Titans of Generosity
By Lou Fancher
In California, on any given day, you’ll find 58,000 young people—from all walks of life—in the foster care system, removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. For 50 years, Youth Homes, Inc. has helped severely abused and neglected foster children and adolescents recover from trauma by providing them with a safe place to heal, grow and live. Started in 1965, the nonprofit provides residential treatment programs and counseling services to youth primarily 12-17 years of age. While its goal is to reunite families, this is sometimes impossible, so the organization also focuses on ways to help kids achieve academic success, prepare for higher education, and enter the workforce.
Youth Homes serves the Contra Costa community with two crisis shelters, private foster home placement, two group homes and counseling programs aimed at finding permanent, safe homes for as many teens as possible. CEO Stuart McCullough says that by partnering with Youth Home’s mentors, staff, auxiliary, and Board of Directors, tax payer dollars have created safe homes for hundreds of foster youth. “People are beginning to fully understand the impact of multiple trauma on the psyche of a young person. Our clients are deeply hurt. The publics’ knowledge is exploding because of the military personnel with PTSD coming back from war. These kids have suffered the same type of injury,” says McCullough.
Five days a week, Trinity Center serves homeless adults and the working poor in Contra Costa County with a safe place to get off the streets, shower, do laundry, eat a meal and get referrals for housing, employment and other services. Dedicated volunteers help Executive Director Donna Columbo make the day-care facility at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church possible. Her hard work and dedication gives Colombo “tremendous joy when even one person takes a small step towards becoming self-sufficient again.”
Her latest effort: opening Walnut Creek’s first Winter Evening Shelter for 30 homeless adults at the Armory near Civic Park. Columbo says Trinity Center will pay the entire $83,000 cost of the shelter and accept full responsibility for any problems associated with residents. The doors to the “dry” shelter will be locked nightly, transportation to and from Trinity’s day center provided, and participants screened to select homeless people whose goals include finding permanent housing and employment. Columbo says she’s grateful for “the kindness and goodness of people” who have helped make it possible. “From the faith community to local government to volunteers from the general public.”
Trinity Center is also working on long-term solutions including adoption of the county’s first housing model, Zero 2016 — a proposal to replace two homes on St. Paul's Episcopal Church property with a mixed-use, 45-unit affordable housing development.
Since 1983 Loaves and Fishes has battled local hunger by serving hot lunches, five days a week, to thousands of homeless and working poor in Contra Costa County. Partnering with other local non-profits and an army of volunteers, they also give over 100 tons of groceries to the hungry each year. Their mission is simple: to provide food to people in need and nourish lives. Four million meals later, Loaves and Fishes has not lost its appetite for giving. Recently, the organization purchased property for a new multi-service center in Martinez. Executive Director David Gerson says they raised over $400,000 to purchase the building and finance the remodel, but a capital campaign goal of $40,000 for the down payment is still on his “to-do list.” The new community center serves as the Martinez dining room, houses the organization’s administrative offices and assists clients with housing, health care, education and employment support. A new culinary arts program led by Sally Van Slyke, retired owner of Wild Thyme Catering, will train foster youth and young people from the Martinez Juvenile Hall probation program in kitchen and employment skills.
Gerson says the culinary course addresses the food crisis’ underlying problem, unemployment. Confident and sure of his mission he says, “Going into the dining rooms and seeing the clients. Their dignity lifts me up. What I get from giving is work that gives me emotional comfort because I give basic help that people need.”