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Arlette Parker and Friends Spruce Up Family Place:

The Topanga Women’s Circle (TWC) was started at the beginning of 2006 by a small group of civic-minded ladies in Topanga Canyon who wanted to help homeless children.

TWC founder Arlette Parker is the wife of Andrew Parker, Executive Director of Santa Monica’s Upward Bound House (UBH). UBH has a program called Family Place, which provides transitional housing for families. Parker was informed that a dad and two sons had just moved into Family Place, which provides a nice clean apartment. She saw that the accommodations were minimal and quite spare. All this family had of their own were torn blankets and a black bag containing only a couple of jackets. She was horrified at this family’s plight and decided to take action.

The newly-formed TWC decided that their mission would be to adopt Family Place and set up its apartments to be as inviting as possible. Incoming families would be greeted with all-new basic necessities and a few luxuries intended to give the new residents a boost to their self-esteem and a quiet moment of relief from the many worries of homelessness.

This society of angels wants families moving into Family Place to have a sense of comfort, “feel that they are worth a million” and know their new community cares and is cheering for them. The Circle boasts members mainly from Topanga Canyon and three volunteers from the UBH Board of Directors.

Initially the incoming family’s profile is shared with the members of the group. Items are collected and purchased to be age and gender appropriate. With interior designers in the mix, Family Place apartments are decorated in style, are color-coordinated and evoke heartfelt reactions when the family first opens the door to their new dwelling. After spending their first night at Family Place new residents always comment, “How nice it was to get into bed and realize these are brand new sheets.”

“The children get a sense of belonging and experience pure joy upon seeing their new toys, books and plush [stuffed animals],” says Parker. “One ten-year-old said the he was so happy with his bedroom and toys, he is really taking care of them and is keeping his bedroom clean and organized.”

Each infant and baby receives a crib, a stroller, a car-seat, clothes, blankets and a plethora of baby products. Indeed, the closets and drawers are filled with clothing for the entire family, some gently-used, but freshly cleaned and ironed. Bathrobes and slippers also await incoming residents.

TWC buys mostly new items, especially for the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The kitchen is filled with all the necessities such as plates, silverware, a toaster, a teakettle, etc. The bathroom is equipped with a shower curtain, towels, mats and toiletries galore. The Circle fills the refrigerator with fresh food, and the cupboards with non-perishable food items from its Food Pantry, thereby ensuring the incoming family will have enough food for the first two weeks of their stay.

Fresh flowers greet every new family. “We want them to be pampered and have a respite from their difficulties,” says Parker of the Circle’s philosophy.

Every item in the apartment goes with the family when they graduate the Family Place program and move to permanent housing, helping them get a new start.

The most intense set-up was in the fall of 2006 when Family Place had five families graduate to independent living at the same time. The Circle ladies rolled up their sleeves and refurbished all five apartments practically overnight so that the incoming families did not have to wait an extra minute to enter the UBH program.

The Topanga Women’s Circle is not exclusively comprised of women. Three husbands and many children often help and contribute necessary features to the refurbishment. If a family has an infant and a crib needs assembly, or if heavy lifting is required, the group’s men step up to help. TWC kids give their input as to what is “cool and stylin’,” so an incoming child fits in with their peer group as far as personal effects are concerned.

This is truly a family affair, with families helping families that need a leg up. The Circle’s efforts are intended to help Upward Bound House restore dignity and a sense of hope to the newest Family Place residents. The ladies of the Circle want the new residents to feel like they can take a deep breath, sleep in the warm comfort of brand new sheets and arise after their first night at Family Place feeling positive and ready for a new future. All is done with complete anonymity. (The Circle women keep a low profile so that the new family is not embarrassed and has a sense that their new community really cares about their well-being.)

Each refurbishment costs $800 – $1200. Refurbishment for families with expectant or young mothers tends to be a little more because of all the added items that are needed, such as cribs, strollers, high chairs, etc.

This past holiday season, TWC assembled wonderful gift baskets for each family. Included with the baskets were gift cards to Target and Vons with a value of $25 each, chocolates, a cosmetic case and other goodies.

On March 17, Topanga Women’s Circle is holding its first-ever fundraising event. The soiree will be held at the sumptuous Institute of Courage in Topanga Canyon at 6:30 p.m.

Guests will partake of elegant hors d’oeuvres, fine wines and desserts. Wendy Malick will be the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies. Renowned actors Catherine McClenahan and Bill Fagerbakke will donate their services and perform the acclaimed Broadway hit Hate Mail.

For more information about Upward Bound House, go to upwardbound house.org.

For more information about Topanga Women’s Circle, go to openestudio.com/twc.

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