack Lazzarini (center) unveils the Safe Place sign during a dedication ceremony with colleagues by his side to designate the Clovis WIC location as a sanctuary to help any youth in crisis. Placed outside of designated Safe Place sites, the black and yellow sign lets kids know that they can come inside and receive help. (Daniel Leon/Clovis Roundup)

Youth in Clovis who face abuse, neglect, bullying, serious family struggles, homelessness and other forms of crisis now have a new safe haven to turn to.

On Wednesday morning, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) designated its Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program location on Shaw and Willow avenues as Fresno County’s newest Safe Place site.

“Fresno EOC has five sites and what we did is we took one of our nearby sites and relocated over here so we would have a bigger presence to better serve the community in Clovis,” said Jack Lazzarini, Program Director of Fresno EOC WIC. “We feel it’s extremely important that children know where they can go to be safe. In that time of need, we want them to be familiar with where they can go to obtain support.”

As a youth outreach program that has been run by Fresno EOC Sanctuary and Youth Services for 21 years, Safe Place offers immediate help to any youth in crisis. As youth enter a designated Safe Place location and ask for help, trained volunteers connect them to appropriate assistance.

Safe Place locations extend the doors of the Fresno EOC Sanctuary Youth Shelter, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“When any youth in crisis sees the [black and yellow Safe Place] sign at any of the 300 sites, they know that they can find volunteers and staff trained on what to do when they see a kid in need. It’s an immediate call for help,” said Michelle Tutunjian, Director of Sanctuary and Youth Services at Fresno EOC. “We operate a 24-hour shelter in downtown Fresno where we help runaway and homeless youth access shelter and support of services. By having Clovis WIC as one of our newest sites, we will be up to 305 Safe Place sites throughout Fresno County.”

The dedication makes WIC the third Safe Place site in Clovis. Other Safe Place options are the Boys & Girls Club at 2833 Helm Ave. and the Clovis Transit System, which designated its entire fleet of 30 buses as mobile Safe Place sites.

Joe Martinez, Outreach Manager and Safe Place Coordinator at Fresno EOC, says WIC is a great location for a Safe Place site because it is open every day, and very much a youth-friendly location. By “youth-friendly location, Martinez refers to the the murals of trees, mountains, farmland, animals and hot air balloons that cover the walls at WIC, making it a warm and welcoming environment.

The dedication ceremony was in conjunction with National Safe Place Week, which runs from March 18-24.

“This week has been designated across the nation to bring attention and awareness to our runaway, homeless and street youth population,” said Joe Martinez, Outreach Manager and Safe Place Coordinator at Fresno EOC. “This annual week highlight our local businesses, our volunteers who provide immediate help and safety. That’s really what Safe Place is all about – giving our youth in crisis a place to turn to should they need help.”