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Meet Renata Heberton of Angelica Village in Lakewood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Renata Heberton.

Renata, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My journey has led me to an ever stronger conviction that collective community building with a commitment to the health, well-being and support of the individual within the whole is a powerful response to the devastating challenges we face in our world.

It was within this conviction that a small group of people came together to start Angelica Village in 2015. Our ideas were and are many-fold however overarchingly focus on welcoming individuals and families who have been brutally stripped of their families and community or who have never had access to a strong, resourced community due to war, violence, displacement, homelessness, poverty and oppression.

A close friend and community co-worker and I forged our beginnings by keeping our outside employment and using this income to leverage the beginnings of what is now a community serving over 40 individuals ages 0-72 from all walks of life. We were able to get get a duplex where we welcomed our first families and we began welcoming unaccompanied refugee minors and local youth experiencing homelessness into our home and have grown from there.

Our growth over the last five years has in large part come from the individuals who have joined us and who have taken the leap to call Angelica Village home and family. Our ability to sustain comes from each community member’s contributions as us adults continue to work and share resources to keep everyone stable, housed and with access to enriching activities in life. Equally as important we to where we are today because of our wider community of support. It is our monthly donors giving at $5-$200 per month, our annual donors and our volunteer community members who allow us to do so much. It is also this wider community of support that offers the networks and social capital that allows youth and adults with dreams to have the backing and support to pursue them in success.

As we look towards the future, we hope to grow in our capacity to serve more youth and families and are actively looking for investors to help us expand our housing and program capacity. We are also striving to become ever more sustainable in our social, financial and environmental practices. This work has started with a community garden, a financial health program and entrepreneurial committee who is holding our vision to open a community store while also helping those in the community with employment and vocational opportunities.

We all are inspired daily by the strength and perseverance of each one and delight in seeing the milestones unfold. There is a strong feeling within the community that we are in the midst of a profound response in each other’s lives that will make a transformative difference in generations to come. I feel so lucky to be able to be a part of it all.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
In many ways, the road has been incredibly smooth and it’s hard not to sit in awe and wonder about all that has come about in the past five years. Creating and being a part of community does come with its challenges however. Perhaps the most difficult of these for me is being in a place where the immediate needs are evident and great and I can imagine all the programmatic components that could provide transformative responses to these various needs, yet, due to current capacity, funding and infrastructure I am not able to respond in this ideal way. For example affordable housing. We do our best to structure and organize each young adult and families’ budgets in a way that housing is affordable for them but until we procure more of our own housing within the community, we have rather exorbitant rental obligations that the organization cannot fulfill on its own. Our hope is that one day when folks first arrive they can have the huge support of extremely low to no rent so that they can tend to their mental health, healing and integrating into the community before then being able to seek out vocations and work that support their passion and within this begin to grow into taking over all their expenses in a sustaining way that supports true long term stability. Too much financial obligation can be stressful and can actually create the conditions where it takes an individual much longer to stabilize and thrive once they arrive in the U.S or exit out of homelessness than it would take if other life components could be addressed and tended to first before focusing on income and financial stability. It’s been a challenge to work within our current financial realities when one can see such a different response that needed and hopefully one day possible.

Another challenge is finding more people who want to join the community as foster parents, host households for youth ages 18-24 or co-workers so that we have a growing number of people to carry the project who bring the different resources, energy and foci needed to keep the community evolving into its full and robust vision for itself.

Please tell us about Angelica Village.
Angelica Village strives to build a strong community and network of support around each participant. Within this we provide financial support, rental assistance, food, clothing, reliable transportation, access to education, tutoring, mentoring and childcare support, access to enrichment opportunities, advocacy, connection to health and healthcare, and support in creating and working towards long terms goals (i.e., completing high school or college, buying a home, renting an apartment, buying a car, creating a savings account, starting a business and much more!)

While providing practical support, what makes Angelica Village unique is the intentional practice of community and the deeper more transformative ways of belonging, participation and encouragement which are threads actively woven into the life and work of the village. This work aims to support the healing from trauma and the connection to one’s life purpose for all involved.

We are also unique in that we make long term commitments to each other. This allows all participants to be connected to a community of support and belonging throughout life’s ups and downs thus developing the strong social bonds and connections needed to thrive socially, emotionally, vocationally and more. We believe that if we as a society truly want to dismantle and heal from some of the most pervasive institutionalized systems of oppression that are in place today, then we must come together in meaningful long term commitments to one another’s health, healing and happiness and we must create communities based off of relationship and belonging.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Angelica Village fills me with great purpose and in moments where I waiver or question whether we are making the difference we hope to make in each other’s lives and in the world, I am constantly reminded through the small and big interactions within the community that yes, indeed, community which is built across all the lines that typically divide us (i.e., race, class, sexual orientation, religion, culture, language ethnicity, citizenship status, etc.) is a radical response to all that divisive and oppressive in our world. With this, besides sometimes wishing we had more resources from the beginning to grow into our full mission and vision more quickly or that we had more people able to focus on the 24/7 work of the community so that we weren’t stretched so thin, I do not think I would change very much about the ways we got started and how we are operating today.

That being said the lessons are ample and we learn daily from each other as we make mistakes community-wide and inter-personally. To make an ideal a reality is extraordinary difficult and we walk humbly in the understanding that even with best intentions, we can and will error even to the extent that we find ourselves working against the ideal we set out to achieve. We are growing in our ability to see and correct this and accept that its a part of the striving.

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