A home doesn’t always pertain to the roof over your head. Sometimes, it’s being in a safe community and environment where you can be at ease and are empowered. The Founder of Community’s Child, Tara Nierenhausen, talks with Athena Paquette Cormier about the situation of homelessness and domestic violence around us, and how her non-profit plays a role in fighting it. She explains the long-term effects of domestic violence, not only on the couple involved, but the children, too, and ultimately the community. Learn about the big impact real estate has in changing the lives of the people in need.
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Building A Safe Community One Home At A Time With Tara Nierenhausen
I’m here with Tara Nierenhausen the Executive Director of Community’s Child, which is a service provider nonprofit here in the South Bay part of Los Angeles. To introduce a little bit of why this is supposed to be for investors, every couple of weeks, at least once a month, I highlight a nonprofit that has to do with housing and real estate that serves the underserved communities. They’re mostly focused on women and children who are at risk and need more than a government handout. These people would be lost or forced to make poor decisions if they didn’t have an outlet or a place to go. These nonprofits help these people. My history with Community’s Child goes back a couple of years. Oddly enough, I was introduced to the Community’s Child by my property manager. It’s all to do with real estate and housing people. Welcome, Tara. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having me.
Can you tell me, Tara, a little bit about your background and how Community’s Child started?
I have a background in social work and in special education. I emigrated from Canada where I ran programs because of either domestic violence or things like that. When I came to California, my husband is from Redondo Beach and we moved down here to help his mom. I took a job working for something called Trinity Shelter. It was interesting because I came here. Over to Cal State which is cool because there was a place for women to come that were pregnant.
They could come there and have healthy births for their children instead of being on the streets. We offered a lot of medical stuff. It’s a school that helping women to have healthy births, but the problem with the Crisis Maturity Shelter is the women had access to three months of aid. It was 2005 when we found out the homeless rate for women and children in the county of LA were 36,000 homeless women and children every night. The last four women that I had in that shelter, I could not find appropriate housing for. I would have to say that it broke my heart to the point where I went, “I got to do something.” That’s how Community’s Child was born. I talked to a group of about seven South Bay residents that cared a lot about homeless women with babies and young children. We started doing some fundraising on June 1st of 2005. By May of 2008, we opened up the shelter for homeless women and children.Creating a healthy family doesn’t only include parents but the children as well since domestic violence is a family issue. Click To Tweet
That went from an idea to getting people talking about what you wanted to do and seeing who it resonated with and then you raised money. How much money did you have to raise to get it started?
We initially raised $360,000 for a down payment on a small house in Lomita. It was cool because we started talking to everybody in Lomita that knew contractors. We wanted to knock it down and build it up to this nice shelter and everybody in the community got on board. We have the plants donated. We have the roof donated. We have the foundation donated. It became this big community project, which was great because that’s why it’s called Community’s Child. We did have to pay for some of the materials because not everybody could donate.
Probably about three years after being open, a donor paid our mortgage off completely. That donor wants to remain anonymous, but I will tell you that that donor was involved seeing the impact that we were having helping. Building the shelter we are close to a church, it was right next door. The pastor started to have a need in the Lomita Torrance area. We also started looking at children that maybe didn’t have school supplies, didn’t have enough food for lunches. Maybe they didn’t have socks and underwear. A little more of a community program as well. I did not know that this woman had been with us. What we were doing and was seeing how the children and the families were improving much in the schools so she came and said, “Keep going.”
Do you have one location or one home?
We have one that can house the women and children. We run full capacity all the time. The new stats came out from LAHSA on homelessness and it’s better. It was up 14% the past year and in this area, we’re up about 4%. That’s an improvement but it’s still growing. There are still wait-list for people for housing. We have shelter. We started with the church next door and we quickly grew out of that. We had over 714 families that we serve with over 4,000 children. We needed a community. That is a lot. It was important.
I know, Athena, you’ve been helpful with this program. One of the things that happened during all of our community engagement, we decided to do a project with them. They wanted to check on the health. They partnered with us and brought their labs on-site and we brought all the families and the kids in. We were all nice because everybody knows about diabetes and heart disease. Twenty-seven percent of the kids that we were serving attended local elementary schools and I’m talking because of poor nutrition. My background in special ed tells me that a couple of years, they developed permanent cognitive impairments, which means they will be disabled.
We started that Healthy Bag program which we continued through the schools where the children are going home to empty cupboards. They’re malnourished kids. We do that every week at the schools. We’re happy to announce that when we met with the kids again at Torrance, we’ve got that 27% under 4.7%. It’s a lot of healthier kids and families. We have a community center because when you’re providing that much food and that much outreach. We don’t make the approach with the issue of why these families are impoverished to begin with. We’re doing prevocational. We’re doing parenting. We’re helping with the whole operations. We have a lot of programs going and a lot of stuff going on helping people.
It’s 700 families and 4,000 children are served by this new community center.
More than 700 and 4,500 something kids throughout the year. One of the programs we did because when people are in poverty for a long time and the economy was down for a long time. We’re struggling. When that happens, a family gets stressed out. There’s some big fracturing going on in the family. We don’t just do the health screen, we look at mental health as well and family. We came up with that these families were incredibly stressed. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of stress, and alcohol. We got some funding to do with a family support program, which was for domestic violence. We called it Healthy Families.
To give you an idea of the numbers, of the needs, we asked for funding for 75 families. We had families sign up. Most families had 3 to 4 children and we weren’t just doing it with the parents, we were doing it with the children. What was cool is mom and dads showed up. This was a family issue and they showed up for the families to learn about what is domestic violence? What are the laws about domestic violence? What causes it? How do they prevent it? Anger management, a lot of counseling, a lot of groups, and the kids will help. We get to know the families. We feed the children in the summer. Most feeding programs are in the summer. That’s 500 kids every four weeks coming in to get four weeks’ worth of groceries. There’s the Back to School program. There’s our Christmas program.Be willing to want more for your life and to come out of the destructive patterns that got you into homelessness. Click To Tweet
People don’t necessarily need to be in your shelter. You’re serving them in a lot of different ways.
One of our objectives at the community center is to prevent homelessness. We have a program where we’ll help families at least one time with rent or with utility assistance. We’ll help them with budgeting. We’ll help them with groceries, diapers, wipes, anything that was going to help except for the bills. Living not at the poverty level but they’re 40% to 50%. Their average income for a family of five is small. I don’t know how you make it, pay the rent.
You have to be on Section 8 or something. How do you even survive? Forget rent, just food, gas and all that stuff.
These aren’t families that are in the county. These are working families. The problem is and that’s why we have many educational programs going is that they’re underemployed. They’re working 2, 3 part-time minimum wage jobs with no medical coverage. They’re not lazy families. Most of them are willing to help out which is cool.
It’s interesting what you said about the family program where you’re having the dad and mom showing up. It seems like a lot of programs, the women are homeless with their children and the man is missing. That’s probably overgeneralization, but it seems like if you get both parents and they’re working on it together, that would be ideal.
Out there they have been abandoned. There’s sometimes violence. We are seeing a lot of fracturing with the family because there’s so much stress. We want to help prevent that because there are families that are healthier. It is better and we want the family to stay together. That’s something we should morally and ethically do. Our programs are for both.
I do want to talk a little bit about the process. When a woman comes into the shelter, I admire the whole process of education that they go through and learning about rules. If they’re going to live in your house, they have to follow the rules and to get them back on their feet with education. What’s the process that you go through with women to get them back on their feet and hopefully out the door independent?
I told you the stats, its bad how many homeless people are out there. There are a lot of different agencies that will refer to us. Our program is different and then it’s as a two-year transition. They go to bed by 8:00, they’re up at 6:00 AM. They have to go to school. They have to be advancing their education because they wouldn’t be standing and have a sustainable income. Most of them by the time they leave here, at least halfway through. In order to deal with the core issues, there’s individual counseling, group counseling, family counseling, and then there’s trauma counseling for the children. Children that are homeless are incredibly traumatized and it’s a lot to go through. There are a lot of UCLA colleges here and helps work with the kids so that the women have to attend those counseling sessions. They have to attend to communication and problem-solving. They’re in school full-time and they got to celebrate recovery because whether they’re dealing with addictions or not, there are all kinds of core issues and codependency.
They’re in the program six days a week. They do get one day a week as a getaway time. The success rate in our program doesn’t usually stay in the advantage of everything. The other thing we have here is we have something that’s called a Force Savings Plan. Any income they make, 80% of that has to go into a bank account. When they leave here at the end of the two years, we want to see them. We have that process going. Our grants are amazing. Athena, you’ve heard some of them speak. The last two events, and those halfway through transferring over to Arizona State where she’s going to complete her bachelor’s and where she’s been invited to be as a person that works with the football team and therapy.
Like an assistant coach or something. This girl is going to college and getting a job already.
The other one who was speaking, she’s learned. It was behavioral and something else that she wants to go do some special ed counseling. Loretta has already done with her paralegal and is finishing up her law degree as well. We get everything from nurses to health workers. A lot of them go into the medical field because the pay is well, dental assistant. SP who’s on her board. Later at Molina Health. When the girls stick, the sky is the limit. What I like about it is that once they graduated from here, they don’t stop. They come back. They help others. Elena who graduated got a job with Toyota. She’s got taken on. She bought her first house. It was a huge celebration. She’s got three kids, a set of twins and another little one. She went through much to get away from the abuse of relationships and we’re proud of her.
She’s flying out here because she’s volunteering with Toyota, but she’s also coming back here to encourage the girls and tell them how to do it. Our program is a little different than the others out there. In order to come here, you have to be willing to do the program. You have to be willing to want more for your life. To come out of the patterns that got you into homelessness and all those destructive patterns and to do the work. Our girls are from 4.5 to 4.0 in college. We have tutors that volunteer here. We should maybe talk about the community. We have over 500 volunteers a year and help with health, diet restriction, and teachers. We teach the girls how to scrap. Bankers come in and teach things. It takes a whole community for this to turn out this well. We even have mentors for many of the programs. We can’t live without the help of the community. We helped 500 families without the community stepping up and helping us. We can’t even run those programs without the crew behind us. We give a big shout out to the South Bay community that joined us.
That’s incredible because if you’ve got 500 volunteers and 700 families. That’s 500 volunteers for 5,000 people, that’s a good ratio. For Community’s Child, how much are the dollars that you take in donations? What percentage goes to buying the food and all the programs versus admin stuff? That’s a big hot button with people who donate, they’re told, “Make sure your money’s going to the organization and not all the jets.” Don’t talk about your jet, Tara.
I don’t have a jet. As a matter of fact, I’m driving a 2005 white pickup truck. For the longest time, I finally got a car. I feel much stuff for the organization. We finished our audit and got it back. I needed it because the deadline was due. We are 8.5% admin, which is low. People with a full-time staff of five people. There are only five of us and part-time staff. We have an army of volunteers and that helps. We believe that when people are giving their money, they want to see an impact. They get a good value for their dollar at Community’s Child. Because you do real estate, I do want to tell you about our upcoming project.
Let’s hear it.
We were talking a little bit about homelessness and the women when they come. What we have been able to do is when the women had finished the two years and your guest seems to understand this is considered by law. I can’t keep them and never asked them to leave and there are people coming in. That’s why the two-year cut. We have been able in the past to do an additional year or two while they’re finishing their degrees, but with the homeless rate going big, that door is closing. We were blessed that we had an anonymous donor come forward saying, “I will give up to $1 million.” Anybody that’s interested in supporting this, we have a donor that’s prepared to match up to $1 million. We’d like to open up an apartment for the grads there to complete their degree and then move on to regular rent situations. We’re optimistic. I’ll do some grants. Set up that apartment program.
How many apartments? Would it be one apartment or an apartment building? Is that what you’re talking about?
It’s an apartment complex. We’d like it to have a storefront because a lot of the women are talented and some of the kids could do some things. Put them in the store, earn some extra income to help with books.
That’s a great vision. It empowers them when they see something they created got sold. It helps them be independent.
They also round to market. There are all kinds of things they can learn. I would like to do a little work in that store too.
I want to thank you for joining me. Maybe Amy can come back and fill us in a little bit more on the new projects for Community’s Child and all the things that go on. Maybe she can give us some examples. If someone wants to donate to Community’s Child, where would they go to do that?
They can go to our website. We have a website which is CChild.org. Hit that donate button.
Thanks for joining me, Tara. I love Community’s Child. Hopefully, people learn something and we’ll hear from you soon and happy birthday to Community’s Child.
It’s exciting that your vision came true. It’s amazing.
It’s good. Thank you.
On Investors Corner, we’re going to learn how to save tens of thousands of dollars on our tax returns. I’m going to have a cost segregation specialist come and talk to us about that, Michelle. Next, we have Frank Rolfe. He’s the fifth-largest owner of mobile home parks in the US. He owns 300 parks, 32,000 lots in 28 states and has a valuation of $1 billion. Be sure to join me to learn to save on taxes and to learn about owning mobile home parks. Thanks for joining me.
About Tara Nierenhausen
Founder and Executive Director of Community’s Child a Non-Profit organization that provides a transitional living, self-development and education program for homeless women and children, and outreach supports and educational programs for disadvantaged families residing in the South Bay of California.