A remarkable graduation ceremony highlighted the Venice Community Housing Corporation’s (VCHC) second annual open house June 21 at the nonprofit’s Rose Avenue headquarters. Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl delivered commencement remarks, and VCHC Executive Director Steve Clare spoke with the Mirror about the organization’s work.
Among the nonprofit’s projects is Another Chance, a program which combines an education component and a life skills component for at-risk 17- to 24-year-olds to attain the level of schooling and vocational job readiness needed to help them find and keep long-term employment. VCHC partners with John Muir Charter School (no relation to Muir Middle School) on the education component so the young people can acquire high school diplomas (not GEDs). Seven diplomas were awarded June 21.
Steve Clare founded VCHC in 1988 “to develop and preserve as much affordable housing as possible” in the Venice area. The group came to realize that other issues impacted on housing problems, and so, in addition to building and acquiring housing units, VCHC has also created transitional housing for women and children and started Venice’s first free infant and toddler care center. (VCHC built and owns that center, and partners with St. Joseph Center as the licensed child care provider.)
Youth employment was another of those “other issues.” In January 1995, Clare said, the organization was working on a 25-unit development and decided to use it “as a job training program” for area youth, putting 17- to 24-year-olds to work and paying them. This evolved into the Venice Youthbuild program, which takes youths with a 4th or 5th grade reading/writing/math level and provides a high school curriculum, life skills and leadership development and construction site training with established housing developers, both residential rehabilitation and new construction.
The Another Chance program is a companion to Youthbuild without the concentration on construction trades. Some of the students move on to participate in Youthbuild; some go on to other vocational training, apprenticeship, employment or further education.
And of course, there is housing. VCHC has built three apartment buildings plus the transitional housing facility, and it has purchased nine other buildings, so that it has 161 units now, with an additional 14 in escrow to be acquired. This is the second year that the group has opened its doors to the community in June to share its work and greet its neighbors. “We will do it again next year,” said Clare.
This year, the Another Chance graduation coincided with the open house, so the events were combined into a larger celebration. The students who received their high school diplomas June 21 were Jessica Cardenas, Camille Collard, Desiree Gomez, Bryan Jimenez, Kohei Nakamura, Miles York and Stacy Jimenez. “And Desiree Reed will get her diploma within a couple of weeks,” added Another Chance Program Manager Cherise Alley. For more information, go to vchcorp.org.