HIU Staff and Faculty Share their Time and their Hearts at My Safe Harbor in Anaheim

In 2006, Casa Elena, a county run facility in Anaheim that helped women struggling with substance abuse, closed. Less than three years later, Anaheim First Christian Church (AFCC) saw a need in the community and stepped in to establish a non-profit organization to help low income mothers. Since July 2009, My Safe Harbor (MSH) has continuously worked to find ways to help mothers and children in the Anaheim area. Staff and faculty of Hope International University (HIU) have been instrumental in offering volunteer and administrative help to get and keep MSH up and running.

Becky Ahlberg, Executive Director of MSH and Hope graduate, was part of the group who proposed that the church establish the organization. In the process of creating the foundation for MSH, Ahlberg helped conduct an in-depth study about whether it was feasible for AFCC to establish a non-profit. When MSH was given the green light, she consulted Dr. Paul Alexander, Vice President of Academic Affairs at HIU and licensed marriage and family therapist, about how to structure the program. MSH includes the Strong Families Institute and Enrichment Electives, which are designed to educate and empower women.

Early on the in process, Dr. Tamsen Murray, Associate Vice President for Educational Effectiveness at Hope, partnered with Ahlberg and has since seen MSH blossom. Murray is now on the Board of Directors for MSH and believes the organization does a great service toward helping single mothers, one of the biggest unmet needs in Anaheim. “It is a model of the church engaging the community [in] significant and meaningful ways,” said Ahlberg. She went on to say she believes MSH not only helps at risk women, but also provides them with the opportunity to connect to the church and “find a pathway of hope.”

To better meet their goals and stay active in the community, MSH has partnered with several groups, including GRIP (Gang Reduction and Intervention Program), the Anaheim City School District, Children’s Bureau, Family Justice Center, and the Anaheim Police Department. “In the process, the church has established a web of relationships with organizations, agencies, and individuals in the community that might not have happened otherwise,” Dr. Edgington, an Elder at AFCC and Dean of Pacific Christian College, said. “It has become an important aspect of our witness in the community.”

One way MSH and AFCC are reaching out is through a program called Our Kids/Our Schools (OKOS), where they “ seek to come alongside the schools in our immediate neighborhood to provide enrichment activities for the children and encouragement for the school staff, thereby building developmental assets into the community with an eye toward breaking cycles of poverty,” said Murray.

She and Dr. Steve Richardson, Chair of the Biblical Studies Department at HIU and Board of Directors member for MSH, have volunteered every Wednesday over the Spring 2011 semester during their lunch hour at Orange Grove School in Anaheim as part of Our Kids/Our Schools. Hope student Adrian LaFarge has also been volunteering during the lunch hour and Ahlberg is hoping more students get involved.

“As an alumni of Hope, servant leadership is continually on my mind,” Tammy Shields, AFCC Children’s Pastor and MSH member, said. “I have the privilege of working with one Hope student at OKOS. We would be so much more effective if we came as a group of ten instead of two. It's very easy to spend a little time with children at the lunch tables or recess.”

MSH also needs volunteers to interact with the children while their mothers are in course sessions. Dr. Edgington, who is also on the Board of Directors for MSH, said that the experience would be valuable to anyone, especially Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and Liberal Studies majors. Qualified students can do internships through Our Kids/Our Schools, and Ahlberg stated they are making arrangements to allow students to do their internships at MSH too. Ahlberg also hopes to have MSH be an option for HIU small groups who are focused on community service.

Click here for more information on My Safe Harbor , including how to get involved and volunteer.

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