Saved By Grace


June 25, 2010 |  2:40 pm

Officials at Union Rescue Mission said Friday that they had raised sufficient funds to keep open Hope Gardens, a transitional housing center for women and children in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley.

“I’m feeling great relief,” said Andy Bales, chief executive of Union Rescue Mission. “We’re planning a celebration next month at Hope Gardens.”

Like many nonprofits, Union Rescue Mission has been hard-hit by the recession. Demand for the organization’s services, which include a downtown shelter, has increased 45% in the last two years, Bales said. But by late May, donations were down 21% from last year.

Unless the organization could raise $2.8 million by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, officials feared they would have to close Hope Gardens, which offers homeless women and children a tranquil atmosphere in which to rebuild their lives.

On May 24, Bales issued an emergency appeal for donations through his blog, Twitter, Facebook, text messages and snail mail.

He said key support came from individuals such as Scott Minerd, a managing partner at Guggenheim Partners, who provided $1 million in matching contributions.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and he’s really stepped up,” Bales said. “But it’s not just been the big gifts. It’s been other people stepping forward with what they can that has helped get the matching funds.”

The target was reached Friday morning with a $250,000 gift from the Louis & Gladyce Foster Family Foundation, he said.

Bales sent out a celebratory Tweet: “Thanks 2 you has received $2.9 Million towards $2.8 Million goal 2 Save Hope Gardens!”

The next step is to develop a plan to ensure the center remains financially viable, Bales said. All employees have already accepted two 5% pay cuts, and eight people were laid off, Bales said. The organization is also appealing for long-term support from Los Angeles County, which pays for security, counseling and other services at the site.

— Alexandra Zavis

This was the news story last week as you, our donors put us over the top in our fundraising efforts to save Hope Gardens Family Center and keep precious moms and children from returning to the mean streets of Skid Row.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!!

 31 days ago I feared for the worst as I drove home late one night after a Board of Directors meeting at Union Rescue Mission downtown.  I contemplated the fate of not finishing well, retiring in disappointment and disgrace, believing that I might be viewed as a fellow who tried hard, but failed.  It was not a new feeling to me.  6 years after I handed off the reins of Good Samaritan Urban Ministries in Des Moines, Iowa to a capable new leader and committed Board of Directors, this coalition of 120 churches that I had helped form from ground up and nourished for 10 years  closed the ministry and sold the property that we had not only renovated for over 140 previously homeless families, but also battled gangs and crime to provide a peaceful helpful setting for those families.  When I left, I underestimated the continued need for building relationships and the heavy weight of debt that eventually did the ministry in.  That decision that was made to close haunts me to this day, and during our battle to win Hope Gardens, opponents of Hope Gardens brought it up and stuck it in my face and it felt like a knife in the back.

So here I was again.  Our services at URM were up 45% over the last 2 years, and giving had fallen off by over 21%. We were looking at a $4.4 Million shortfall for the budget year that ends June 30th, and there was talk of selling this beautiful place that we had fought so hard for in a 21 month, $1.9 Million dollar legal battle, including 34 neighborhood meetings (beatings), that culminated in a remarkable 6 hour Planning and Zoning Hearing victory!

The worst part of all, I knew that if we closed Hope Gardens, before I could retire in disgrace I would have to have to be the one to tell the moms and children now living in peace and safety, that they would have to find other housing or return to URM surrounded by Skid Row and some of the meanest streets in our country. I was not sure my heart could take it, but I knew that I would have to carry it out.

We reached out to the County Board of Supervisors for help and shared that without their help, not only would we be unable to move 24 more single moms and their children to Hope Gardens, but we would indeed have to vacate the 34 families now residing at Hope Gardens.  We are still waiting and hoping for continued support.

I wrote a plea letter that I promised would be a once in a lifetime request, and based on my health, I truly meant that.  We sent the letter to our donors, posted it on my blog and shared our need through texts, emails, twitter and Facebook.

A kind donor and KKLA Radio Hosts Frank Pastore and Reba Toney provided a powerful radio thon that helped us passionately get out the word and we raised close to $70,000.

I drove to Santa Monica on May 24th a tired, broken, fearful yet hopeful man and met with our friend Scott Minerd.  He had called and asked me what we needed to save Hope Gardens, and I shocked him by saying that we needed $2.8 Million by June 30th to have any hope of saving Hope Gardens.  He told me a sweet story of how he wanted to bring his friends dog for a walk around Hope Gardens, but the dog had died of cancer. Tears welled up in his eyes as he told me that his friend had gone to the pound to find another dog, but the dog he picked out was mean, and he left the dog at the pound. Later that day the pound called his friend and said that the mean dog would be disposed of in a few hours since he was not adopted. Before he finished I knew what this huge hearted man was going to tell me.  Scott was now owner of that once hurt and aggressive dog, and he had named her grace, because she was saved by grace!

I asked Scott, no I begged Scott to allow us to honor him as our 2010 Hero 4 Hope. He was not keen on the idea, but said he would consider being the Hero 4 Hope if it would help.  Before I left, this giant of a man with an even  bigger heart told me that he would provide a gift of $250,000 that would be a challenge gift asking for others to match. He gave me a hug, and assured me that we had to do everything possible because, “we cannot let Hope Gardens close!”  I began to feel hopeful that a miracle was coming!

When we honored Scott as the Hero 4 Hope, we surprised him by having a partner of his who had flown in from Chicago say a few words. Scott was surprised, but he had a bigger surprise for me. He said, “I had a dream last night. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and in the dream I matched up to $500,000 of whatever was given at this event today!” I was amazed, but Scott was not done.  “Beyond that, I dreamed I would match any single gift of $250,000!”  I really began to have hope!  When that gift was matched by wonderful friends of the Mission, Scott said, “I did not tell you the rest of the dream. I dreamed the 1st $250,000 was matched and I offered a second match of $250,000.”  Not only did my faith grow at that moment, but I knew that indeed we were experiencing a miracle of love and that there was great hope for the moms and kids at Hope Gardens Family Center.

Like Scott, thousands have responded in their own special way.  A formerly homeless friend named Don who now has a home and has completely rebuilt his life became a monthly donor; a colorful builder of amps and guitars for premiere artists around the country, Myles, reached out to his network of friends, and you all gave what you could. Pastor Steve Faubion of Calvary Church Pacific Palisades presented us with a check for $25,000 from the church and shared that when the mission was hurting, they were hurting.  In addition the children at Calvary Christian school raised over $5000 when they were told they could wear jeans to school for a $10 donation! Early last week we were getting close when Pauley Perette, star of the top show on TV, NCIS, and a volunteer at Hope Gardens contacted me and said she wanted to help save Hope Gardens!  She joined twitter, something she had opposed for a long time, and with the help of a friend she posted a Youtube video asking her friends to join her in saving the most beautiful place on earth, a place where previously homeless moms and kids live a life of peace and hope.  We gained a huge amount of momentum from Pauley. It was remarkable.  Friday morning, June 25th, just 31 days after launching what seemed like an impossible attempt to raise $2.8 Million, a check for $250,000 came in from the Louis and Gladyce Foster Foundation, 1 week after the Foster family lost their wonderful matriarch, Gladyce at the age of 90.  She and her husband had given the cornerstone gift for our URM downtown building, the largest Mission in the US. Amidst their sorrow, they took the time and shared what they had putting us over the top, to $2.9 plus and counting!

Instead of having the dreadful task of relocating families, we are planning a celebration in the near future to praise God and thank each and every one of you who took part in this miracle!

I am trying, but I can not possibly put into words how thankful I am for this miracle that has transpired through you and friends like Scott who had faith, and more than that, had love for precious moms and kids. I broke into tears as I shared my joy with the Chairman of our Board of Directors that I don’t have to finish my career of ministry as a failure, and much more than that, hopeful moms like Angel, one of my Facebook friends, and her children do not have to leave the peace, safety and hope of Hope Gardens Family Center. Here’s what she wrote to me last night on Facebook:


“Thank you guys and thank our Heavenly Father – i will be giving prayers of thanks until the day i have to leave hope gardens! God bless and keep you all that created, support, and run these programs for us and our kids!”