It’s Halloween and I’m walking into the contact office at our Shelter of Hope for Women and Children, with a big bag of donated treats for the kids. As I open the door, I immediately see one of our staff, Robin, comforting a crying girl. I do my best to lighten her mood with candy from the bag I’m holding. She stifles her tears a bit, accepts the gift, and leaves the office. “Just another day at the office,” Robin says with a kind smile on her face.
As I write this, the number of children needing overnight shelter has tripled since last year (2016 Total: 61; 2017 to-date: 203). That’s essentially one new child coming for shelter every day and a half.
This summer, thanks to a grant from Visalia County Center Rotary, VRM began a Summer Services* program for mothers with children at our shelter. The funding allowed us to staff the shelter 24-hours a day so these families had a safe place to escape the heat. One of the mothers has been sober for a year, but lost her job and then her apartment. “I thought they would take my kids from me if I came to a shelter,” she told me. With three children, how can this mom get back on her feet without this practical support?
As 2017 comes to a close, we are reflecting on all of the wins we have enjoyed, as well as the losses we have experienced. Here is just one example of each:
WIN: 17 men and women graduated from our Life Change Academy after a year commitment, with several joining our staff. Our last graduation was attended by a Tulare County Judge and Probation Officer who came to celebrate the “lost cause” they had been assigned to — a young woman they believed would always run from her problems. What a testimony!
LOSS: Our staff attended two funerals this year. One service was for a former Academy resident who left the Academy early for a job. He later relapsed into his addiction and tragically passed away. The other service was for a homeless woman who was murdered in the middle of night four months ago right here in Visalia. As I stood in front of her open casket, I found myself apologizing — apologizing for not doing more, for a broken system that is able to help some, but not all, and I apologized that she died alone in a planter bed.
One of my favorite parts of my job is speaking to local groups and churches. I get to stare at faces like yours, with the expression you’re making right now as you read the stories above. Whether you’ve got the furrowed brow of new vision or teary eyes of compassion, you want to help, and we want to help you do that. The first step in helping the hurting is often scary, but if you’ve read this much, I’m guessing you’re ready to take that step.
As you may know, VRM is 100 percent privately funded by this generous community. That means every dollar you donate makes a difference and every hour you volunteer is truly life changing. You can sign up right now to serve a meal in our community kitchen, or if you have a minimum of four hours to give per week, you can become a High Impact Ministry Volunteer and become part of the team. Don’t know where to serve? Just ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing already? What am I good at?”
Every year, in addition to the overnight shelter for men, women, and children, we serve over 100,000 meals and provide hundreds of hours in counseling and classes for our Academy residents. While these services and resources are provided at no cost, the operational cost to us as an organization is great: $1.92 per meal, $11 per shelter night, and $18.32 per day in our Life Change Academy.
However you choose to engage the need in your community with us, we are so grateful to have you and provide an avenue for you to live out your faith. Only together can we see lives changed.
*VRM has continued the Summer Services program post-grant funding. If you are interested in financially supporting 24-hour services for women and children, please contact Ryan at