FresYes.com is a wonderful vehicle for telling everyone about the great things that are happening in our region. It’s a positive force of nature. But we all know there are problems in our community. I often think of that well-worn phrase “creative problem solving” when I hear the word “problem.” It’s in the middle of the phrase, but it’s surrounded by the words “creative” and “solving.” There is no need for creative solutions unless you’ve identified a problem.
Another way to look at the positive side of our community’s problems is to meet the people who are working on solutions. I recently spent a Saturday afternoon with some of these people. Yes, the problems are overwhelming and difficult to absorb. That’s what makes these people such positive role models for tackling them. Maybe some of you will read this and find a way to pitch in, too. That’s another positive thing about our community—we do help our neighbors.
Live Again Fresno
Richard Burrell is one amazing human being. He founded Live Again Fresno to help the children living in the motels on Parkway Drive, a frontage road off Highway 99 between Belmont and Olive avenues. Now, Richard isn’t some trust fund guy who has decided that he ought to give a little back to the community where he came from. He was a 20-year gang member who had an awakening that told him he needed to change the course of his life or die. He now spends his time making sure kids have food to eat and that they get a chance to be kids.
The kids living in the motels on Parkway Drive are often the children of prostitutes, drug dealers, pimps or addicts. Their parents often don’t have the money for the first month’s rent and a deposit, so they pay exorbitant weekly or monthly rents to stay in the motels. Richard will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t know how the government, nonprofits, foundations or other systems work. He just gets out there and gives everything he can to the kids. He finds the resources to get the kids away from the motels as often as he can, to let them watch their first movie in a theater or go to a park or watch a game.
Elaine Robles McGraw is a friend who I met while we both attended a graduate program in Los Angeles. For two years, we would drive from Fresno to L.A. for three days of class and then back again. We talked about neighborhoods and economic development and land use. The constant in the conversation was Elaine’s interest in helping the Jane Addams neighborhood, which includes Parkway Drive and the motels. Elaine grew up in this neighborhood and her mom still lives there.
After doing her research, she did her Master’s thesis on creating a Community Development Corporation for the Jane Addams neighborhood. The Jane Addams neighborhood is named for the Jane Addams Elementary School, and the school is named after Jane Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who fought for peace and to help the lives of the poor, especially children. Elaine has been organizing events to feed the motel residents and has been an advocate for change in the conditions they are living in.
Jed Soberal is a Marine veteran who is now a warrior working to help the children of Parkway Drive. He delivers food to the motels and coaches the kids in athletics and just generally horses around with them to keep them active and having fun. He really has a way of drawing the kids out of their shadows. Jed knows who is going to school and who isn’t. When he shows up at the motels, the kids all come running.
How you can give time, money, or encouragement
These three are all incredibly humble but are dead serious when it comes to their mission. They know that the kids in Parkway/Jane Addams have everything going against them. But like all heroes, that only makes them work harder.
If you have the ability to give them a boost in their efforts, whether that is time or treasure or any other resource, please lend them a hand. Give them an encouraging word or a pat on the shoulder when you see them.
I’m not going to go into the stories of the kids’ lives in this blog, but let me just say that the conditions are rougher than most of us could handle. If you’d like to come out to meet the kids, they’ll give you a glimpse into their world, too.
For information on helping the kids of Parkway Drive, visit the Live Again Fresno website.
Photos by Cindy Tiehen Photography.