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As their children played in the backyard at Alexandria House last Sunday, current and former members of the transitional shelter took turns selecting gifts for their sons and daughters from a sea of pink and blue boxes.
Volunteers then wrapped the toys, provided through donations by individuals and organizations, before they were placed under the Alexandria House tree. While joyous, the occasion had undertones of the financial problems that so many families face today.
“It’s sort of a testimony,” said Sister Judy Vaughan, the founding director of the organization.
Alexandria House, which is actually two side-by-side houses, is a long-term shelter for single women and women with children on South Alexandria Avenue. The nonprofit has been in existence since 1996, providing services to families in an effort to prevent homelessness.
Vaughan said the organization offers hospitality, food, shelter, childcare, counseling, support, financial management advice and job search services, among other things, for its clientele. However, the assistance does not stop once a family finds permanent housing, she said.
“We’re really about building a community,” Vaughan said, adding that studies have shown that having a support group to relate to is one of the best ways to prevent homelessness from occurring again.
Since its inception, Alexandria House has helped 160 families, and it stays in touch with about 100, Vaughan said. Its two homes offer another room for nine families — as many as 28 people, she said. The average stay is 10 months.
Vaughan said approximately 85 percent of the residents were victims of either domestic abuse or human trafficking. Most current residents make between minimum wage and $10 an hour; therefore, anything extra beyond rent, food and transportation is “next to impossible,” she said.
That makes events such as Sunday’s all the more necessary, Vaughan said. She said the event also serves as a reunion, with so many former residents in attendance.
“We have kids who took their first steps here and are now teenagers and are just wonderful young adults,” Vaughan added. “So it’s really quite an amazing event.”
Former resident Lind Cortes certainly appreciated the offering. She was a resident 15 years ago, and her daughter, Joanna, was the first child born at Alexandria House.
“It was a very wonderful experience,” she said. “As a single mom, it helped us a lot. … What I can say? It’s [the most blessed place] that I could ever find in my whole life, especially when I was pregnant sixteen years ago.”
Cortes, who portrayed Mrs. Claus during the organization’s Annual Neighborhood Holiday Celebration the day before, said she is also pleased that Alexandria House continues to assist her family.
“Every time we need help, they’re here for us,” she added. “Any time we need support, they’re here for us.”
Mark Kimura, a project leader for L.A. Works, a volunteer action center, was among a group of volunteers who helped wrap presents for the women during the event. He has supported the organization for 10 years and spoke highly of its efforts.
“I love it,” Kimura said. “I come out here once a month. …Alexandria House is an incredible organization. They do a lot of great work. It makes me proud to be a part of it and help the mission.”
Sunnie Yañez, Alexandria House’s associate director, agreed. A former resident, she joined the organization after utilizing its services from 1999 to 2000.
“I just love it. It’s a great place to … be a part of,” Yañez said. “It’s a great opportunity … to get back on your feet.”
She believes that the most important thing about Alexandria House is the amount of time that residents are given. Yañez said Alexandria House provided a two-year program, whereas many shelters only allow six months or 90 days.
A victim of domestic violence, she had lost custody of her six children and wound up homeless and evicted. Through her time with Alexandria House, Yañez was able to piece her life together.
“If it hadn’t been for Alexandria House, I don’t know where I would be today. I love it,” she said, adding that she is pleased to help the effort. “I just want to, in some way, give back and help people who have experienced what I have experienced. …It’s just always helpful to know that somebody else has gone through what you’re gong through.”
Vaughan said the program is mutually beneficial in that past residents frequently provide services to the organization after they leave. The former and current residents also look out for one another, she said.
‘It’s an amazing place, and I usually say to people … there’s something very compelling about this place,” Vaughan added.
Alexandria House is currently operating without government funding, she said. Therefore, donations are sorely needed. Vaughan said the organization specifically needs gifts or gift cards for teenagers for the holidays.
“[We’re] still trying to make sure every family has something special for the holidays,” she said.
For information or to donate, call (213)381-2649 or visit www.alexandriahouse.org. Alexandria House is located at 426 S. Alexandria Ave., and Vaughan said people are more than welcome to stop by.
“That’s the best way to get the spirit,” she added.
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