David Fernandez, Transformation Project Director, and Freeda Rawson, Associate Director of Resident Services at Mercy Housing California

Change-Makers: Meet Mercy Housing California’s Leadership Team at Sunnydale

Mercy Housing California’s Leaders at Sunnydale HOPE SF Drive Big Changes Rooted in Community 

Standing on the steps of Sunnydale’s old, worn-down youth center, Freeda Rawson, Associate Director of Resident Services, and David Fernandez, Transformation Project Director, can’t help but envision what will soon take its place. When Mercy Housing California completes construction of the 35,000 square foot Hub in 2024, the dreams of hundreds of Visitacion Valley-area residents will finally come alive.

Perhaps no one understands how much progress has been made — and how impactful the next phase of the transformation will be — better than David and Freeda. The two have worked together for the better part of a decade to craft and implement a comprehensive revitalization plan with community engagement at its heart.

“The programming at the Hub is designed to bring the community together,” said Freeda. “We’ll have cooking classes, exercises classes, poetry slams, and art.”

“What we’re trying to do at the Hub is address each residents’ mind, body, and soul,” added David. “It’s not just for Sunnydale; it’s for the whole Visitacion Valley area.”

Though they share a vision for the community’s future, David and Freeda bring different backgrounds and experiences to their work at Sunnydale HOPE SF. David grew up in San Francisco’s public housing communities, then went on to spend two decades in corporate America, developing a reputation as a change agent at large national firms. When he learned of Mercy Housing’s work at Sunnydale, the stories struck a chord. “I grew up with a single mom and dealt with all the issues our residents are facing today,” said David. “I realized I had a chance to give back.”

Freeda hails from Boston and was managing homelessness services grants for the State of Rhode Island when she came across a news article about Sunnydale. “When I started my professional career, I determined that I wouldn’t work to line the pockets of one person or board, but that I would work to uplift people,” Freeda reflected. “My mother ran a shelter out of our home, so I had experience working with people who are marginalized.” In 2015, she moved across the country to advance resident engagement efforts at Sunnydale HOPE SF with Mercy Housing.

Since that time, David and Freeda have hosted dozens of community meetings to engage residents on such topics as future Hub programming, house rules for new residences, and how to fill the new neighborhood retail spaces with businesses that meet residents’ needs. Throughout it all, prioritizing the agency and autonomy of residents has been their guiding light.

“Sunnydale is really unique,” said Freeda. “Although people have been impoverished and marginalized, they’re very resilient, smart, and capable. They come together to support each other. When you sit down and hear their stories, it’s like gold.”