Welcome to LAUREL HOUSE Providing a Home for Teens in Crisis for 30 Years

Creating ‘Godmothers’

O.C. Rescue Mission saves Laurel House for at-risk teens from fully closing

BY RAYMOND MENDOZA / STAFF WRITER

Read full article online here.

OC Register

Laurel House Director Jerad Beltz; Orange County Rescue Mission President Jim Palmer; and Brower, Miller & Cole CEO Judith Brower Fancher, from left, stand in front of Tustin’s Laurel House, which they are working to remodel and save.
ISAAC ARJONILLA, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As Orange County Rescue Mission President Jim Palmer tours the Laurel House for at-risk teens, he makes note of the old popcorn ceiling and poorly constructed cabinets and clears away cobwebs that accumulated after the house closed its doors this summer after 29 years of helping more than 500 troubled girls.

But Palmer sees more than a house that needs fixing. He sees a home that can provide support to teenage girls with histories of social, educational and emotional problems before they embark on a life of drugs or homelessness.

Laurel House, which had provided girls ages 12-17 a chance to take a break from their families to work out behavioral problems since 1985, was a boon to the community, Palmer said, until the nonprofit organization hit a rough patch a few years back and began experiencing prolonged financial instability.

By the time the group’s leadership decided to close in June, it had exhausted nearly $280,000 in reserve funds over six fiscal years and accumulated $100,000 in debt.

The house officially closed its doors in August, but was saved from being sold when Laurel House trustees handed over leadership and building ownership to Palmer and his new board members.

Palmer said the Laurel House will remain its own entity, but now has the support of the Orange County Rescue Mission for staffing.

Palmer said the house is now well on its way to resuming normal operations after the Rescue Mission received a $100,000 anonymous donation to clear up the original debt and a $50,000 grant from longtime Rescue Mission supporters Howard and Roberta Ahmanson to pay for renovations.

Creating ‘Godmothers’

In order to boost donations, Judy Brower Fancher is seeking female business owners and leaders in Orange County to participate in a “Godmothers” group to ensure that Laurel House has a steady stream of income.

Fancher – who currently does public relations work for the Orange County Rescue Mission as president of the Brower, Miller & Cole public relations firm – volunteered to become the Godmothers Program co-chair to help raise funds to support the Laurel House.

“We’re going to go after the women who are leaders of business in Orange County who have resources – financially and networking wise – to ensure that (the Laurel House closure) doesn’t happen again,” Fancher said. “We want to make sure this is an ongoing program.”

Fancher said she plans on having bi-annual meetings for the Godmothers to raise funds for maintenance of the house and operations.

She said having a group aimed at strong female business leaders is important to the overall focus of the Laurel House, since the Godmothers can stand as positive female figures to the teens.

Helping before problems start

Jerad Beltz, the newly appointed director of the Laurel House, said he’s anxious to start his role in helping at-risk teenage girls since it’s an age group he’s not used to working with.

Through his previous work as the director of the Village of Hope, Beltz said being able to focus on helping a specific age and gender group will be a new but beneficial challenge.

“As director of Village of Hope, everyday I see women come in who grew up without any stability,” Beltz said. “We see what it’s done to them when they’re in their 20s all the way up to their 60s. … I’m very excited to help them before they’ve spent 20 years on the street or before they’ve had 20 years of drug addiction.”

Palmer said having the chance to save some girls ages 12 to 17 from a life of homelessness, drugs or prostitution is what has made the Laurel House a worthy nonprofit since 1985.

Contact the writer: rmendoza@ocregister.com