Coming Together to be Healthy

By Ellen Muscarella

Ellen-Muscarella-256x359I was the second Family Services staff member ever. I was responsible for getting contacts, reaching out to them, and then putting on workshops for the residents. Through these workshops, Family Services aims to pull families together and establish a community amongst residents.

One of my fondest memories is from a healthy eating on a budget workshop. We had an instructor do a cooking demonstration with greens and squash, ingredients that residents could get from our food assistance programs. While ingredients like these are often found in abundance at our programs, residents didn’t necessarily know how to cook them. The instructor led residents in cooking the vegetables in a little bit of avocado oil and various spices. She even went out of her way to make sure the spices she used were inexpensive and could be purchased at places such as the 99 Cent store or Trader Joe’s.

The best moment however was an interaction between a resident from Villa Garcia and a resident from Esseff Village. The resident from Esseff Village was on a very tight budget but wanted a blender for her food. She had difficulties chewing food because of the condition of her teeth. Overhearing this, a resident from Villa Garcia, also on a fixed income, offered to buy the other resident the small kitchen appliance so that she could cook healthy for herself.

This is what I really love most about Many Mansions–the community. I love the way residents work together and really look out for one another. Whether it’s a senior citizen buying a kitchen appliance for someone at Esseff Village, or an older teen generously watching the kids on the playground, they all really pull together.

It’s the combination of the housing and services that really makes Many Mansions what it is. Kids know that they have somewhere to go for snacks, books, and even help with homework. Adults have access to workshops that not only teach them something but also help to connect them with others.

Had it not been for that cooking workshop, those two residents would never have come together. They would have probably never met, and, even if they did, this conversation would not have resulted in them pulling together to be healthier people.

It All Started with Mediterranean and Baltic

Originally written in 2015 with 2020 updates

By Sr. Lisa Megaffin, S.N.D.

Sr-Lisa-MegaffinIt all started with Mediterranean and Baltic. Not exactly the high-rent district on the Monopoly Board. As kids, we quickly learned that hotels on those two properties didn’t really enhance one’s cash flow. On the other hand, we had to deal with the luck (or lack thereof) of the throw of the dice.

Fast forward several decades. My mother was in a nursing home in southeast Los Angeles County, and I would visit her regularly. I always took the same route from Thousand Oaks, including the Hollywood Freeway through downtown Los Angeles.

Repeatedly, I observed individuals whose luck had run out. On the east side of the freeway just past Sunset Boulevard, there were individuals whose mattress or shelter consisted of large pieces of cardboard. Even today, Googling a map of the Hollywood Freeway shows tarps attached to a chain link fence to create some privacy and a sense of home.  That type of situation would make a hotel room on Mediterranean or Baltic seem luxurious.

During these trips, I heard God calling me to greater concern for my brothers and sisters in need of housing…and hope. What I observed along the Hollywood Freeway was a direct denial of human dignity. The homeless situation was not unique to Los Angeles. (And today, in 2020, the homeless population has increased to more than 60,000 in LA and Ventura Counties.) I observed homeless people in Thousand Oaks, sleeping in bushes or creating cardboard shanties near corners of buildings, especially during the cold winter months. They were obviously down on their luck. Action someday, I thought…

Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Joe Smolarski and Dan Hardy asked me to consider joining the Many Mansions Board of Directors. Having repeatedly been touched by the situation along the Hollywood Freeway, I really didn’t feel like I had a choice. Attending the first few board meetings, I felt overwhelmed by data, acronyms, and concepts beyond by comfort zone.  But I also quickly learned that advocacy was a huge part of our mission.

I remember a hearing before Thousand Oaks’ city officials when Many Mansions was negotiating to purchase the property now known as Esseff Village. The property at that time was an older motel in need of repair – probably similar to Mediterranean or Baltic. When one official said the proposed units would be too small, an older woman appeared from the audience and stated, “Those rooms won’t be any smaller than the back of my truck.”

Sometimes, we have faced a strong current of NIMBYism. So what do we want in our neighborhoods?  Shelter made from cardboard and tarps?  People living in cars or motorhomes? In 2019, I observed a homeless individual sleeping in the front yard of a local residence on a number of nights.

Unfortunately, the need for affordable and safe housing continues to grow, with our current waiting list well beyond 1,200 “households.” (As of 2019, that list grew to more than 4,000, with a potential wait time of 10 years—and with sad hearts, the board concurred that it was necessary to close the list.)

As Many Mansions now celebrates 40 years, we have incredible potential—new communities under development in Los Angeles County, an awakened populace with regular media reports on the homeless situation, and state and national attention on this social and economic blight.

How blessed I have been to work with incredibly dedicated and compassionate individuals—staff, board, volunteers, donors, city and housing authority officials. But most importantly, I have become acquainted with our residents who were once down on their luck, but who now enrich Many Mansions – and our local community – with the dignity and pride which are rightfully theirs.

Others may think that affordable housing corresponds to Mediterranean or Baltic. To our residents, Many Mansions is Boardwalk.

Working Towards A Better Future

Written by Sheila Ferrufino.

Sheila FerrufinoThis is the story of one woman’s transformation. A woman who, with courage, hope, and housing, could completely turn her life around.

To fully grasp the magnitude of this transformation, let’s go back to the year 2014 in the state of Nebraska. This woman, who we will refer to as Erica, was experiencing a life of fear, pain, and anguish. She was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, but even worse, Erica was in a dangerously abusive relationship. Domestic violence was her daily reality. The abuse was so terrible, Erica eventually developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

She had a part-time job, but with two small children, her mental health problems, and the domestic violence, she had to stop working. Erica did not know what to do. But something inside of Erica wanted more for herself and her daughters. Erica never thought this would be her fate; she had hopes for a better future. She dreamed of getting her G.E.D. Her ultimate goal was to go to cosmetology school and have her own business in making people look beautiful.

But her dreams seemed out of reach, as she was struggling just to maintain her and her children’s survival. She had nowhere to go and no financial resources, but despite this, she had the strength and courage to take herself and her daughters out of a severely abusive environment. She became fed up and tired of fearing for the safety of herself and her two young daughters.

Erica took action. She got full custody of her daughters and a court-ordered restraining order against her abuser, the father of her daughters. She needed to escape her predicament. She had a sister in California, and so she bravely decided to take the dive and leave. She moved to California.

However, all was not well. In California, they found that her sister’s had a very small apartment with an occupancy limit that would not allow Erica and her girls to stay there for long. Erica was once more in a desperate situation; to keep her family off the streets, her and her daughters ended up moving into an inoperable, illegally parked trailer.

It had no electricity or running water. As if that were not bad enough, the trailer was scheduled to be repossessed! Erica was overwhelmed, but she was a very smart woman with a strong spirit who knew she badly needed help. She reached out to Ventura County Behavioral Health and set up mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment. The county became aware that Erica and her children were homeless, and they began referring her to housing resources.

This led to Erica being referred to Many Mansions, where she went through the intake and assessment process. Before long, Erica and her daughters were housed at the Many Mansions site, Peppertree Apartments. Finally, she had a place of her own- a safe and stable home for her and her young daughters.

Now that Erica had a home, she could focus on establishing the mental health and basic stability that her and her daughters were so in need of—and living in Supportive Housing at Many Mansions allowed her to do just that.

Erica reaped the benefits of having consistent support and program activities provided by Many Mansions Case Management, such as workshops based on recovery, parenting, community safety, financial literacy, vocational/educational preparation, health/wellness and so much more. Erica was also able to use Case Management services for her and her children’s ongoing needs like food, children’s services, goal setting, budgeting, and other basic necessities.

Erica and her girls steadily became more and more stable and strong, and soon Erica would be actively engaged in the Simi Valley Department of Recreation. This led her to getting her G.E.D. and enrolling into the Cosmetology Program at the Simi Institute for Careers and Educations. Erica studied hard in her program. She was extremely driven and determined to accomplish her goals and be a positive role-model for her daughters. She would enthusiastically and generously volunteer to cut, color, style etc. her friends’ and neighbors’ hair to build her experience.

By December of 2017, Erica graduated from the Cosmetology Program and had her heart and mind set on her big dream of becoming a state licensed cosmetologist and having her own business. She was eager to take the state licensing exam. She studied continuously for months and was nervous about taking this all-important exam. Finally, the big day of her exam arrived.

I remember seeing Erica at the grocery store right after her exam as she was participating in Many Mansions’ food assistance shopping trips that day. Erica was smiling from ear to ear, just beaming with joy. She had passed the exam. There was a palpable air of accomplishment and relief emanating from Erica, which was truly inspiring.

Erica and her family were also approved for a Section 8 voucher in 2019, and they recently secured a larger unit to have more space in another supportive housing program. This is great news as her rent will continue to be 30% of her income while upgrading to a home that will better accommodate her family, which has grown to 4 children. Erica and her family are moving on to bigger and better things!

Since entering Many Mansions, Erica has progressed and maintained a stable, successful life where her and her children are able to thrive. Erica’s story is a wonderful example of how, when there are hope and homes, lives can truly be transformed.

New Beginnings With Many Mansions

Rodney ThompsonI had never heard of affordable housing until I came to be aware of Many Mansions. Previously, I had worked in student housing and market-rate housing in various management and leasing roles. My focus primarily was on working in film and television production. I had ended my last contract job as a videographer and was having a challenging time finding my next production-related position.

Quickly, my savings drained as I continued to pay the incredibly high rental rates in Los Angeles while unemployed. I was becoming desperate and fighting the need to return home to Alabama due to a lack of income. I began to look back into property management jobs in order to obtain discounted or free housing.

During my search, I came across Many Mansions and met Eric, Holly, and Pam, the property management leadership team at the time. We had a handful of interviews. I learned what exactly affordable housing was and what it provided to those less fortunate than myself.

I was given the opportunity to join the Many Mansions family in a small role as the manager of Peppertree. In my time there, and subsequently my time in Housing Central, I grew to fall in love with this organization and the mission it represents.
However, it wasn’t until I joined the Housing Development team that I really saw the bigger picture. The vastness of the homelessness epidemic along with the dedication and effort required to realize housing opportunities for these individuals is astounding.

At some point, I forgot I wanted to work in production at all. And as that dream faded, a new one replaced it. I found my true calling working with Many Mansions.

Philanthropic Entrepreneurship

Blake Ternan

My name is Blake Ternan. I first discovered Many Mansions as a member of Boys Team Charity in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. During this time, I worked at the Many Mansions FOOD Share pantry, delivering groceries to houses and packing food in the community room at Hacienda de Feliz.

I remembered Many Mansions and this experience when I went to the Ronald Reagan Library Student Leadership Program over the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school. Here, they challenged us to find problems in our community that we might want to address. Recalling all of the underprivileged children and families I had been exposed to throughout my time with Many Mansion’s FOOD Share program, I decided to look more into Many Mansions and see how they help kids specifically.

I found that Many Mansions not only offers a Homework Club, but also school supplies for students. I firmly believe that all children should have a fair opportunity to pursue their education. Knowing that Many Mansions does a great job of helping children in our community get the school supplies that they need, I decided I wanted to fundraise for this in particular.

In order to raise money, I decided to start selling gum at school. We did a lot of customer discovery to find out which specific flavors kids on campus wanted. Then our entrepreneurship teacher, Mr. Brandon, gave me twenty dollars of seed money that we would have to pay back with no interest. With this money, I went to Smart & Final and bought the three most popular flavors of gum. I then set up a table in the hallway at school and sold gum to kids as part of a subscription.

That was kind of the catch. Our unique customer retention quality was to sell subscriptions so kids could count on having their Big League Chew gum for 4 weeks in advance, 8 weeks in advance, etc. I kept working on improving this program throughout the school year, and it ended up being pretty profitable. While I started with only twenty dollars, I ended up
raising over $1,000 to donate to Many Mansions.

The services that Many Mansions provides are really great resources for students to keep up with their education and the rest of their peers overall. It’s so nice to see how grateful the residents are too. Every time I distributed food, I felt so welcomed. I feel the same way now as I volunteer at Homework Club. The kids are always so happy to see me—one even thinks I look like Colonel Sanders and calls me “KFC Man”! I love being able to have relationships like this and see the people that I’m helping through Many Mansions and their different programs.

Giving With A Heart

Amanda Haver

My name is Amanda Haver. I volunteer with Food Share once a month, help out with Bowls of Hope once a year, and do other volunteering for Many Mansions throughout the year.

I first heard about Many Mansions when I was a teacher at Park Oaks Elementary. A few of my students were residents. They were in the children’s programs, which included tutoring services. My students who were supported by Many Mansions always came to school prepared for learning. Naturally, when my husband and I wanted to teach our own children about giving back to the community, we looked to Many Mansions for their first experiences with volunteering.

My first experience with Bowls of Hope was as a volunteer in the food & beverage section. I loved joining the planning committee and working with the staff of Many Mansions to coordinate the event. The purpose of Bowls of Hope has always been clear: to raise awareness of Many Mansions and its housing and programs that assists families. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?!

Every year, on the day of the event, I’m always running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But I like to take a minute to stop. I look out at the full room of volunteers and participants, trying soups and having pleasant conversations, and it fills me with such pride and contentment. I go home, soak my feet, and think about next year.

I am completely moved by the stories of the Many Mansions residents at this event. I love to hear how they’ve fought through life and gotten a boost from Many Mansions in one way or another. I also love to hear about the residents who have been given the tools that they needed to succeed at a job interview or that have been able to provide for their families.

Another simple thing I love about Bowls of Hope is that everyone gets a bowl… and someone made that thing by hand, with love! You bring it home and fill it with your own nourishment, and you remember.

We’re on this Earth to serve, to love one another, and to spread kindness in our day-to-day interactions. In this, Many Mansions is an organization we can wholeheartedly support.