15 Hours

Written by Cheyenne Bingham

Cheyenne-422x359 The first child I tried to work with during Homework Club spurned my quiet request to help him with his math homework. He glanced over at me suspiciously before slowly wrapping his arms around his homework, sinking over it like I had spied on something secret. Embarrassment burned through me, and I awkwardly walked back to the library, my usual hiding spot.

Before this, I had never worked with children before, not in any capacity. As the youngest child in my family, I was quiet, shy, and deeply introverted. The children of Villa Garcia, though friendly, were very daunting to me. The things they said and laughed at didn’t make sense, and I had a hard time asking if they needed any help.

Only 15 hours, I reminded myself. That was all I needed to pass my college course. Only 15 hours of volunteering. In 2012, badminton was all the rage with the kids of Villa Garcia. For a long stretch of time, we had enough adults to split up our students. I was one of them. The ones who had finished their homework could go outside and play badminton under the watchful eye of one staff and one adult volunteer. The rest would be supervised inside of the community by another staff and another adult volunteer.

One Thursday afternoon, one specific child was especially looking forward to this. He asked the coordinator about it twice before snack. Then, unexpectedly, our fourth adult got an emergency phone call and had to duck out. With only three adults on-site, we could not break up into groups. There would be no badminton match that day. Disappointed, the coordinator broke the news to the homework club. It was met with resigned groans and grumbling from the kids. But it was also met with a deeply saddened little boy. The child who’d eagerly asked about it just 20 minutes before stood alone in the middle of the room, shoulders hunched and eyes fixed on the ground. A silent tear ran down his face. When you’re five, disappointment is hard to swallow.

This child’s quiet devastation did not go unnoticed. Other children jumped up from their seats, immediately swarming him. They hugged him and patted his hair, promising that they would try again tomorrow. They tried making him laugh with silly jokes. They tried enticing him with board games. When none of that worked, they looked to each other and started firing out solutions over his bowed head.

“Can’t we just be supervised by one adult?” they asked. No, we told them. We explained it was for safety reasons.

“We can be safe,” they argued indignantly. We disagreed, memories of splinters, scraps, paper cuts, and bee stings dancing in our heads.

Undeterred, they went at it from a different angle. “How many kids had homework left?” they asked the rest of the room. Only three students raised their hands. “Couldn’t they finish outside while everyone else plays?”

That wasn’t fair to them, we reminded the kids. The community room had tables and supplies. If they finished homework outside, they needed to bring everything with them, and they would have to finish their assignments in their laps.

“But are they willing?” the kids asked.

Surprisingly, they were. The remaining students with homework even went as far to eagerly prove to us how little homework they had left. A worksheet here, a reading assignment there–in the face of such a united effort, we adults hesitated.

5 minutes later (and armed with our ubiquitous first aid backpack), we marched outside to the small patch of grass between two buildings. The net was quickly set up and the kids were split into teams. For one devastated child, it was like the last ten minutes had been easily erased. The game began, supervised and refereed by my coordinator. The children played joyously, giddy and laughing until program was over. As for me, I didn’t understand badminton. While they played, I sat down on the grass and helped a preteen through the rest of her algebra homework, my mind buzzing with all that had happened that afternoon.

There was a lot I didn’t know back then in 2012. First of all, I didn’t know I would eventually volunteer for 200 hours—well over my required 15. I didn’t know I would graduate from volunteer to intern to Children Services Assistant in just over a year, or that I would eventually move on within the company to grant writing.

I didn’t know the first child who refused my help has most contagious laughter I have ever heard, or that the upset five year would grow up to become a very polite and kind young man who always offers to help out. I didn’t know that I myself would become part of the Villa Garcia community, or that I would be greeted with hugs and invited to things like graduations, choir performances, and family events.

What I did know in 2012 was that the place that allowed such a strong, loving, and mutually supportive community grow was definitely a place I wanted to work at.

In 2020, I still don’t understand badminton, but because of what I saw at Villa Garcia, I do understand Many Mansions. Many Mansions provides housing. But Many Mansions also provides hope through services, resources, and opportunity. It creates safe spaces for residents to learn, grow, and bond with each other, developing a community. Many Mansions provides quality housing that residents can be proud of and services that support and uplift every participant.

I am proud of Many Mansions, and I am proud of the kids of Villa Garcia. To me, Villa Garcia will always be a shining example of what we mean when we say hope and housing.

Driven by the Mission

Written by Bambi Hosaka

Bambi Hosaka @ Many MansionsI am in charge of public relations and marketing for Many Mansions. I first heard about Many Mansions when my husband and I were putting together the Conejo Food and Wine event in Thousand Oaks. With all of the proceeds from the event being given to different organizations, we were looking for a deserving charity to give back to. Due to the values of our culture, we were drawn to Many Mansions.

I come from a country with many poor and homeless individuals. While I cannot help them, I feel it is important to help those in the country that I now live in. Considering the growing homeless population in Ventura County, I believe it is very important to help people who are homeless. I know that compared to Los Angeles County, our numbers are still very low. However, Many Mansions has the unique potential to prevent the statistics in Ventura County from rising.

There are not a lot of nonprofit organizations in Ventura County that address homelessness as well as Many Mansions does. Many Mansions not only provides housing, but also various services for residents which really sets us apart from other organizations. Children Services, in my opinion, is probably the best thing that we offer as an organization. The children are our future, and we are lucky enough to have volunteers who run this program for them. I was fortunate enough to not have to rely on a volunteer for my own children, but I can say that these services and extracurricular activities are very beneficial for parents that work multiple jobs and may not have the time or the skills to help their children.

I spend a lot of time out in the community for my work, and I hear many of my positive feelings towards the organization reflected in the words of others. There is some frustration with the waiting list being closed, but I believe it was the right choice to close it. There may be some who react to the long wait negatively, a good majority have been very understanding. I think they understand we do not want to give unreasonable hope to people that are in need.

The mission of Many Mansions is really what motivates me. When I have a bad day at work, I remind myself of the mission, the fact that we are making a difference, and that I’m giving back to the community. People here have the passion for the mission too. They are here because of the mission. We are all working so that we can achieve this mission together.

What We Bring

Written By Susan Cass

Susan Cass Many Mansions with a fellow member When I joined the Many Mansions Board of Directors, I thought about all that I could bring to the organization. I had experience in accounting, finance and teaching. I spent many years working at a company involved in housing. I arrogantly thought I had a lot to offer. I soon found that Many Mansions offered me much more in return.

From the residents, I learned about courage, perseverance, and resiliency in the face of life’s difficulties. From the employees, I learned about commitment and compassion. Both of these groups made a tremendous impression on me. But I have learned just as much from working with the Board of Directors. They are a diverse group with a wide range of ages and life experiences. Universally, they are here out of a sense of caring for their community.

There is a core group who have been on the Board for many years. Sister Lisa Megaffin embodies the concept of “faith in action.” Chris Soltow is as comfortable and knowledgeable offering development advice as he is tutoring a five-year-old at Homework Club. Marty Garcia, founder of the Vicky’s Fund Scholarship program, sets an example of leadership and generosity. Mario Diaz is a creative and resourceful problem solver. Gary Barnum is a dependable source of ideas, assistance, and advocacy. Karen Ingram is an articulate champion for our residents and those in need of housing. Kevin Kozal offers insightful legal perspectives. Nancy Moravec brings kindness to every task and communication. Dick Hus shows an exceptional sense of dedication. Jerry Petry contributes his business knowledge and intelligence.

More recent additions to the Board have also made rapid contributions. From day one, Doug Perry had an extraordinary commitment to learn and participate as much as possible. Tim Harrington offers cutting-edge business ideas and management skills. Skyler Wolpert, a long-time Homework Club volunteer, is an exuberant advocate. Our newest Board member, Mackenzie Mazen, has confidence and sincerity in her commitment to nonprofit work. Lastly, Rick Schroeder sets an example to us all, deftly managing a complex business with a caring and compassion for those served.

It’s my honor to serve on the Many Mansions Board of Directors, and I am grateful to my fellow Board members, our staff, and our residents for all you have taught me.

Final Stretch

Written By Crystal Gonzalez

Crystal Gonzalez Many Mansions Blog It’s the final stretch. I can feel the finish line of senior year at my fingertip. After thirteen years in school, I’m able to reflect back and realize that going to school was probably one of the easiest parts of my life. Around 9 th or 10 th grade, the thought of going to college begins to set in for most teens. My story, however, was a little bit different. Growing up, I never heard stories of my family members going off to college and how that whole experience helped “shape them”. My mom grew up in Mexico, along with her other siblings, and they eventually moved to California to seek a better life than the pueblo they lived on had to offer. There was no
priority for my mom to go to school. Instead, it was for the good of her family that she focused on working to support them.

Because my mom wasn’t given the chance to obtain a complete education, she made it her duty to ensure it could become a reality for me and my siblings. As I ventured through my childhood, my mom constantly instilled in me the idea that obtaining a higher education was both possible and necessary. My mom is our head of household, and she is our main source of income. She’s spent her years in the United States cleaning houses and working for fast food industries. Because of the low pay, she’s had to work long, difficult hours to help make ends meet. I’ve just always wanted to obtain a higher education to make my mom proud after all of the hard work and sacrifices she’s made. The day my mom no longer has to work will be the day I feel fulfilled.

Being a first-generation student helped motivate me to take on challenges and create my life the way I envisioned it. Although I loved being in school, being a reserved person was something I always struggled with, and it hindered my learning. My volunteer work was a major factor in helping to ease me out of my shyness. I grew up in affordable housing with Many Mansions, and this nonprofit offers a Teen Leadership Program to their resident youth each summer. Through this program, I was able to lead groups of 15-20 children with daily crafts, activities, pool days, and field trips. We also worked with the children on math and reading to help combat summer learning loss. This program is 7 weeks long, and I have volunteered approximately 150 hours of work each summer since I was 12 years old.

Through this program, I’ve been able to find my voice. I’ve learned to muster up the confidence to stand up in front of a room and help offer the same camp experiences to my younger peers who also grew up in affordable housing. I’ve worked to become a leader and a role model to those around me, and to give them all the same hope I have for a higher education. I’ve never followed the belief that one is born with great intelligence or superior athleticism. I believe you are able to move forward with the effort you’re willing to put forth, and that mentality has followed me throughout my life.

In my final weeks of high school, I feel eager to finally attend college to become a registered nurse. My compassion for people and my desire to help others, combined with my love of math and science, has driven me here. Although I plan on pursuing a “traditional” career, I plan on using my work in “non-traditional” ways to go beyond. While I may find myself working in a hospital or for a private practice, I will undoubtedly continue to make volunteering in my community a part of my life. I know that those who are homeless, low-income, immigrants, and many others do not always have equal opportunity to attainable healthcare. I also know that having insurance comes at a great cost. I would love to be able to one day volunteer some of my time at free clinics or in other capacities that will help give others quality healthcare and equal opportunities. This will be my contribution to help make this world a more positive place.

Getting Back On Your Feet

Written By Willow Cleverly

Willow-Cleverly-photoHomelessness and lack of affordable housing are issues that are not going away. I support Many Mansions because I hope that everyone can have access to housing and support. We all have a brother, a mother, a child, or a friend who could benefit from the services offered at Many Mansions. In supporting Many Mansions, we are directly supporting our community. This community not only includes the residents, but the staff as well.

I greatly admire how Many Mansions works with the residents to ensure they feel supported. I have seen this through workshops, case management, children services staff, and property managers. If the residents need support with groceries, resumes, or rides, the staff tries to assist them in any way they can.

One story that inspired me was about one of the resident kids who attended Homework Club. When she first started Homework Club, she was quiet and reserved. She didn’t want to do her homework, she didn’t like school, and she had no motivation to do it. After asking her why she didn’t like school, she told me it was because she didn’t have any friends and no one paid attention to her.

A few weeks into Homework Club, though, she did start making friends. She started coming every day. After finishing her homework, she would play games with the other kids until the program closed. With the one-on-one help that she received with homework, she was getting better grades and wasn’t so upset by her homework. By the end of the year, she appeared to be happier and more motivated. Some of the kids from Homework Club also went to her school, so she had more friends at school itself. Over the course of the year, her whole outlook on school and homework changed, just because of our programs.

That is the kind of effect Many Mansions has on its residents. Having consistent and reliable support in your life in addition to reliable housing can make the world of a difference in recovery or in getting back on your feet. It’s not easy putting your life back together when you are worried about where you are going to sleep or how you are going to get your next meal.

From Many Mansions, I’ve learned that sometimes because of forces they can’t control, people end up needing assistance or extra support in their lives. It has taught me that we are very close to those in need. We all have a connection. It also has taught me the complexity of helping the community. Progress is not linear, and sometimes getting back on your feet takes some time.

The Power of Children Services

Written By Margaret Harrison

Margaret-Harrison-photoGrowing up attending the same church as Rick Schroeder, the President of Many Mansions, I have known about the organization my whole life. Once I came to work with Many Mansions, however, I learned just how many services the organization provides. This has been the most surprising thing to me. There is so much work that goes behind every service we are able to provide. It is easy to look at what we do, and forget about all of the money, fundraising, and outreach efforts that go into achieving the goals of our organization.

I originally came to Many Mansions because I was looking for something to do over the summer after my first year of college. At the time, Many Mansions was looking for interns. Hearing this, my mom encouraged me to get out of the house and get involved. Soon enough, I was interning with Many Mansions, working in both Children Services and Resource Development.

I love that Children Services is able to provide Homework Club. I believe this service really makes the most difference in a resident student’s life. It is so rewarding to see them have a breakthrough after struggling with something and know that we were able to help them achieve this. We even get to see the resident children go on to graduate from high school. I remember watching one resident in particular graduate and then go on to accept an award and scholarship. She was so sweet to credit Children Services and Many Mansions staff for her accomplishments. Even though she did the majority of the work herself, I’m glad we were able to be there to help her when she needed it.

One child in particular always comes to mind when I think about all of the residents who have used the programs offered by Children Services. This student has spent several years at Many Mansions coming to programs such as Homework Tutoring Club and summer camp. It’s truly amazing to see how much he has grown and fits in with everyone. He has come out of his shell and has become such a great addition to the site. He was a bit more reserved and not as social when he first came to us. Now, he runs into Homework Club every single day, ten minutes early, and we have to tell him he still has a few more minutes before we start. He is such a positive light. Even if he is struggling on his homework, he is always trying to help others and remains optimistic through it all.

There are not many organizations out there that offer housing and services to kids, adults, and families the way that we do. It is the compounding effect of all the services we provide that makes Many Mansions what it is, and we really run this organization like a family. When people support Many Mansions, they are supporting an organization that is doing their best to be there for each other and do good in this world.

Healthy Eating, Healthy Living

Written By Heather McLeod

Heather McLeod Many Mansions6 years ago, I was hired as the new Community Outreach Coordinator at Many Mansions. This was a new position for MM, and it put me in charge of bringing in-kind donations to the residents of Many Mansions.

My first task was to reach out to all support staff to see what the actual in-kind needs were for our residents. Too much surprise, many of the Case Managers replied with…HEALTHY FOOD!

While our residents received non-perishable foods from time to time, the residents wanted more. Many of them struggled with diabetes, heart disease, and other such ailments which were increased by eating unhealthy canned or high sodium foods. The residents said they couldn’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables—as we all know, healthy eating can be expensive!

After receiving this information, I was on a mission to bring healthy food to our residents. I reached out to local grocery stores, farms and farmer’s markets with no such luck. But I didn’t give up. That’s when a college intern introduced me a wonderful organization called Food Forward. Food Forward brings surplus fruit and vegetables that would normally go to waste to people in need. They collect produce from backyard fruit trees, public orchards, farmer’s markets, and more. This produce is distributed to local service agencies like Many Mansions and seemed like a great fit for our residents.

It was the perfect opportunity. Soon after, Many Mansions started to participate in the Farmer’s Market Recovery Program. We would pick up produce twice a month (which eventually turned into weekly) from the Thousand Oaks Farmer’s Market. This produce would be distributed to our residents at several of our properties.

Our residents were thrilled when they came into the community room and saw this fresh, colorful, free produce. Many of them knew exactly what each item was and how to cook them. They would discuss recipes and were excited to begin cooking with this newly donated food!

As Food Forward grew, MM received more and more produce and were able to expand this program to reach more of our residents. We currently distribute produce at 5 properties in Thousand Oaks to over 100 residents. The program has become so popular! Residents look forward to receiving the produce each and every week. The program is especially appreciated at Esseff Village. The residents know exactly what day and what time it comes and are waiting in the community room for it to be delivered. The popular item is strawberries…and there never seems to be enough to go around! To see the residents so excited about healthy produce and taking pride in their health and nutrition was the best part for me.

I believe that Food Forward has played such a positive role in the lives of our residents and brought an unusual donation request to Many Mansions. Like our mission states, we bring life-enriching services to our residents, and bringing healthy food into our residents’ homes has definitely done that.

We’re the Best Site of All, Even Though We’re So Small

Written by Kristina Medeiros.

Kristina-Medeiros-256x359Reflecting back on my three years here at Many Mansions, I realize that I could probably ponder up 40 of my own stories to help others better understand why I find this work both meaningful and worthwhile.

Many Mansions sort of happened for me by accident—or by fate, I guess you could say. I was about to graduate from college and needed a job after moving back home, and all I knew was that I wanted to work with children in some capacity. I never anticipated that this part-time gig would turn into a dream career. It was my two years spent as the Coordinator of Villa Garcia that ultimately made me switch my graduate major to pursue a career in nonprofit work.

Did you know that the children and teens at Villa Garcia made up a song about their site? They liked to sing these creative lyrics (including the catchy, “We’re the best site of all, even though we’re so small!”) on buses every year during Summer Camp. In the beginning, I tried shushing them in hopes of not ruffling the feathers of other staff and campers, but after a few weeks of getting to know them, I began singing along. In my current position and after working with all of our program youth here at Many Mansions, I can truthfully say that every Children Services site we have is uniquely special and there really is no “best site of all”, but my time working at Villa and building a community—a family—with these kids changed my whole outlook on life.

At the time, Villa was known for having an older teen population, primarily girls. In June of 2019, one of these teens graduated from high school. I first met her when she was 15, and anyone who knows her knows that her demeanor is very quiet and very kind. This teen is studious, athletic, and giving with both her time and heart. It took months of working with this Villa resident before we ever had a full conversation, but once we established this relationship, we spoke in length every day about her academics, her career goals, and about any typical teen things she felt like discussing. I saw her go from being one of our shyest teens to becoming a leader, a mentor, and the epitome of what anyone would want in a child’s role model.

A week before graduation, this teen handed me a ticket to see her walk across the stage. We had never spoken before about me attending her graduation, so to be given this ticket was extremely touching. In addition to graduating, she was honored with one of the most prestigious scholarships any graduating senior could be awarded in this county. She is now a dedicated worker and college student, and she continues to set an example for all those we serve. She is the type of person who makes you want to be better; more than that, she is the type of person who encourages me to be better.

I am inspired by the youth we are privileged to work with here at Many Mansions. Despite any trial or tribulation they are facing, they have hearts of gold with the tireless dedication to match. From our “Villa pool jumps” every week during Summer Camp to our special holidays spent together as our “Villa family”, I am very fortunate that my first years spent here at Many Mansions were spent with the kids who taught me more about life than any adult ever could. I am fortunate that I still get to go back and visit with Villa weekly. Every time, it feels like I’m coming back to visit with family.

An Incredible Gift

Written By Amy E. Silver.

Amy-Silver-256x359I moved to Thousand Oaks about 8 years ago. Being retired, I wanted to give back to my community. I love working with children and also wanted to help, in my small way, to solve our nation’s homeless problem. I joined the Homework Club as a volunteer 5 years ago. We help tutor school age children with their assignments; read with them; play games; do crafts; and get to know them. I have been blessed to watch many of these talented kids graduate from High School and move on to college!

But it is more than that, I have seen the kids develop into hardworking, giving, and successful young adults. For example, Many Mansions’ Summer Camp provides an opportunity for our teens to develop their leadership skills as camp counselors. But this special group of kids give back to our community in other ways too–through volunteerism. In fact, one of our young friends worked as a volunteer at Westminster Free Clinic here in Thousand Oaks as a Teen Healthcare Intern! And, after High School graduation, several of our young adults have also gained employment with Many Mansions while they complete their college degrees. What a testimonial to the Many Mansion organization, that you value and care for our kids through all stages of their life!

It is not just the kids or the volunteers. It is also the staff of Many Mansions. I have worked with college students or recent grads that organize and run the Homework Club and Summer Camp. They are truly an amazing group of people. I have had the pleasure of watching them graduate from college; earn their Masters degrees; and/or move up within the Many Mansion organization. The staff have the opportunity to expand their teaching and leadership skills, and we are truly lucky to have each and every one of them!

Many Mansions has expanded immensely over the past five years, thanks to the President, Rick Schroeder, and his talented staff. I have had the pleasure of getting to know the fundraising staff, grant writers, social service counselors (including Happy the dog), and the volunteer coordinator. What an exceptional group of caring and committed individuals, who work daily to enhance and improve the lives of the residents.

The Board of Directors are also extraordinary people. They dedicate their time and talent to support Many Mansions’ goals. They need to be appreciated for all of their hard work. I have enjoyed meeting several board members at fundraisers, during service projects, and as fellow Homework Club volunteers.

I am so lucky to have volunteered with Many Mansions. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have seen many positive changes and exceptional projects completed. They have renovated existing complexes by installing solar panels, new windows, beautiful gardens, playgrounds, updated community rooms (including adding quality computers and printers for the kids to use), and so much more. Their new complexes are stunning and all of their housing is beautifully maintained.

Being a Many Mansion volunteer has enriched my life. I am so proud of what this organization stands for and the incredible gift it provides to our community and beyond.