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A promise to help families

Posted: January 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Chris Najarro, Family Promise of Santa Clarita network director, right, speaks to a client in the computer lab at Family Promise headquarters in Canyon Country.

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Since opening in June, Family Promise of SCV has worked with eight families and more than 22 children who faced living on the streets.

The faith-based nonprofit organization and its resource center in Canyon Country regularly take in clients who have little to no other option than being homeless.

Donna Durbin and her three daughters are one of those families. Originally from Santa Barbara, they came to Family Promise because they had no where else to turn. Durbin and her daughters, ages 15, 9 and 7, didn’t plan on becoming homeless, but that’s exactly what happened.

She came from a family that valued hard work to reach its goals. After a traumatic divorce involving abuse and working two jobs for more than three years, the worst happened in May.

Her full-time career for more than 15 years in senior care and her part-time job working in a group home for the mentally and physically disabled both cut her hours.

“I was trying to do everything that I could to not be homeless or be at the poverty level,” Durbin said.
Durbin could no longer afford her rent, with no extended family or support network to help, she turned to a homeless shelter.
That decision proved to be even more difficult for Durbin.

New to the procedures of shelters, she learned they had to leave the shelter every morning and could not return until 5 p.m. With summer vacation just starting, she had nowhere to take her daughters while she worked the few hours she was keeping.

Without a car or home, Durbin eventually lost both jobs. That’s when she decided to try a place she had heard about: Family Promise.

New hope
Durbin was willing to take her family to Santa Clarita with the hope of a new start.

“It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “I thought, if I don’t get in, I don’t know where else to go.”
After an intake appointment and drug screening, the family was accepted at the end of July. Family Promise Network Director

Chris Najarro felt that they were a perfect fit for the program. She became very close with the family and still keeps in touch with them.

The program, different from a shelter, rotates families one week at a time at different host churches for up to 90 days. They are offered a place to sleep and shower and meals for their families.

“It was nice to know we didn’t have to leave during the day,” Durbin said. “We had somewhere to go where we could get help and use computers without being timed.”

Days were spent at the resource center conducting job searches and getting counseling. The girls spent afternoons in Najarro’s office doing homework, running to give her hugs when they got in from school.

“She is a exceptional parent,” Najarro said. “She has the sweetest girls. I received a lot of positive feedback about her. She was very motivated.”

Najarro felt it important to let Durbin’s children know she could be trusted and wanted to help them.

“National statistics show that kids lose six months of education when they change schools,” she said. “It’s essential for them to do well in school.”

People that care
The family was happy to be welcomed to so many different churches. They even tried to participate in events at each one.

“We were so grateful to have people that wanted to help us,” Durbin said. “Moving from church to church was a little hard, but we got to know the people of the community.”

Durbin was amazed by how many professionals volunteered at Family Promise, including Santa Clarita Mayor Laurie Ender.
Ender, who volunteers several times a month, is also a board member.

“It’s wonderful to spend time one on one with the families and to help them get back on their feet,” Ender said. “Other than being a mother, this is the single most important thing I have ever been involved in.”

Evenings at the churches consisted of volunteers offering tutoring, playing games, watching television and just chatting with the families.

“We have been really blessed by this program,” said Scott Harland, Director of Outreach at Real Life Church. “It was a learning experience the first time around, but we just wanted to make sure they were feeling at home.”

The family graduated from the program and moved on to Door of Hope, a housing program in the San Fernando Valley for families that have suffered domestic violence. Durbin found seasonal employment and is working toward a better future.

“When we entered Family Promise things seemed to pick up,” Durbin said. “Every step was like a blessing.”

Volunteers and board members emphasized the importance of contributing to a program like this and recognizing the growing need in the community.

“This has really changed my life,” Ender said. “It has really opened my eyes to how this can happen to anyone. Many people are one paycheck away from finding themselves homeless and all these parents want is to provide the same things we want to provide for our kids, a sense of home.”



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