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.

Life Changing Accidents

Written by Robert Rowan

I joined the army in 1982 when I was 23 years old. At the time, I was working as a land surveyor’s assistant for Rancho Palos Verdes. I didn’t have a college degree, and therefore wasn’t getting the pay I deserved. My fiancée was just graduating college, and I had to play catch up. I made the decision to join the army to receive college benefits.

I was able to use these benefits for a while. I was awarded a grant that would support me through my master’s degree as long as I maintained a 3.0 average. I ended up being approached by somebody from the Presidential Task Force under Ronald Reagan and became a member from 1984-1989. During my five years with the Presidential Task force, I was still semi in the military with a military card and access to the bases. I worked a little in investigative services before I ended up with Shell Oil Company.

At Shell Oil Company, I worked as an operations specialist. However, I was involved in a bad vehicle accident on a bridge, causing me to injure my back and no longer be able to perform my work duties, which were both very physical and dangerous. That’s where my life started to go downhill. While I had previously lived in a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house by myself, I soon found myself unable to work, struggling with a limited income. Eventually, I was homeless.

While I’ve been staying in Turning Point’s veteran housing for the past 7.5 months, I spent many months homeless. I was camping out in different locations in Saticoy, up at the beach by Ventura, and up by Santa Paula. The only money I had coming in was my social security, and it was impossible to get an apartment as they all cost more than my total income. Luckily, the administration aims to not have any homeless veterans, so I have been able to find help. Turning Point in Ventura has given me a place to live for the past 7.5 months, kept me fed, and has helped me find Many Mansions so that I will now have my own place to live for the first time since 2001.

Now that I will be housed at Many Mansions, only a mile from my favorite seafood restaurant, I look forward to enjoying life and taking advantage of my access to vocational rehabilitation. While I have worked with computers since 1982, I let it go for years. I’m excited to get back into it and hope to work in cyber technology and cyber security. It’s been pretty rough, but now I have a new apartment at Ormond Beach, and I’m really excited and happy about it.

Coming Home

Written by Joe Granados

Before experiencing 2 years of homelessness, Janet had a home with her husband and two adult children. She described her life as pleasant and filled with love. At the age of 54, Janet suffered the loss of her husband. His death began the dissolution of Janet’s life as she knew it. Her physical and mental health were impacted; meanwhile, she struggled to maintain her finances and home.

“I can’t believe I went through that,” she shared when describing being homeless in Oxnard and Ventura. She explained that her relationship with her children had deteriorated, as everyone went their own way. She was further affected by the stress and trauma of being homeless. Janet came to utilize several of the social services in Ventura, and had the opportunity to obtain permanent supportive housing with Many Mansions.

It has been approximately 2 years since Janet has maintained her apartment with Many Mansions. During her transition, Janet was met with further challenges in apartment living and her sense of self-determination. She would routinely meet with her on-site case manager for support. Janet expressed that she would like to improve her physical and mental health, and developed a case plan with case management. Janet also expressed a desire to obtain her driver’s license, and put her desire into action as she studied for the exam and passed.

Her family means a lot to her. Janet reconnected with her adult children, and she is now a grandmother. She describes her life as increasingly stable. “I want to be there for my grandkids,” she shares when discussing her wellbeing. Janet sheds a tear when she recounts the past 4 years of her life. Her strength is her optimism, as she looks forward to the future.

A Hopeful Hopportunity

Written by Cheyenne Bingham

When you drive down East Thousand Oaks Boulevard to come visit us, you might notice a very distinct animal perched near our Main Office. Come a little closer, and you’ll have the chance to admire the peaceful gaze and the colorful blue, yellow, and red fur coat of an affable fiberglass bunny.

Meet Hope. 

In August 2019, this Conejo Cottontail hopped its way home to Many Mansions. A joint project between Art Trek, Inc. and the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley, Conejo Cottontails is a public art project painted by local artists and displayed around the community. Named for our ubiquitous rabbit population in and around the (appropriately named) Conejo Valley, Conejo Cottontails supports bringing the arts for seniors, at-risk youth, and disabled adults.

Sponsored by Eddy and Cate Hartenstein and Andy and Jill Binsley, Hope is a 5-foot, 6-inch fiberglass bunny. It was named by Bambi Hosaka, a long time staff member and supporter of Many Mansions. Bambi came up with the name while visiting the bunny while it was being painted. She was inspired by the work Many Mansions was doing that year on Ormond Beach Villas, our first property to serve homeless and low-income veterans. This was the year we were giving hope to homeless and low-income veterans too, she said. The bunny itself should be named Hope.

Anette Power, the artist behind the work, was similarly inspired. She said, “My goal was to incorporate my love of color with the distinct colors of Many Mansions – and to have the design signify and celebrate what Many Mansions does. The Hope that Home provides… The challenge was to translate, not just the shape of home (square) onto the 3 dimensional curvy bunny, but also capture the very deep meaning home holds.”

This project is where the purpose of Many Mansions and Conejo Cottontails intertwine. Conejo Cottontails is working hard to bring the arts to a world that is increasingly without it. Similarly, we too are fighting to provide safe, affordable housing to a world that has too little of it. For the both of us and, indeed, for the community at large—this bunny signifies a desire for a future. A future in which the people in our great community are guaranteed lives full of stability, meaning, safety, happiness, and beauty.

May we all have a little more Hope in our lives.


Pier Support

Written by Larry Rosen


At the time of writing this, I was an employee of Many Mansions for 6 months. I was in need of new employment, having spent many years working in Substance Use treatment. I was searching for a position that would allow me to utilize my skills to be of maximum service to others.

When I saw the ad for a Peer Support Specialist and what the population was at Many Mansions, I knew that it looked like the place I wanted to be. I feel fortunate and grateful to have been brought into the Many Mansions family. I immediately was made to feel welcome, and the staff here has been wonderful to work with.

I coordinate and facilitate many different types of workshops for our residents, from life skills, to emotional and physical growth workshops, to just spending time together in “Morning Reflections.” I really have begun to establish the types of relationships with our residents that helps them feel comfortable in sharing their stories with me. As a Peer Support Specialist, I have had my own struggles in life and found many tools to maintain my own recovery, and it is this experience that I try to share each day at Many Mansions.

My most memorable experience to date was in the beginning of my employment here. When I introduced myself to one of our residents as the “Peer Support,” they responded, totally deadpan, “Which one, the Santa Monica or Ventura Pier?” Remembering that helps me come in each day with a smile on my face and a chuckle.

The Many Mansions family are a fantastic group to spend my workdays with. Each day, I come into work hoping that I can help one more person gain new tools for lifting up their lives.

Meaningful Services

Written by Celina Sanchez


When I first heard about Many Mansions, I was looking to volunteer somewhere afterschool and my other job. I saw an advertisement for Many Mansions on my school website and decided to look more into the organization. I ended up finding a job posting for Children Services. I had always wanted to work with kids in some capacity. I knew I wanted to be in the school system, so I was happy to find a position where I could work with kids and help them with their homework.

I didn’t know a lot about nonprofits or Many Mansions when I first started, and I was surprised to learn just how many different services we provide. Through Adult, Children, and Family Services, as well as workshops and programs like the FOOD Share pantries, Many Mansions is able help residents quite a lot! When I was a coordinator at Hillcrest, I would always get both parents and children coming in and expressing their gratitude for all that we do. I love what Many Mansions does for families, and I know that they appreciate it as well.

Through the programs put on by Children Services, we hope to give resident students the resources and help they need to break the cycle of poverty. We aid resident students academically so that they can do well in school, go to college, and get a good career. While we want them to do well, our main goal is really to get them to the point that they like school so that they are able to succeed and do whatever they want to do later on in life.

We are able to help the resident students and provide them with the resources they need in a way that their schools can not necessarily achieve. The staff at their school often do not know what is going on at home. We, however, are here with them every day, doing activities with them, gaining their trust, and building relationships with them.

If something like Homework Club didn’t exist at Many Mansions, resident students would be placed at a disadvantage. Some of them would get their homework done, but they wouldn’t get the help that they need. For example, I know some kids don’t have computers at home and rely on Homework Club to access a computer. Without this resource, resident students would not be able to do many of their school projects. While they could go to the library, Homework Club is onsite and therefore much more accessible to them. In addition to physical resources, resident students are able to get special one-on-one attention from both staff and volunteers. Sometimes, I even see the older teens helping the younger teens.

There are so many benefits of coming to Homework Club. I’m glad that we are able to run Homework Club for the resident students as I’m not sure where they would be without it. One particular student from Hillcrest comes to mind when I think about the success of Homework Club. When he first started, he was very shy and didn’t really talk to any of the kids. He would come in, put his earphones in, and do his homework. He has since grown a lot and really broken out of his shell. He talks to the other kids and has become a great role model and helper for the younger kids. We are very thankful for him!

I love to see the relationships that staff build with residents. You can tell that they are not just doing their job. Many Mansions is truly a community. I love that I can speak to the families and say “hi” to the residents walking by. I truly believe these relationships make Many Mansions the success that it is. Residents feel safe talking to staff. They know that they can be themselves and are not going to be judged.

A Place To Call Home

Written by Bret McLemen

Bret-McLemen-359x359 I had a rather short career in the military. I was stationed on a submarine in Vallejo, California where I got to go down in the sub every day. Unfortunately, I never actually got the chance to go in the water and go somewhere as my boat was always stationed on a dry dock. While I was working to be a machinist, I had to leave the military after a couple years for medical reasons and was not in long enough to make this a reality.

The past couple of years I’ve been in and out of places and homeless. I spent about a year in an insurance building parking lot in Simi Valley where they now have chained fences because of people like me. While staying there, I once went 7 days without food and, while it didn’t end well, the experience did teach me a lot. Now I know my limits.

I’ve been here and there and everywhere for the past couple of years, but I now have a place to call home. I ended up being the first person to move into a unit at Ormond Beach Villas. While they told me to be out of the motel by 10:30am, I was at the site a little before 9:00am and bothered them until they decided they better just assign me my unit. I was shocked at how big it was when I first walked in. I didn’t expect it to be like that.

Now that I am housed, I’m going to try and get a job. Although I haven’t worked in a few years, I don’t like being idle and not doing anything. I have to do something, otherwise it might drive me nuts. While I am so happy to be here, I know there are a lot of veterans out there who are much worse off than I ever was. Even though I was homeless, I still had my car the whole time. I walk past people that are a little bit less fortunate than me, and it just bothers the heck out of me to see them so desperately needing help. I hope that they can get everybody off the street and help them like they have helped me.

We definitely need more projects like this.

Dual Roles

Written by Rafael Gonzales


I have a unique position as both a Many Mansions staff member and resident. I moved here about 7 or 8 years ago with my family when I was in 7th grade. Before I moved to Many Mansions, I was going back and forth from city to city with my family. It was a bit hard, but it made me the person I am today. Seeing what my mom went through, I knew I wanted to do something more, and ultimately help her in the future.

When we first moved here, my two younger siblings and I ended up participating in many of the programs put on by Children Services. Participating in these activities really got me out of my comfort zone and socializing with residents my age. It was a good outlet for me. Children Services also helped me academically. The staff was really great about making me feel welcome, and helping me push through things that I didn’t think I could accomplish. Children Services not only provides academic support in the form of tutoring, but also provides resident students with the supplies they need to complete their school work.

I remember in 5th grade, while living at a shelter, I had to do a craft for the California Missions. I can’t remember if I had the supplies, or if my other classmates brought them, but you really couldn’t do anything at the shelter. Fifth graders at Many Mansions don’t have to go through the same experience. Resident students at Many Mansions are fortunate enough to have access to backpacks and school supplies as well as art supplies for projects like these. Without these resources, it would be difficult for them to do simple tasks at school.

After I graduated high school, and had completed my first year of college, I was offered a position in Children Services. I worked at summer camp the first year which was really great. I enjoy working with kids. Now, I work with chronically homeless families. It’s nice to hear the kids’ comments about us and how much they enjoy the programs that we put on. It’s really a great outlet for them to go somewhere where they can both have fun and learn. I’ve been in their shoes before. It’s rewarding to now be on the other side and able to be the one helping them.

If I am able to reach my goal of becoming a firefighter, I plan to return to Many Mansions to share what I have learned with the children. I would love to bring the entire fire squad to all of the sites and put on an event in which they get to go inside the fire truck and learn more about what firefighters do. In becoming a firefighter, I want to not only protect my broader community, but also further educate them through what I have to offer as a firefighter. If it weren’t for these programs at Many Mansions, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.