A Very Merry Christmas

Written by Priscilla Gonzalez

Christmas in 2019 was magical.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Westlake Village, “Santa Claus” visited Shadow Hills that year during the annual Christmas Party. He started off the celebration by doing some caroling with the kids. The whole group went around the entire site, singing wonderful and jolly Christmas carols for all to hear. The kids loved it and, soon enough, their parents were joining them as well.

By the time the merry carolers made it back to the community room, the rest of the party was waiting for them. Breakfast was provided, and Santa got ready to meet with each and every child. Each boy and girl waited in line to meet him. Once they reached him, they would then tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas.

Somehow, Santa always had the right gift. But, of course, the real magic was in a strategically placed volunteer, ready to sneak Santa the right gift for the right child. To the child, though, it was like the perfect present magically appeared in Santa’s hand every time! They were thrilled.

As a staff member, I was able to join in on the festivities that year. I think what I liked most about it was the kids’ anticipation when they were walking up. I am going get a gift today, they were thinking. I am going to meet Santa! Not only did they get the gift they wanted, they also had the opportunity to take a picture with Santa, which I thought that was really nice.

Santa’s wife was also there, and she was really, really happy to be present for this. She actually gave out $50 grocery gift cards! We had more than enough to give one to every single family.

One of the residents spoke to me at the end. She said, “You know, you are doing a wonderful job. Thank you for even just speaking to me.” She appreciated the breakfast and the festivities. Being able to participate in this shared community event really helped her. Hearing her feedback meant a lot.

Experiencing this event was really important to me too. My parents always tried their best to make Christmas time the best it can be, even though my family struggled most during this time. I came from a family of ten siblings. My mother had seven kids with her at all time. You could imagine our family dinners! Somehow, we always had enough food for everyone. In my family, food was the most important thing that brought people together. But so were the festivities, whether it was bringing the decorations up together, or the activities we did, or even just seeing the presents under the Christmas tree.

I noticed it was the same here at Many Mansions. But at the same time, each year, it becomes more and more difficult. Putting food on the table can be hard. The kids get older, and there are more financial needs for them.

That’s the importance of programs like these, though. Bringing residents in to participate. Connecting families to their neighbors. Having food available for everyone. Giving gifts to make kids happy. Even receiving the gift card from Mrs. Claus had a huge impact! Whatever they liked most about this one event, these families left with fewer things to worry about.

Events like the Christmas Party at Shadow Hills help make a difficult time of the year a little merrier for us all.

Coming Home to Many Mansions

Written by Jessica Lawson

I first heard about Many Mansions at the start of 2014. Someone who worked within the organization reached out to tell me about an open Children Services position. They thought I would be a good fit. I declined it at the time, unable to take on another part-time job. But the opportunity arose again later that year, and I decided to take it on. I joined Many Mansions as a Children Services Assistant in late 2014.

It felt like something I had to do, and it ended up being a great thing for me. That position allowed me to learn more about myself and about the direction I want to go in for my future. I couldn’t have done that without the experiences I had with the residents, the affordable housing, and the services here. Working with the kids had a huge impact on me. Each youth resident was different in their own special way and each had a different personality that made them stand out, but together? Together, they built this giant community of happy, growing, supportive kids. Not all of them enjoyed school, but they made it work and pushed through the challenges, teaching me as much as I taught them.

This was a new experience for me. Coming into Many Mansions, I didn’t know what to expect, either with affordable housing or working directly with low-income residents. Truthfully, I expected something a little more chaotic and wild! But it was quite the opposite. I didn’t really know what affordable housing was either. “Affordable—cool, it’s houses that are not as expensive, right?” But it’s more than that. My experience at Many Mansions showed me that. It really made me see what this organization does for the people that live within their walls, and how the staff truly take care of them and appreciate where residents are in their life.

For example, there was this one resident named Ron. Ron really showed me the importance of this program. I felt truly connected with him. Like me, he also didn’t like school, mainly because he had a hard time with it. Certain things didn’t come easy. While some of his peers breezed through school, he struggled like I did. The staff and I worked hard with him over the course of several years. He was so kind and caring, and he really gave us his all. But he was struggling. I had so many conversations with him about his future, so I knew he didn’t have hope for what would come after high school. There was a point in time that we were sure he wouldn’t graduate.

I’ll never forget the day he told me he would be graduating after all! I had never seen him smile so big. A year or two later, he was at Moorpark College like I was, and it was so great to see how our conversations had shifted. Instead of conversations about dead end futures, we talked about what he wanted to do and how he could get there. Knowing that I had a hand in his growth was so heartwarming and was one of the best things I will ever do in my life.

While I have now moved on into a Volunteer Coordinator position, I continue to be amazed by the impact of this program.

The Common Good

Written by Kathy Bernstein

One afternoon in 2019, Tim handed a case manager a handwritten note. Tim was a resident in his fifties who had been living at the supportive property since 2014. Before moving to the site, Tim was homeless and lived in a very old motorhome. He had lived with depression since his early teens. On top of his mental illness, he was also diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. This causes him to experience uncontrollable tics and vocal outbursts. The general public typically does not understand this, which often leads to unwarranted judgements and local police being summoned. When this would happen, Tim would isolate himself, which exacerbated his depression.

However, in 2014, Tim moved into Many Mansions. Living in supportive housing at Many Mansions, attending appointments at VCBH in Thousand Oaks, being an active participant at Path Point, and having a live-in aide helped him to mitigate these circumstances on a daily basis. This greatly improved his mental well-being. Over the last several years, case management had seen great growth in Tim, and a decrease in his tics. Overall, Tim appeared much calmer and happier.

While living at Many Mansions, Tim had been a very engaged resident, attending workshops and events on a regular basis. Tim was a wonderful neighbor to all. He shared his love of cooking and was instrumental in helping to create a stronger community by advocating for himself and his neighbors. On top of that, Tim is a very intelligent, well versed man that enjoys keeping up with politics, science, environmental concerns and enjoys hiking and being out in nature. Tim’s vast knowledge had helped so many of his neighbors over the years.

But in 2019, Tim handed his case manager a note. It read as follows:

I feel very lucky to have been chosen to live at Many Mansions. The staff was always friendly and helpful, going above and beyond in helping with nearly every aspect of life. I am moving on now, but I wouldn’t have made it without their help. It is indeed a great thing that Many Mansions does what it does, making for better lives for those in need, and, in general, contributing to the common good.

A very close family member of Tim’s recently passed away, leaving him the financial means to purchase a home. Tim located a home out of state that he wanted to purchase. He has successfully navigated the purchase process as well as all of the details of their impending move. During this time, he also got married. Tim and his wife are now moving on to a wonderful home in Oregon where they will have lots of wide open space for hiking, enjoying the rest of their lives.

Many Mansions Discovered

Written by Al Friedman

It was a cold drizzling Wednesday afternoon in February. Classes at Westlake High School were over for the day. Our granddaughter, Danielle, often walked to our house after school. My wife Lois and I decided to drive down, find Dani, and drive her home. We saw her and another girl walking together, each wearing a heavy backpack. Dani saw us, smiled, waved good-bye to her friend and got into our car. Her friend continued walking on Thousand Oaks Blvd.

Lois said, “Dani, how is your friend getting home?”

“Oh, she takes the bus, but sometimes walks home.”

I asked, “Where does she live?”

“Oh, down Thousand Oaks Blvd.”

In unison, my wife and I said, “She is going to get soaked, let’s give her a ride.”

We pulled over. Dani opened the window and asked her she would like a ride home. I do not remember her name, but she said, “sure, thanks!” and got into our car.

We drove for about 10 minutes and she said, “I live down the next driveway.” I turned and drove down the alley. On the left was a row of small offices. On the right were old apartment buildings. Lois asked if this was where she lived. She told us she lived on the second floor with her mother. Many days, she used a room on the first floor to do homework where many kids get some tutoring if any help is available.

She said, “Thanks for the ride. See you tomorrow, Dani.”

I turned around and started back to the Thousand Oaks Blvd. We passed a sign over a little office doorway saying Many Mansions. Under the sign was a written card: Volunteers Needed.

Lois said, “Stop in front of that office. I want to see what they do here.” When she came back to the car, she had some papers in her hand. “Those apartments are for families who have been helped by Many Mansions. They might be homeless, but all need help. I am going to volunteer and help tutor some of the kids.”

Lois volunteered at Many Mansions about three days a week for many years. She always came home happy helping kids and sad about how much help some of the younger ones needed. Lois considered it a gift that she could help them.



Written by Luis Mex

I wanted to share a realization that I had when I returned from college recently. My math lecture had finished, and I went home. I was about to get ready for work, but I just had to stop. I looked at a tree by the mailboxes at Villa Garcia. It just caught my attention, and I just didn’t know why. So I went inside and I got ready for work. But for the next week, every time I got ready for work, I passed the tree, and I noticed all these little things I never bothered to look at. The branches, for instance. There is so many more of them now. Also, the tree was standing by itself. It no longer had the support posts that were there when the tree was originally planted. And that’s when everything made sense to me.

I was there when the tree was planted so many years ago. I helped dig the hole. I helped fill it back up. I helped make sure it was supported. When it was first planted, I used to walk past it and feel so good about that. Then I stopped for a couple of years. I didn’t even pay attention to this tree. I didn’t even watch it grow. It was just something that happened in the background.

This made me think about my experience at Many Mansions. I have been in Many Mansions longer than the tree has been here, and I never stopped to think that in the background, I have also been growing up. I was growing up inside this property, inside this organization and in this community. I related with the tree. At one point, I also had my little support post. I also had someone help put me in the ground and made sure I got water and all the nourishment I needed.

When I first started in homework club, I was always the kid who worked from the time I go there to the time program closed. I did not like doing homework, and I didn’t always finish. By the volunteers were so patient, sitting next to me and making sure I stayed focused. Then I grew up, became a teen, and they were still there, helping me. I was actually pretty shy, which might be shocking to the people who know me now. But I didn’t really want to talk to people. Learning how to became my first step towards leadership and becoming a good example.

I stepped up and became a role model. I got close to the kids at the different sites as a teen, and, when I turned 18, I asked Many Mansions for an internship and got a job. It wasn’t until this year that I fully understood how much that meant to me, being hired fresh out of high school. Many Mansions took a chance on this young man that just had a passion, nothing more than a passion. They helped mold me into the man I am today. My motivations, my goals, and my achievements has its roots in Many Mansions. No matter what happens in the future, there will always be a part of Many Mansions in me where that seed was planted.

This tree really helped me reflect on the things Many Mansions has helped me and the programs they provide, all the support. This tree helped me remember how thankful and appreciative I am of everything Many Mansions has done for me. If it weren’t for Many Mansions, I wouldn’t have grown up the same way that I did.

Every time I walked past this tree to this day, I stop, even if it’s only for five seconds. I stop to appreciate the tree itself and the journey that it’s gone through. It got me thinking—the tree’s support posts are gone. Mine are really gone too. This tree is just doing its own thing now. Sure, it might not be able to move on to a different place, but now I am certain that I will someday. One day, I will have my own little patch of grass, and I will continue to grow.

Many Mansions Adds To Board

John Charles Maddox
John Charles Maddox

Many Mansions has added John Charles Maddux to its board of directors.

Maddux has served on two board committees for several years.

He serves as the president and CEO of Sunstone Properties Trust. The company develops workforce multifamily housing in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Sunstone is an operator, developer and fund manager of real estate investments.

He brings to Many Mansions experience in all aspects of the acquisition, development, rehabilitation and management of multifamily residential developments.

Maddux also served as a founder and shareholder of the law firm of Nevers, Palazzo, Maddux & Packard PLC—now known as Nevers, Palazzo, Packard, Wildermuth & Wynner PLC—from 1997 to 2004. He practiced law with the firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP from 1986 to 1996.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business management-finance from Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management and his J.D. from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.

He is married to Lily and has three sons and four grandchildren. Many Mansions is a nonprofit affordable housing and service provider.

Article originally appeared in the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

Homes & Families

Written by Aleli Perez

Many Mansions has always been a place I can call home.

My family has been living in one of the beautiful properties named Villa Garcia. While growing up, my siblings and I went to the wonderful programs that they’ve provided for so many families. Seeing us as being part of the Many Mansions family, they have stuck true to their word of supporting the residents and wanting them to succeed. The programs they have provided have taught me how to be a leader, to have courage, and to become more organized and hard-working. I feel blessed to have been given so many opportunities because of Many Mansions.

I knew Many Mansions was there for me when I was going through a rough time with my mental health in high school. If not for the staff from the homework club, I would have struggled more. I was close to not graduating from the lack of homework I turned in. I could hardly pay attention. To tell you the truth, I often thought about dropping out or just doing online classes. But even then, it was an option I thought wouldn’t be successful at either. Around my junior year, I confessed to the staff that I wasn’t doing so well and that I didn’t think I could graduate. They promised me that I would do better, and they were right. Fast forward one year later, and I was graduating high school with all my friends. I felt much happier than I ever had been.

With Many Mansions, I was able to be a part of a family that has welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve gotten so much love from them. I can’t help but think how thankful I am for all that love and the times they gave my family and me the moral support we needed.

Throughout my time being into the programs and seeing the amazing staff, I thought it would be worth the shot and start volunteering for them at a young age. Volunteering with them has been a wonderful adventure, I would gladly take any chance given to help. It has shown me things that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do. I’ve experienced different roles when volunteering in the summer camp or at our Friday programs. Without the learning experience from the programs that were provided, I don’t think I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

As I got older, my ambitions to work with them grow stronger, and I’m proud to say that I’ve succeeded. Now at 19, my first job is working with a company that has helped many families like my own to be more successful and get on the path to greater things. Since I’ve been working with such a great team and also working with the most amazing kids, I truly love doing my job. I’ve always felt welcomed and very much appreciated anytime I enter work.

With Many Mansions being by my side for so long, my ambitions continue to grow. I’m about to complete my education in Moorpark College and transfer to Channel Islands to obtain a degree in Studio Art to teach art to high school students. I will never forget how much Many Mansions has supported me. I can’t wait to see what else Many Mansions has to offer in the future.


Written by Tyler Smetzer

Before coming to Many Mansions, I had just served a year with Americorp (City Year) as a tutor, mentor, and role model for underprivileged youth. One day, I casually asked one of the students if she would be walking the stage for commencement. It’s something I asked a lot of my students to gauge if they still needed any last minute support to ensure they pass. I simply assumed that she was doing okay because of her pleasant demeanor and seemingly studious attitude.

Then she lifted the veil and shocked me like a parent revealing Santa’s true identity. She was failing multiple classes. She had just taught me an invaluable lesson about the danger of assumptions and the value of getting to know my students. After a discussion about what she had to do to catch up and how to approach teachers for support, she agreed to come in for tutoring after school every day until she caught up. She came in with a mound of work that would make an accountant do a double take – but it eventually all got done. The day finally came and she walked the stage with a big smile, proud of her accomplishment. Seeing her walk the stage only invigorated my want to help more.

After Americorp, I was determined to continue giving back to my community while completing my teaching credential. That was when I found an ad for a Children Services position with Many Mansions. The tagline caught my eye, “providing hope, homes, and life-enriching services.” After a bit of research, I knew it would be a great fit, and it was more than I expected. We don’t just provide services for youth—we provide a supportive community where kids can explore and grow. We focus on the whole child, making sure they are safe, healthy, and happy.

Given my past experience, I try to get to know each kid I work with. What drives them. What their goals are. What they strive to achieve. A kid who seems to be doing great might in fact be struggling. A kid who is bubbly might actually be upset. A report card doesn’t tell the whole story and a grade doesn’t define a child.

Last year, I asked for a girl to start Teen Club early because I saw potential in her. The program is meant to help prepare participants be successful leaders by the time they finish high school. It includes socio-emotional support, academic guidance, and opportunities to grow as a leader. She was already helping her peers with homework, reading to younger kids, and assisting to prepare snack during Homework Club—all of her own volition. Her strong work ethic, determination, and yearning for growth made her the perfect fit. She showed up to meetings whenever possible and even volunteered to lead Friday Program for youth in preparation for leading lessons during summer camp. Simply put, she was exceptional and saying “thanks for your help” was not enough. I wanted her to recognize what her contributions truly mean for her community.

At the end of the year, Children Services has an Open House where each kid is recognized for their positive qualities in front of their peers, parents, and Many Mansions staff. A few participants, however, receive special recognition for exceeding expectations. Because the special awards are done last, kids wait in anticipation to see who will be chosen. Each time we would announce the next award, kids would start whispering about who is still left, wondering if it might be them. The fewer possibilities, the more the anticipation rose. She was quietly shaking with excitement when she realized there was only one name left to call.

“This last person is receiving special recognition for their exceptional growth and leadership. She is always friendly and volunteers to help others. She shows maturity beyond her years and is a great model for others. This award goes to…” We had named this student for the award. Tearing up and brimming with pride and accomplishment, she made her way to the front of the room amongst thunderous applause.

This moment is what keeps me at Many Mansions: having the opportunity to make someone feel not just supported, but also to elicit a sense of pride and belonging. While I enjoy the daily happenings like homework help, arts and crafts, and playing games, nothing compares to the joy of seeing the dignified smile on a kid’s face when they get to share their achievements and exceptionalities with their community. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be a part of that, and it’s what drives me to make the program the best it can be.

Santa might not be real, but magic happens here every day.


Written by Suzi Liu, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services

When growing up on South Shore Drive, Crystal Lake, IL, we always had a place for those who needed it. Be it a foster child, a neighbor, or a friend who was having a hard time. My dad never met a stranger, just a friend he didn’t know yet. He would spend most of his time in the garage. We didn’t know if he was actually working on anything, but people would stop by for his advice, which would lead to dinner, followed by games afterwards and all that would sometimes lead to them staying with us. My Mom knew how to stretch a meal from the 5 of us to 10, to 20 in an instant.

And I learned early on how to share a home.

Having been raised with that mentality, it was natural to raise my family the same way. My family and I take immeasurable joy in giving what we had, if we had it to give. Tuesdays, for instance, were our Burrito Bar Days. Perfect for stretching a meal from 5 to 10 or more in an instant. Sometimes, a few kids would stop by to eat, needing help with homework, advice, or a place to stay when things at home weren’t supportive.

Because of that, my children and I branched out from our own home to volunteer with local philanthropies. From Girl Scouts to National Charity League, we eventually supported, in different ways, sixteen various organizations in the area. One day, we discovered Many Mansions. As past president of National Charity League, Vista Robles, I was in charge of arranging an evening where we gathered together and painted bowls for the upcoming Bowls of Hope event. Ann Sturman was on site and gave us a tour of the homes. She shared how families were able to relax in the library, use the computers, find after school help, and grow vegetables in the garden for food when needed.

It sounded a lot like HOME. My childhood home. My children’s home. And, the home we wished for all families.

Home is so important. It’s more than a place, or an address; it’s a sense of belonging and feeling good about who you are. It’s knowing those around you support you in all your daily struggles. We were so happy to find a place that cared about local families that were working hard and trying their best to provide for their families. They just needed a place to call HOME.

I have been contributing a portion of my sales to help support Many Mansion and their amazing mission. My real estate partner, Cindi Gortner, and I are happy to be a part of the Many Mansion Real Estate Alliance, Founders Circle. It is so natural and right to give when you can, especially to those in your community.

Dream Come True

Written by Charles Simmons

Last September, I lost my home of 57 years in Ventura County. After my father passed away, I didn’t make enough money to keep up with his payments. Eventually, they had my house foreclosed on. I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do. They gave me five days to empty a house of 57 years. It seemed like my life was turned upside down.

For the last 13 months, I’ve been living anywhere and everywhere. I went all the way up to Eureka in Northern California and to Yolo County right outside of Sacramento. My life has been living on streets, staying with friends, sleeping in garages, and camping out in cars. Although I did spend some time in homeless shelters, the majority of the time has been in my car. Not only was it my car, it was my home.

A few ladies from Salvation Army Veteran Services told me about Ormond Beach Villas a few years ago before they were even built. As things started progressing, I got a call that I had been added to the list. Then on January 15th, 2019, I got a call from Many Mansions telling me I had three hours, and I should hurry to submit my paperwork. I found a friend in Bakersfield that had a computer. She submitted all the forms for me, and the ball started rolling.

Now, Ormond Beach Villas is my home. When I first saw my unit, it didn’t seem real. I couldn’t believe they were giving me a place to live, and it was furnished! It was like a dream come true! I thought somebody was playing a joke on me at first, but it was all real.

I want people to know that there are options out there. You don’t have to be out on the streets, but you have to do the leg work. It won’t be handed to you, and that’s what I’m learning. I went and did everything. I’ve scratched and dug, but it paid off. I’m glad I’m off the streets. I look forward to getting my life back, getting out there, and enjoying it all.