15 churches partner together to give back to the community

Volunteers paint artwork on the school house built that morning for the children at Rancho Damacitas Saturday, Sept. 28. Lexington Howe photo

It’s all about giving back.

As part of a new pilot program, 15 churches came together Sept. 28, to help with a variety of projects at Rancho Damacitas’ 12-acre campus, Empowerment Village: from mulching, repair work, building and painting new playhouses for children, as well as painting two of the homes on the property that house single mothers and their children.

Kristi Piatkowski, director of development for Rancho Damacitas Children and Family Services, works with single mothers with children 10 years old or younger, who are homeless or may become homeless, including some who came out of domestic violence. The program seeks to give these families long-term care for 1-2 years with housing on-site or at least until they can get back on their feet.

“When families come out here, they may be used to a room and shelter, and sometimes it’s scary the environments that they’re coming from,” Piatkowski said. “Inside the homes here, we have toys for the kids, and we try to decorate their bedroom the best they can if we know it’s a boy or girl, so they feel welcome right away.”

The grounds have a multitude of trees, and for single mother Miriam and her three children, the surroundings are very therapeutic.

“You get a beautiful home, a roommate,” Miriam said. “The area, the environment, the gardens, it’s just all about love.”

Habitat for Humanity Inland Valley, which helps low-income families build their first home or improve their homes, worked with Thrivent for the project, a Christian-founded organization that helps individuals and families in managing money. The community service project was part of a new pilot program called Building on Faith, one of 50 across the nation by Thrivent that gathers churches and volunteers together to help give back to the community.

Rita Barringer, a single mother who is now buying a home, participates and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity to give back.

“It happens,” she said. “It was totally God.”

Tess Crawford, a volunteer who helped with the conceptual design of the children’s playhouses, created structures tied to the feel of a community village.

“A fire station, school, maybe someday a restaurant, a grocery store,” Crawford said. “Let the kids play in there, learn why fire stations are important, good things to know and to access. That’s the idea; kind of fun action, get them involved.”

“The whole underlying message of this is unity, togetherness, collaboration,” Eric Bunge, community outreach director with Habitat for Humanity Inland Valley, said. “In the past we’ve done single church projects, where a group of 20 would come out and paint a home, but from the impact they said let’s just combine it and do one big day and get the 10-15 groups that we have.”

“I see myself changing,” Miriam said, who came out of an abusive relationship. “I have a lot of social anxiety, so it’s about getting back into the world.”

All three groups are here together, Piatkowski said.

“We’re really about making sure that the families are stable and that the children are stable, because when they’re stable and safe, they’re going to grow, to learn and they’ll be healthier as they get older,” she said.

To find out more about the pilot program, visit www.habitativ.org/buildingonfaith.

“They’re like angels,” Miriam said. “What they’re doing is great.”

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.