Originally published in The Mercury News.

By Chris De Benedetti

November 7, 2014

When Rey Faustino’s family settled in the Bay Area a quarter-century ago, he was an immigrant child yearning to help his parents make ends meet.

Years later, Faustino has given other families what he wanted for his own — easy-to-use information helping them find the specific social services they need.

He created One Degree, a free website that connects financially struggling people with nonprofits and charities.

“We built this for the community, and we really hope this empowers folks who are everyday working-class families,” said Faustino, 32.

Now, the San Francisco-based One Degree is expanding into Alameda County.

One Degree users can get help by going to www.1deg.org. There, they can type in their topic of need — such as health care, jobs, legal services, housing, education and more — to find the right nonprofit for them. Service-seekers who list their email addresses can receive emailed updates from the website, giving them new information on organizations and programs as they become available.

A Google search for a specific need might produce thousands of articles and websites, but little practical information, Faustino said.

One Degree simplifies that search, making it what he calls “a Yelp for social services.”

“We’ve found a lot of nonprofit websites are geared toward funders, but they lack information to help clients,” he said. “Here in Silicon Valley, we have the most innovative resources in the world, but it seems that social service groups are stuck in the last century when it comes to ease of access.”

One Degree started in San Francisco, but it expanded last month into Alameda County, partnering with the social services arm of Oakland’s Highland Hospital.

The Highland Health Advocates Program, formed to ease the burden on Highland’s social workers, now refers low-income patients to One Degree’s website.

The two organizations share the same values, said physician Dennis Hsieh, a Highland Health Advocates leader.

“(One Degree) understood the mission of helping our patients, who tend to be a little more disenfranchised and under-resourced than others,” he said. “Their goal of providing services to the community for free resonated with us.”

One Degree’s website launched two years ago, and it now has 2,000 registered members. One of them is Ethan Escobedo, a Redwood City man who uses One Degree to find health care and dental services.

Escobedo, 24, counsels teenagers and young adults raised as foster children.

“Foster youth are looking for housing once they grow up,” he said, “And I’ve been referring them to One Degree for help.”

One Degree works lean, employing three full-time workers on a budget funded by nonprofits and foundations, Faustino said.

The website’s next goal is to launch a mobile app next year that clients can download onto their smartphones, Faustino said.

“We want to revolutionize how low-income people access social services,” he said.

Edited on June 12, 2018.