By Nancy Needham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A longtime Conejo Valley resident has a special gift for taking care of others. He learned how to give those in need a helping hand by personally experiencing both sides of charity. John "JP" Gorham is the founder of Conejo Valley CARES, a nonprofit organization that assesses and addresses specific needs of those who find themselves in financial trouble.
Before creating Conejo Valley CARES, John was the executive director of Manna, the local food bank. Before being in charge of Manna, he was one of the food bank's clients. Having to ask for help was a humbling experience for him.
"I was raised in an affluent family. I was chronically homeless. I've stood in line for help and I've run agencies that give help," John said.
Along the way, he learned some of life's lessons the hard way. His goal now is to help others skip those tough lessons. His charity gets to the core of each person's situation to find out what brought them to the place where they need to ask for help. They also assess exactly what the person needs to survive and be able to take care of themselves again.
"We believe in personal responsibility," he said.
He also encourages those who are helped to turn around and help others in need. He puts desparate people in touch with professionals, government agencies and other charities to help solve their problems and provide for their needs. He raises money. He collects names of experts to match up with those who need them--auto mechanics, event planners, real estate professionals. He calls these volunteers angels.
Current economic times have brought many to his doorstep. Some hard workers with jobs who have been surviving from paycheck to paycheck found they were no match for a crisis such as sickness with no sick leave, the family's only car breaking down leaving them no way to get to work or the sudden need to find a new place to live with no money saved for a security deposit.
"We have a big problem with intelligent people with great abilities who are underemployed," he said.
His answer is to seek out employers who are willing to train or offer an internship. "If someone has a job, we know who will fit well," he said.
Currently John's group is focusing on 30 Conejo Mobile Home Park families who have to be out of the closing park by December or take a cut in their relocation allowance to stay until June. He's trying to raise money to help them move. He also is looking for real estate experts to help them relocate.
He has many other local charity activities. Santa's Last Stop will provide families with toys. Backpack Brigade gives needy children school supplies. Philanthropic Event Planning provides other nonprofits creative ways to raise money to protect the homeless and others at risk. The Conejo Valley Angels group connects volunteers with people who need their specific talents. Keep 'Em Rolling needs mechanics to volunteer to repair cars for people who otherwise would have no transportation to get to work. He also has a Community Assistance Fund for needs not being met locally by other charities. These needs come up when people are assessed individually and a special need is realized such as a pre-pay cell phone for someone who is looking for work.
John sees his charity as a way for neighbors to help neighbors. He holds one of his hands out to those who are in need and the other out to those who are willing to help them.
Visit www.conejovalleycares.org or call 805.368.9829 to contact Conejo Valley CARES. CVC is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations are tax deductible.