SUISUN CITY — The numbers tell only part of the tale: More than 500 children served and six centers opened in four years are the statistics behind the stories.
The stories of The Leaven are told in the faces of children such as Jennifer Castro, a Grange Middle School sixth-grader, who loves the faith-based program. Not only does it offer help with homework, it’s a great place to socialize.
“I love making friends,” she said. “I want to be their friends so they won’t be lonely.”
The Leaven celebrated its fourth anniversary Monday at Mike Day Memorial Park in Suisun City. In a few months, The Leaven will open its seventh center in Vacaville. That center got a hefty financial boost with a $33,000 donation from Kaiser Permanente, presented during the anniversary gala.
Max Villalobos, senior vice president/hospital administrator for Kaiser Permanente, said he expects a great return on his investment. The Leaven offers Farm to Families, a multifaceted program that includes promoting health and wellness, providing fresh, affordable produce, and administering health screenings.
The program was developed by Cynthia Verrette, a community benefit manager for Kaiser Permanente.
“It’s really been fantastic,” said Mark Lillis, executive director of The Leaven.
It will be part of The Leaven’s Vacaville center. along with education and enrichment activities, Lillis said.
“We are outrageously excited,” said Colleen Erdes, director of Vacaville’s Opportunity House, the homeless shelter and future home of The Leaven’s first center in Vacaville.
Homeless children often attend three schools a year, she said. To bring The Leaven into the facility is to give hope to these children.
“Not only do they get help with homework, they can develop a mentor relationship with someone they can count on,” she said.
Erdes said she hopes the program will continue to expand in Vacaville.
“The need is tremendous,” Erdes said.
She has 12 children at the center now who could benefit from the program, she said.
The idea for the program started gaining ground in 2005 when a group of church and Fairfield community leaders saw the need to improve the quality of life for children in some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. It began with an after-school tutoring program at Parkway Community Church.
“We saw an immediate need in our neighborhoods and wondered how we could reach out,” said Dan Deckard, the church’s pastor.
While he had plenty of faith in the program, he said he never imagined the burgeoning growth that has taken place in 48 months.
The Leaven operates four centers in Fairfield, one in Suisun City that opened in 2012, and one in Rialto that came to fruition in 2011. In the next few months, the seventh center will open in Vacaville at Opportunity House, the city’s homeless shelter.
While TV’s “Dr. Phil” may not know the local need, he has offered his support of the program, taping a video endorsing the Fairfield-based organization.
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price, who helped bring The Leaven to Phillip McGraw of “Dr. Phil,” offered praise for the program along with Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez.
The Leaven puts youth in a positive light.
“Instead of seeing the potential of children being a problem, this gives them something productive to do. Then they are not problems, but become the solution,” Sanchez said.
As The Leaven kicks off its fifth year, Lillis sees continued growth and success.
“We just want to keep helping the community wherever we can,” he said.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.