We continue to be in a season of both trauma and recovery from the largest fire in California history in our community. Sometimes the trauma can seem to be overwhelming and even discouraging, while people struggle to imagine a life on the other side. Even for service providers like the Jesus Center who for nearly 40 years has been helping people through personal trauma and recovery, there are times when it can be overwhelming to hear the stories of those suffering. As a community member who may be hearing stories for the first time, I want to encourage you that it’s okay if the perfect words or the answers to the pain of others do not come quickly or naturally; it’s your time, your attention and your caring that makes a difference.
While we can never undo tragedies that people or communities have experienced, we are always looking for healthy ways to support or respond. It’s so important for people to know and believe that they can grow through trauma, and that they’re lives really can change. I think there are two positive activities that each of us can engage into that has the power to truly make a difference: Celebration (gratitude) and Service (collaboration). Both of these activities are going to be offered in this month's letter.
Three years ago, in September of 2016, Shelly Watson of the Jesus Center had the vision to open Myrtle House. The house itself has a lovely legacy of service to our community, and Shelly had heard that it was available. It is a gorgeous parcel filled with outdoor space and nestled into an old Chico neighborhood developed by an old friend of the Jesus Center family. We were blessed to have a property owner who shared in our vision for what Myrtle House could mean for single women and children in our community! That’s when the fun began to transform this into a dynamic home for women and children, particularly those focused on reunification with their children.
In five quick weeks, this community leaned in so that we could open Myrtle House, a place where single mothers were committing to their families and learning what it meant to be ‘home’. What a flurry of volunteers, donations, and community support! Two huge momentum partners included the Lowe’s Heroes Program and the National Association of Realtors, (NAR). The support from Lowe’s meant that the Myrtle house would open with all fresh paint, flooring, appliances and blinds! And the NAR grant helped fill the house with furnishings, supplies and hope! Finishing touches were tackled by the Chico Posse Foundation: matching décor, the mama’s touch, and the hominess. And then there was Gary, a local handyman who read about the project, and appeared one day at the Jesus Center to say he wanted to help. Gary did some heavy lifting for us to prepare for some of the more cosmetic repairs being done in the house, and we could not have done this without him! He poured endless hours of love and work into this house. The list of helpers on this project was astounding, and even three years later we continue to be amazed at how it all came together.
All of this wonderful collaboration made Myrtle House a sanctuary and a place of growth for women who are trying to bring their child into the world full of love and positivity or working to regain custody of their children, or. Our first resident had just given birth to her first son when the house opened, and here is how she reflects on what the Myrtle House has meant to her family:
“I was so blessed beyond words to have a safe, warm environment to bring my newborn son home to. My son spent the first two years of his life at Myrtle House and he thrived there! The amount of support that I received, my son and other women in the house was endless. I was supported, encouraged, and reminded of my worth. We now have transitioned into our own home, but I remain blessed. The Jesus Center continues to support and guide me when I need it! I am so very grateful, Thank You Jesus Center!”
—Former Myrtle House Participant
The transformation of Myrtle House is a beautiful metaphor for the work being done inside. Women who have been seen as “lost souls” and lived in despair have found a path back to themselves and to create a better future for them and their family. Also, this collaboration is a kind reminder that difference makers can be the ones we know the least but show up to support us at just the right time and carry us through!
I continue to believe that we can make our community a wonderful place to live. Let’s celebrate the hard work of our fellow citizens, bolster those who need a helping hand, and join together to make this a better place. Please consider a gift today and join our proactive work to make people’s lives better. Without our community, this work cannot be done. This is work is an “all play”: it takes all of us.
Laura R. Cootsona