In her opening remarks at the Helping Others Sleep Tonight (H.O.S.T.) House / Project Restart open house last Wednesday, new H.O.S.T. chairperson Laura Elkinton acknowledged that, as H.O.S.T. House has been around for some time, some people wondered why they were holding an open house now.
Ironically, Project Restart is working its magic on H.O.S.T. House, itself.
The facility is under new management, Elkinton explained. She described a meeting with H.O.S.T. House volunteers, during which Project Restart / Cambridge Academy staff were asked to take over the day-to-day operations of what was then being operated as a shelter for the area’s homeless population.
“I said, ‘sure, why not?’” Elkinton said, adding that she immediately called Cambridge Academies founder Geni Boyer and told her, “I’m not sure what I just did, but we’re operating H.O.S.T. House.”
Boyer’s response was enthusiastic, and the group took over in August, immediately beginning work on establishing a satellite Project Restart program.
“What you’ve seen inside (new bedroom furniture, updated eating area, storage space and other upgrades) has truly been a labor of love on the part of the board (of directors) and Cambridge Academies,” Elkinton said. “We’ve worked very hard to build this space up to be a home,” she added.
Both Elkinton and Boyer emphasized that the facility is not being run as a homeless shelter. Rather, it’s a place for Project Restart program participants to gain the skills and knowledge needed to “restart” their lives.
After several months of working to gain the trust and interest of potential program participants, the Cambridge Academy launched its inaugural Project Restart class a few months ago.
The multi-faceted program is designed to inspire participants to make major changes in their lives, and to give them the tools required to accomplish those changes.
Boyer described the effort as “a 3-way partnership, between the City of Patterson, the H.O.S.T. House board and Cambridge Academies.”
She also pointed out that Cambridge Academies, a Modesto-based nonprofit, depends on the generosity of donors for much of its funding. Part of the purpose of Wednesday’s open house, Boyer said, was to acknowledge a generous donation from the owners of the Prime Shine car wash chain. The contribution from Norm and Evan Porges has made it possible for the board to purchase new beds and furniture in bedrooms, she explained.
“One of the students said, ‘It’s nice to sleep on a soft bed, with a soft pillow, and a nice blanket. It helps me calm down inside, and feel good’,” Boyer told the crowd.
Boyer went on to describe the program, referring to participants as “the wonderful men we serve.” They are “becoming strong men who are creating a new future for their lives.” The Enterprise Restart program has two parts: learning how to think differently, and thereby changing one’s mindset; and an entrepreneurial work ethic work component.
“Two days a week, Boyer said, “the guys work at a warehouse. They’ve also been putting up the awning,” she said, referring to the nearly-complete covered shelter area. The area will be used by groups who currently provide lunches at North Park.
The project has taken a little longer than anticipated, Boyer explained, because program participants have done the construction work. Paul, one of the program’s former students is a project manager, currently working toward obtaining a contractor’s license.
Thomas, another former participant, is in training to become facilitator for Enterprise Restart Program. The program is so named because it really does allow participants to restart their lives. “I’m so proud of (Paul and Thomas),” Boyer said, explaining that both had begun the program while in the jail on Hackett Road.
Del Puerto High School graduate Marlon also addressed the crowd. “I grew up in a big household where there was domestic violence, and a lot of arguing,” he said. “My brothers were into the party lifestyle. I never knew why my parents were so anti-drugs,” he said, then explained that he found out later that his brothers “were on drugs – hard drugs. I didn’t know,” he said, “I’d never seen them do it.”
After the deaths of his parents, Marlon also got sucked into “partying. I’d get up in the morning and get my fix. Then one I day met (Program Coordinator) Peter (Maldonado) at the park.”
Maldonado convinced Marlon to check out the program. Marlon has accomplished what he called “a big improvement. That’s what kept me here; that’s why I’m here now. We have classes – different than in junior high and high school. It’s learning about life, and your values, and your self-worth. It’s so important,” he said.
“From having bouts with drugs and being homeless, I’ve come a long way,” Marlon said, “I’m honored to be here,” he said, to a round of applause.
The group will be soon be rolling out what Boyer “community enhancement programs,” in which three teams will be cleaning in the parks, and helping elderly people with their yards, for example.
A number of dignitaries were on hand for the event, including Patterson Mayor Deborah Novelli and City Manager Ken Irwin, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim Demartini, Modesto City Councilmember Jenny Kenoyer, and representatives for Assemblyman Adam Gray, Representative Jeff Denham, and Senator Anythony Cannella.