My name is Robert, and I (with 5 other people) run a community house.
It's not easy but it's not always hard either. What we want to be is a safe place for kids who live in our neighborhood. We want to be a safe place for these children of Los Angeles, many struggling with issues of poverty, undocumented parents, gangs, and an abysmal school district in addition to all the regular pressures of growing up. Here, we want kids to be able to visit and have a place to play, a place to study and get help studying, a place to form hopes and express dreams, a place where they find encouragement and experience both tough and tender love, and, just maybe, a place to meet God.
Now, our neighborhood can be a bit deceiving. On the surface, it's quite pleasant. The houses and apartments are cute, if a little run-down. Paramount Studios is right next door, bringing with it a flurry of nicer cars that park on the streets but don't belong. As men ring bells on their carts selling cold drinks and corn dripping with mayonnaise while the tamale man wanders the alleyways beckoning you in singsong tones, you might forget about the pressing realities. I often catch myself thinking about how cute my neighborhood is, or how 'small-town' it feels, but reality always sneaks back in. It sneaks back in when you realize that the 'neighborhood' of Hollywood is 3.5 square miles with a population of nearly 24,000 people per square mile. (Use your multiplication skills). For those folks back home, compare the grand city of Concord, at 51.6 square miles with a total population of near 56,000. There are a lot of people here and that doesn't even include the tourists.
Reality sneaks back in when I fall asleep to the sound of LAPD helicopters (affectionately called, 'ghetto birds') circling overhead looking for criminals or when I notice the graffiti change every few weeks. It comes back when I bike up Gower in the morning past the RV's where people who have lost their homes live and sleep. The realities of the world and poverty make me angry when our neighbor calls and asks for a ride to the emergency room when her child who has little more than a cough. It's frustrating to listen to kids tell you about gangs and, whether they are exaggerating or not, about attempts to recruit them. Questions about drugs and violence seep into daily conversations. According to everyone, the LAPD are racist and can't be trusted while the Los Angeles County Sheriffs are worse.
The world that these kids grow up in is about as not 'cozy small-town' and as frightening as it can get. It's made worse when you learn that only ten out of every one hundred freshman who enter a Los Angeles Unified School district high school graduate having taken the necessary college preparatory classes. That means that only ten percent of students graduate with even the chance of applying to college and then have to compete with the graduates from San Diego, San Francisco and students from all over the country. That leaves ninety students, some dropouts and some not, mostly unequipped to excel and succeed (at least, by the school system). It makes it difficult to even believe that the cycle can or will be broken.
And so, these kids come to our La Casa de Communidad four evenings a week and bring this reality with them. Sometimes there are three and sometimes there are twenty. They range in age from three years to sixteen and, many times, we don't know what do with them. But, we try. We play with them and help them with homework if they ask. We talk to them about their lives and about ours while answering questions about God and faith. When they misbehave, we demand change or firmly request that they go home. We're always trying to figure out better ways to connect and better ways to teach, not just academics but habits and lessons that might lead to a better life than these children believe they can have. Really, we just try to love them.
Sometimes this means jumping up and down and screaming with a little kid for ten minutes (an exhilarating workout) and sometimes it means discovering how frustrating algebra can be. It's trying to figure out what kids are saying behind codewords and Spanish (and Spanish codewords) and encouraging honesty and understanding in a world that no one understands. It's hard. It's frustrating. It's exhausting. It's fun. We do the best we can, and, while we can probably do better, I think we're doing a pretty good job.
Pray for the community house, the kids, me and my housemates. Pray that we can find God's guidance, God's love, and God's energy.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? --Romans 8:31-35