On June 3, 2017, hundreds of volunteers of varying ages and skill sets gathered across Ventura County to participate in Serve Day. One of the agencies ACTION volunteers served at was Gabriel’s House, a large home and grounds in the middle of the fields in Ventura County. This transitional home in Oxnard serves as a place for women and children to find refuge after living on the streets, overcoming substance abuse, and escaping abusive relationships. This is a place for a fresh start.
This is where we met Betty. Her smile was radiant and her positive attitude and energy were contagious. But this was an attitude so positive and genuine, that it could have only been forged through trial. Betty had been in a relationship with a very abusive man, with whom she had many children. When her father died suddenly, she was depressed and hurting. Her grandfather gave her something to “take the edge off”, and this began the experimentation and addiction to drugs, including crack and cocaine. She spent her days in a high, and could not seem to escape the deadly hold the drugs and the abusive man had on her. Eventually, her children were taken from her. Years went by and she was not been able to them. She did not even know where they were.
One day, she found herself on a bridge ready to jump. Minutes before she was ready to end it all, she received a text from her oldest son which read, “I’m okay.” This text saved Betty’s life. While she went to a budget motel intending to get clean, she got high one more time. Betty recounted asking God for a sign that He was there for her. “I just wanted to be sure”. God answered her prayer- she was arrested at the motel while high on drugs. Because this was not her first time in jail, Betty was facing 9 years for this crime. At her hearing, however, the judge recognized the healing she needed. He released her to a program where she could get sober, get away from the abusive man, and start a new life.
Then tragedy struck again. After Betty was released from the program, she was diagnosed with cancer. After praying fervently to God calling out to Him for healing and guidance, God answered her prayer once again. While wandering the streets in Oxnard, Betty’s aunt saw her and took her back to the rehabilitation program the judge had assigned her to. There, she was seen by another doctor who informed her that the cancer was gone! It was then that Betty became determined to get her life back on track. She searched out her children, and found that they were back in the custody of their abusive father. Betty got the assistance of child protective services to remove the children from the father’s home, and earned visitation with them.
One day, through hearing Sam Gallucci speak at Harbor Church (now Grace Church) she was referred to Gabriel’s House, where she quickly became a standout worker and leader in the program.
Betty is now in charge of The Cottage at Gabriel’s House. At her second job with the Rescue Mission, she fundraises. She has saved enough money to afford her own place. She is reunited with 4 of her 6 children. Betty has found a sense of worth and skills she never knew she had. She is better and stronger than before.
These are the stories that we hear on Serve Day, while we trim trees and pull weeds. Serve Day is about so much more than the projects at hand- it’s about the people we serve. It’s about finding tangible ways to let the homeless, the addicted, the elderly, the disabled and the orphaned in our communities know that they matter. They are loved. In the words of Betty, “[You] don’t have to love us, but [you’re] here, loving us. That gives me a sense of worth.”
By the way, Betty has a new baby. Her name is Charisma Grace.