Oma Village Is Model of Mission

August 27, 2012

By the Rev. Betty Pagett
Retired Elder, CA-NV Annual Conference

Oma Village is a grassroots volunteer effort to involve more people in helping Marin County's non-profit Homeward Bound in its efforts to move families with children out of homelessness. Our effort has a family flavor; "Oma" is what my little grandsons call me. 
I particularly wanted to reach groups such as mothers' clubs, PTAs, book clubs, and others who care about children but aren't currently involved in any way. Marin has 10% faith affiliation, and the faith community has been steadfast and involved; I wanted to reach the other 90%.
I wanted to create an accessible tool that would help the families in the shelter, and also help create permanent places for them to move to, that they could afford. Many – most – of the families have jobs, they just can't afford rents. When paying so much of their incomes for rent, they find themselves in financial trouble when something like an illness or injury occurs, or a car or relationship breaks down. They then get behind on rent, are evicted, and their credit goes down the tube.
Oma Village brought in funds for "adopting" a family in the shelter, during a period when no government money was coming in, and we kept it going for 14 families without cutbacks (there is always a wait list of 25-30 families). Now there is a one-year grant covering the basic costs. We meet needs such as diapers, wipes, car seats, strollers, and maternity clothes – and I fill up a fruit basket in the office every week. Homeward Bound helps with whatever education/counseling is needed to set the families on a better footing and tries to get them on waiting lists for affordable housing so that they can move on with their lives.
(We've also done Easter baskets for the families and Christmas stockings for the mothers, and put on an end-of-summer dinner musicale.)
When they do move out of the shelter, families need other things – and we've helped with baby furniture, etc. – even though the only storage is the garage at my house! We also have been able to raise a visionary fund that purchased land for 14 small cottages, to provide rental housing for families moving out of homelessness. We'll be moving ahead with additional fundraising.
Part of the benefit of Oma Village is helping community people understand family homelessness. I think it is a model because it isn't just about the church's internal mission money or activities; it is about lay people in mission in their community seeing all their connections as places for mission. 
One young mother in my church recruited the families at her child's preschool. Another was a member of a large mothers' club and submitted a request for one of its community grants. One person recruited in her office, another in her book club. Several emailed their friends and invited them to join in supporting the village. One connected us with "Open Gardens," a group that shares its garden surplus. One reached out to her son's PTA. 
"Oma Village" is a way for church members to involve neighbors, family, friends, and all their contacts in a wider community mission.