Our Stories

Many Mansions has many wonderful supporters that contribute their time, energy, and hearts to our mission. They support our efforts to break the cycle of poverty in Ventura County, and we could not succeed without their help.

The following are a few stories about Many Mansions which have been compiled from the residents of Many Mansions’, current and former staff, supporters and community partners. Heartfelt, heartwarming and sometimes humorous, these stories give a true picture of what it is like to be homeless, housed, to fail, to recover, to be part of a community.

We would like to share their stories with you!

The Children’s Garden
Allan Friedman

I became connected to Many Mansions because of my wife, Lois. She volunteered at Many Mansions for many years because helping young children was a special love she possessed. Lois would come home excited to tell me that a particular child had improved her reading skills after a great deal of hard work and struggle. After each happy story she would become tearful, telling me that the children she had become so attached to had so little positives in their lives and needed so much. She helped them learn, but more importantly Lois gave them warm caring love.

The Lois Friedman Children’s Garden is now a place of beauty, hope, and joy – everything she brought to the Many Mansions children during her time with them. The garden is a beloved and special place, and plays host to ice cream socials, play dates, summer camp fun, and community projects.

 St. Jude Watching Over Us
Susan Cass

Many Mansions has provided the parishioners of St. Jude Catholic Community with many opportunities to live out their faith. Two St. Jude groups in particular have had a special bond with Many Mansions and its residents: Loaves and Fishes and Just Action.

The mission of the Loaves and Fishes ministry is to serve the working poor and the homeless in our community—from infants to the elderly, regardless of circumstances. We do this by providing items necessary to lift the burdens of everyday life. We have had a growing relationship with Many Mansions over the past fourteen years when we started donating backpacks and school supplies for their young residents. As we learned about more of their needs, we began to provide diapers, cleaning supplies, paper goods and toys for Christmas. In recent years we have provided refurbished bikes for kids and also for adults in need of transportation. We also provided monthly sandwiches to senior residents. Over the years, Loaves and Fishes has assembled many ‘move-in’ baskets for new residents to welcome them and to cover their basic needs. Through the generosity of St. Jude parishioners and with the help of grants from Ventura County Community Foundation, we also have provided new beds and gently used furniture for residents.

It’s an honor to be able to reach out in these ways, and when our volunteers have personal interactions with recipients, they are humbled by the gratitude they receive. In the Catholic faith, St. Jude is the patron saint for “the hopeless and despaired.” A number of the Many Mansions’ residents have had times in their lives when they have felt hopeless and in despair. We hope that together, Many Mansions and St. Jude and its parishioners, we have been able to answer some their prayers.

How Many Mansions Got Its Name…And What It Means
Sara Clock

The idea of providing a home to someone is far more than material. I started at Many Mansions as a volunteer knowing very little about the depth and breadth of services Many Mansions provides to its residents. Working at our main office since 2009, I now realize that giving stability, hope, and a sense of belonging to any person is a community effort.

It’s our volunteers who share their broken hearts with me when they receive a disheartening phone call.

It’s the kids who come in with pure joy to deliver the Christmas gifts and back to school supplies they picked out for our resident children.

It’s attending a former resident’s funeral and realizing these residents have built a network of support for one another in ways we as staff are unable to.

It’s is sharing resources with another local non-profit to try to find emergency shelter for a woman who just left her abusive husband.

It’s the people who call or come in to advocate for their loved ones, or even someone they just met.

It’s having lunch with a case manager and hearing the pride and respect in her voice while talking about a resident who just landed an impressive job or overcame an obstacle.

That kind of support and care is worth more than any mansion I have seen. The Many Mansions community at large challenges me to do my best in playing a small role in preparing a place for someone. If a place has been prepared for you, how can you help prepare a place for someone else?

Canice & the Stoll House Children
Canice Gordon

In 1994 Many Mansions hired me to answer phones. At that time Many Mansions had two apartments, and we were a total of five in the office.

By the winter of 1999 they asked me to be an assistant manager at Stoll House. This was something I had to think about. I agreed to do so never knowing how much this decision would change my life.

On January 25th, 2000 I received a call from Congressman Elton Gallegly’s office asking if I could possibly assist a woman and her two children who were homeless. Later that night, a tall striking woman arrived in my office with a Russian translator. She told me her story—her story of how she met her husband as a mail order bride, how he brought her and her children to the United States, and how he soon started physically abusing them. They were now homeless and in desperate need of housing. Surprisingly, Stoll House just had a unit become vacant. The next day Marianna and her two children, Andrew and Natasha, moved in.

Marianna was what we would call a Stoll House success. She met regularly with her Many Mansions case manager, Mary MacLeod. She diligently followed all the program rules. She attained a job within days, opened up a savings account, and purchased a car. The children were doing well in their new schools.

Curiously, on August 24th of that year Marianna asked Mary and me; “What would happen to my children if something happened to me?” Mary and I told her she was doing great and that she had a bright future ahead of her. Again she repeated the question and I answered, “We would never let something bad happen to your children”.

The next day, August 25th, was a normal day at Stoll House. At that time my fiancé (Jon) was living with me at Stoll House. As we were returning to Stoll House from grabbing a bite to eat, we saw Marianna, the children, and a friend. They were leaving to see the lights at the Ventura Pier and they invited us to join them. I told them to have fun and that we would see them later.

An hour later we received a phone call, “This is Los Robles Hospital. There’s been an accident. Your number was given. Can you come to the hospital?”

We rushed to the hospital with a sinking feeling. We quickly were taken to see the children. They were being examined — Andrew for neck injuries and Natasha with a horrible black eye. I went to the hallway where I saw the paramedics and nurse and asked where I could see Marianna. They looked at each other and then proceeded to tell me that Marianna had been pronounced dead at the scene. The friend was in emergency surgery.

I felt my knees shake and I don’t remember all my actions. I remember calling Mary and Dan Hardy, the Executive Director. I remember crying and saying, “I don’t remember this being part of my job description.”

The children had not been told about their mother. Later that night they were told. Andrew, at only 14, was so brave. He looked at everyone and said, “I don’t know how we will pay for this and what is to happen to my sister and me.” Natasha, who was only 10, cried out for her mother and collapsed in my fiancé’s arms.

The next few days went by quickly. I was granted guardianship over the children. I was scared that I just didn’t have the skills to be a parent. The Many Mansions staff and Board all rallied together to assist the children in whatever they needed. Most of all, the residents of Stoll House were there every day making sure the children had support and the small little complex became a family.

Two weeks later I became pregnant! This was surprising since I had been told that I couldn’t have children. It was after Randy’s arrival that we all decided to move to Arizona and give the children a new start away from all these sad reminders.

The children grew up! They graduated from college, are happily married, and are working in the medical (Andrew) and dental (Natasha) fields.

A Many Mansions I learned about unconditional love. I not only was allowed to help others be a family, I was given the gift of being a mother. Thank you.

Ripples of Hope
Kitty Soltow

I was told once that teaching was like dropping a stone in a pond: you never know how far the ripples will travel. This thought had been my inspiration during my thirty-eight year career as an elementary school teacher. Now retired, I was blessed to be invited to join the Many Mansions Vicky’s Fund Scholarship Committee. Knowing the value of education, I was eager to help give Many Mansions’ residents the encouragement they need to pursue their educational goals through the awarding of these scholarships. Little did I know how deeply I would be touched by the experience.

As part of the application process for receiving a scholarship the committee members chose to include an interview requirement. Each applicant was interviewed by at least two committee members. This opportunity to meet so many residents of Many Mansions and hear their stories has been one of the blessings in my life.

I have met bright, eager young people just starting their college educations, and hard working mothers and fathers hoping to get GEDs or acquire degrees that will lead to better jobs. I have met adults both young and old pursuing their goals despite physical or mental-health challenges. Many applicants have grown up participating in programs such as Homework Tutoring Club and Camp Many Mansions. Some are new residents of Many Mansions, so grateful to have a new, safe home. All applicants have shared how living in a Many Mansions’ apartment has made a difference in their lives. They are thankful for their homes and the many programs and people who have been there to help and encourage them. I have shared tears and hugs with so many special people. My part in the work of Many Mansions has been small, but I am so proud of what Many Mansions means to the lives of so many.

As I sat next to a young man who had just received his scholarship award at this year’s scholarship luncheon, I was shown how important this scholarship can be. I had just introduced him and told the audience a small portion of his story; how, despite the challenge of disability, with the support and encouragement of his Many Mansions case worker, he had set goals for himself and was now ready to attend adult education classes. He received his certificate, shook many hands and sat down. He stared at his certificate and turned to me and said, “This is so cool.” I was able to say in return, “It sure is. You earned it. You deserve it.” I hear that that certificate is now framed and hanging in his apartment. I hope he is successful in his classes.

Many Mansions drops the stone in the pond by providing so many in our community a safe, affordable home along with supportive services and programs. But more importantly the message is given that everyone deserves not only a home but a chance for a better future. We will never know how far those ripples of hope will travel.