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Thursday, Apr 03 2014 07:04 PM

Homeless facility to transform warehouse into education center

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    James Garcia, center, was one of the approximately 1,000 people who showed up at The Mission at Kern County for a deep pit meal and coat giveaway in this photo taken in January 2014. Those who attended also received a blanket.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

The Mission at Kern County has come a long way from its humble beginnings at an old train depot in 1952.

Formerly known as the Bakersfield Rescue Mission, the nine-building "campus" in east Bakersfield is evolving yet again in response to changing needs in the community.

Related Info

The Mission at Kern County shelters nearly 250 homeless people every night. But that's only one of the many services provided by the Christian-based nonprofit organization. To learn more about how you can help, go to http://themissionkc.org or call 325-0863.

The Mission -- which serves more than 700 meals a day to the needy and homeless, and provides emergency shelter to nearly 250 people each night -- is launching a capital campaign in an effort to transform an old warehouse on the East 21st Street property into a fully functioning educational center for women.

Carlos Baldovinos, the Mission's executive director, says significant improvements like those planned cannot succeed without help from the community. He said the improvements will cost about $173,000.

"We knew we needed to do something about that building," Baldovinos said. "But how would we do it?"

Once a haven for down-and-out mostly middle-aged and older men, the Mission has long worked at expanding its services to younger men and women as the need became apparent, said Scott Underhill, a longtime commercial real estate broker who serves on the nonprofit's governing board.

Underhill cited the Mission's transitional home for struggling women, which opened last summer, and much needed improvements to the center's kitchen facilities and other infrastructure as evidence of how, through the generosity of the community, the nonprofit has managed its dynamic growth and changes.

And he credited Baldovinos for focusing attention on "deferred maintenance issues," which, if ignored, could have sucked dry the operating budget of the facility.

Underhill said the kitchen serves several hundred thousand meals a year.

"The kitchen was getting beat to a pulp," he said.

The Mission currently provides food, shelter and education for more than 40 women on a daily basis. The warehouse earmarked for improvement is already used for women's Christian education classes and as a chapel. But the unheated warehouse also doubles as the home for annual community meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for volunteers to serve The Mission's clients on special occasions.

In that sense, Baldovinos said, it also is the face of the Mission for many in the community who are invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

"Annually, more than 7,000 people will use the warehouse for one program or another," Baldovinos said.

But the 5,500-square-foot building is not equipped to comfortably serve those needs.

"I want you to know the ladies are troopers," Baldovinos wrote in a letter to community supporters. "They don't complain about the sole, single-stall bathroom, the uneven concrete, the exposed beams, or the extreme heat and cold... Can you imagine having Bible study where you can see your breath?"

A contractor has agreed to lead the renovation of the warehouse at a price well below market value, Baldovinos said. The campaign to raise $173,400 for the remodel has already begun.

He hopes to complete the project by Thanksgiving -- in time for the cooler winter weather. And both Baldovinos and Underhill are confident the community will come through with its support as it has in the past.

"Bakersfield as a community has been incredibly benevolent," Underhill said. "It is a testimony to the generosity of this community."

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