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The Center of a City of Volunteers

By Rebecca Wicks
Ventura Breeze
May 13, 2015

The City Center is exactly that, a place where members of a community have come together to build a central home for its own. With 17 rooms housing once homeless Venturans, The City Center is focused on getting individuals and families back on their feet and self-sufficient. Now, the Center is adding eight additional rooms, which will house homeless veterans who are working toward that same goal.

The newly constructed eight additional rooms are expected to be finished soon, and is on track to have veterans move in as early as the middle of this month. The project is the result of too many volunteers and organizations to name according to Jim Duran, executive director of The City Center.

“This project is truly a community effort,” said Duran. “It’s being done with the help of churches, private industry, the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, volunteer Seabees, and tons of individuals.”

Home Depot donated $14,000 in building materials, and a group of volunteer Seabees have showed up for the last 10 weekends to take on the majority of the construction work. In addition, Lowes built out one of the eight rooms while the Ventura Chamber of Commerce took on the kitchen as their own project.

Duran estimates the project would have cost the Center $150,000 in materials and labor to construct the eight rooms and a kitchen on their own. He believes that number will now be in the ballpark of $20,000 after all the help the Center had been given.

It’s mission rang true for many of the volunteers including a group of volunteer Seabees which consists of advanced skill instructors – those who train Navy recruits coming out of boot camp – including carpenters, electricians, welders, and heavy equipment operators.

“What we found so appealing about The City Center was they require residents to meet the Center more than half way – they have to have a job, they have to have a savings account, they have to be committed to turning their life around,” said volunteer Brett Renaker, a construction mechanic for the U.S. Navy. “Not everyone was taught how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and the Center gives people the tools to do this.”

Located on Thompson Boulevard, the site housed the former Kingdom Center – also a transitional living facility – which was run by an organization which vacated the property in November 2013. The property was initially taken over by Project Understanding before a new board could be formed. The group officially became incorporated as The City Center in April, 2014.

New veteran residents will be placed into The City Center by Turning Point Foundation, an organization that works to support the needs of mentally ill adults. The Foundation is currently building rooms on Vince Street in Ventura, but will be renting the rooms from The City Center at least until the Vince Street project is complete which will be somewhere between six months to a year. Located on the north end of the Center, the eight rooms, laundry facilities and kitchen area the Foundation will use have a separate entrance from the rest of the Center. One room will house a 24-hour staff member while the other seven rooms will be home to veterans, two to a room.

The south side of the Center will continue to house individuals and families. According to Duran, the majority of the inhabitants are small families. Last month the Center housed 18 adults and 23 children, with all adults gainfully employed. Individuals apply to live at the Center and must be sober for at least six months and have no recent felony charges. In the past 12 months, the Center has “graduated” nine families into self-sufficiency. According to Duran, three single moms “graduated” and moved out last month into permanent housing, all with full time jobs, a car, and a savings account.

“Kids – and getting them off the street – are a big part of it,” said Duran. “If you don’t have a job, it’s okay, we just want people who want to make a radical change in their life.”

Renaker estimates upwards of 70 volunteer Seabees and their family members have participated in the construction of The City Center. He has been impressed with what volunteering has brought out of his own colleagues – a desire to help beyond their technical skills.

“What started as a simple, let’s build some stuff has rolled into ‘what else can we do?’” said Renaker who has talked with his fellow volunteer Seabees about organizing a toy drive for the holidays.

This is music to Duran’s ears who is still in a bit of disbelief at how much help the Cetner has received and how the project has come together.

“It’s amazing what a community can do when they come together and put the time and effort in,” said Duran.